By Owen Morgan
The last week of January was a memorable one for Kate Seary both on and off the athletics track.
Last Saturday, the Cardiff runner retained her Welsh indoor 1500m title at the National Indoor Athletics Centre in Cardiff.
But it was an announcement made by UK Athletics (UKA) earlier in the week which will have wider significance for Seary and athletes all over the UK.
As one of the founder members of Kyniska Advocacy, Seary has been campaigning for the UKA to adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding any physical or sexual misconduct towards athletes.
Last week the UKA announced it will review all historical safeguarding cases involving sexual activity or grooming with a child or adult at risk, where this did not result in a permanent ban.
The announcement follows an open letter and petition from Seary and fellow Kyniskia founder member and Scottish international runner Mhairi Maclennan to the then UKA CEO Joanna Coates last year.
The petition attracted more than 2,000 signatures from athletes across the UK and beyond, including global stars such as American Olympic long jumper Tianna Bartoletta.
This resulted in Coates committing to a change to the coaching licensing terms and conditions to implement life bans for coaches in abuse cases.
Now comes the latest announcement, which has been welcomed by Seary, who set up Kyniskia to challenge the status quo in women’s sport.
“Change in welfare and safeguarding is something that we feel is really important,” said Seary.
“UK Athletics announcing that they’re reviewing all cases that haven’t previously ended in a permanent ban is really good news.
“It’s them acknowledging that they and British Athletics haven’t always done the best in the past, they’re trying to put that right and also bringing in policies to make sure the current athletes are safe now and in the future.”
The review is likely to involve an estimated 30 to 40 cases, dating back to 2004.
UKA interim chief executive Mark Munro said this was a “significant piece of work” that would begin immediately.
“It is essential that our sport is safe and this exercise is the latest stage in working towards that,” he said.
A specialist caseworker will lead the process, and will prioritise the most serious offences where individuals may still be connected with the sport or where there is any potential for them to return to coaching.
Independent case management panels will then be engaged to reconsider sanctions.
“We want anyone who has experienced abuse to trust that we will do the right thing and that can only be truly achieved if we root out those who should not be operating in our sport and prevent these individuals from being able to return,” added Munro.
Seary says she is delighted theUKA has responded to the concerns raised by the petition and all the athletes who signed it.
“We set up the petition nearly a year ago – to see so much change come from that. And that’s really because of athletes’ voices,” said Seary.
“That petition had 2,000 athletes sign it, so it’s a good example of athletes’ voices being heard and doing something to make the changes.”
Seary was speaking immediately after winning a third Welsh 1500m indoor title last Saturday: “It’s been a really good week!”
As well as her campaigning successes away from the track, Seary has plenty of ambitions on it, and was delighted to win the title again.
“It was really good, my first race of the season,” said Seary. “So it was just seeing how the legs felt and to get some speed in for the rest of the season.
“I’ve got a 3k in a couple of weeks just try and see how I am over the distance ready for the steeplechase in the summer. Then I’ll go to the British Champs for the 1500.”
Seary switched to the steeplechase last summer with huge success, breaking the Welsh record on her debut at the event.
Parc Bryn Bach’s Lauren Cooper then lowered the Welsh best further, but Seary regained the record later in the summer.
Like Cooper, Seary has one eye on a steeplechase spot in the Welsh team at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine,” says Seary. “I exceeded my own expectations in the steeple during the summer just gone. I think it’d be sad not to at least try. I’ve got a gap to close. But if I don’t try, I will never know.
“It would be the steeple I go for, at least that’s the plan. If I somehow run a really fast 1500, that would be nice. But I’ve really started to love the steeple and it’s kind of become a passion.”
Seary feels the competition with Cooper has helped her successful switch to the steeplechase.
“Absolutely,” she says. “You’ve always got to be challenged to improve and if we can help each other improve by both working really well, then I think that’s just great for Welsh, steeplechasing.
“We both broke the record, so we’ve brought Welsh steeplechasing to a better place than it was before.”