Duncan Mackay

peter keen_15-12-11Yesterday at UK Sport we issued the outcomes from the latest Mission 2012 reports from our Olympic and Paralympic sports. This reflects the end of the period of review and consolidation faced by the high-performance system post-Beijing, and a refocus on competition as the long and winding road to London begins in earnest.

I think it also reflects, arguably for the first time, that sports understand and accept what we’re seeking to achieve through the Mission and how it can help them achieve their aspirations in 2012 and beyond.

Before I explore this further, a quick history lesson is probably worthwhile. Mission 2012 was established 18 months ago essentially to try and maximise the unique opportunity afforded to us in the shape of a home Games. Three times a year we ask sports to provide a self-assessment of their operations across three core areas, namely athlete performance and development; the performance system that sits behind the athletes; and the climate and culture within the sport. These assessments are reviewed by a panel and traffic light gradings are agreed.

This level of analysis is unprecedented and, as with anything that’s new, it’s taken a little while to bed in. The past 18 months or so has been a learning curve for us and the sports. In particular, we’ve had to work hard to build trust in the process to ensure that sports can gain the most from it.

UK Sport_Mission_2012_boardsIn a nutshell, Mission 2012 was established with one simple aim – to determine how UK Sport and its partners can truly make a difference on the ground and embed world-class athletes, systems and culture right across Britain’s high performance sporting network. To make a difference we need to know what challenges the sports are facing – that’s where the trust comes in. Sports needed to be sure that flagging up a ‘red’ would be seen as a cry for help, rather than an admission of failure or risk to funding.

That brings us back to the present day and that increased level of understanding I referred to earlier. I’m encouraged, and indeed excited, by what the sports are now telling us and the level of openness and honesty we’re seeing in their submissions. I’m sensing a real understanding across the sports of exactly what is meant by ‘world-class’. This is an essential first step in recognising what you’re striving for and any gaps between that and how you’re currently performing. If that means flagging up a red and asking for help, so be it. That’s what we’ve asked sports to do and that’s what we’re starting to see. Better to put the hand up now so we can provide a solution that to be in denial until it’s too late.

This is a hugely positive step forward and is where the Mission can really start to make a difference because a ‘red’ in one sport might be mirrored by a ‘gold’ in another. That’s the next step and the reason for my excitement. By getting sports to work together, share best practice and learn from each other we’ll be well on our way to providing a lasting legacy in the shape of a fully sustainable and genuinely world-class high performance sporting system.

The world of sport is an unpredictable beast and success is never guaranteed. However, we made the world sit up and take notice in Beijing and I genuinely believe the direction in which we’re travelling in the UK will take us to an even higher level of performance.

Peter Keen is the director of performance at UK Sport, having joined them in 2004. He was formerly coach to Olympic champion Chris Boardman, and was instrumental in creating the Lottery funded World Class Performance Programme for British Cycling which saw the GB team move from 13th to fourth in the world rankings between 1998 and 2002.