Athletics: Respected coach to retire as system ends his enthusiasm for the sport

Sprints coach John Powell will retire next month – ending a 45-year athletics career – and says his enthusiasm has been eroded by a system that is not fit for purpose.

Dulwich-born Powell, awarded the MBE in 2013 for services to the sport, has taken athletes to every major international championship and major games on the calendar.

He will continue as CEO of his Met-Track charity which recruits vulnerable young Londoners into sport at grass roots.

“I’ve always been incredibly passionate, ambitious and determined in all that I do,” he said. “And that certainly includes coaching. But my love for the sport has been drained out of me. I was lucky to have some really successful squads with some great athletes in the past, but time and again, either the vultures swoop, or somehow athletes are persuaded the grass is greener elsewhere. And then you watch them – in most cases – fail to improve or, in some cases, slow right down.

“You suddenly find you’re starting all over again from scratch.
“The same happened a few years ago and I lost the bulk of my squad. Yet the people who inherit my athletes are anything but disciplined for unethical conduct.

“I was honoured to help out with several GB and England teams, but as soon as you’re not producing athletes of interest to the powers that be, that seems to be the end of that.

“This is the hardest decision of my life and will represent a massive change, but the love I’ve had for a sport that has been a part of who I am since the age of 15 has slowly but surely been eroded.”

Powell, who has coached and trained at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre since his teens, built and managed a highly successful youth scheme at then Blackheath Harriers, and went on to create a national championship-winning junior side with Belgrave Harriers.

He continued to join coaching staff at British junior and U23 international level, and also helped England teams at several indoor internationals.

Over the last 20 years, the retired police superintendent took out bank loans and remortgaged his house to ensure he could follow and support his athletes all over the globe.

In the process he developed numerous international links, not least in the US where he was at one time a member of the voluntary coaching staff at Harvard University. He has since nurtured links at University of Virginia, UCLA and University of Southern California amongst others.

“The level of respect, and status offered to coaches in the US is stratospheric compared to the UK, and British athletes could well do with taking a leaf out of their book in that respect,” said Powell.

“I would love to stay in the sport in some sort of role – administration, management, coach education or even officiating.

“But I am really disenchanted that what I have to offer as a coach and experienced senior manager has been ignored to the point of ultimate decline and termination.”

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