Ten of Britain’s top Para-athletes were asked by their head coach to publicly challenge a BBC report that revealed that a quarter of her squad did “not feel valued as a person”.
Paula Dunn sent a private group message on Twitter – seen by the BBC – to a group of athletes, writing: “I wouldn’t normally ask but if you see the story it would be great to put some context to the feedback.”
After several criticised the article, Dunn wrote to them saying: “Thanks guys you took the sting out of it.”
In a statement, UK Athletics said Dunn had got in touch “to advise senior athletes who might in turn receive calls from other media, and if further queries did arise, that athletes should feel free to add context to the meeting”.
The BBC had obtained the summary of a Culture Health Check survey of the country’s best Para-athletes that found that 28% disagreed that their feedback was valued.
Among several conclusions was that “athletes feel like a medal commodity and disposable”.
UK Sport has asked all sports to take part in a review of the culture across the high-performance system after a series of athlete welfare and bullying scandals.
Dunn – who is in charge of selection for Britain’s Paralympic track and field team – wrote to the athletes on the eve of publication of the story saying: “Unfortunately the report we produced and circulated after our meeting on the 11th has found its way to… the BBC!
“The summary obviously focused on the negatives and what we needed to improve, however… it will say something along the lines that the program is ‘in crisis’… very annoying and not a true reflection but that’s irrelevant.
“I wouldn’t normally ask but if you see the story it would be great to put some context to the feedback.”
One athlete responded: “Absolute %#^#%! Will make sure the real story is told”, to which Dunn tweeted back a thumbs-up.
Another replied: “We know the facts, we’ll make sure they’re put out there”, to which Dunn responded with: “Fabulous.”
A further athlete wrote: “Typical… always exploiting a negative… will happily point out the positives.”
“Thanks… I agree,” replied Dunn.
Several athletes publicly tweeted criticism of the article once it was published.
One athlete then messaged the private group, writing: “Fake news… poor journalism again. Shame on the person that leaked the report.”
“I agree,” replied Dunn.
After another athlete then pointed out the number of retweets a post linking to the article had received, Dunn replied, “Says it all. A none (sic) story. Thanks guys you took the sting out of it.”
In a statement British Athletics said: “Head coach Paula Dunn advised athletes of an upcoming media report. The purpose of this message was to advise senior athletes who might in turn receive calls from other media, and if further queries did arise, that athletes should feel free to add context to the meeting.”
However, the news report was welcomed by one Paralympic athlete.
Sprinter Bethany Woodward tweeted: “It’s very concerning to see that athletes and @BritAthletics are so angry at the fact important information was shared with the public. Let’s spare a thought for the 25% of Para-athletes – brave enough to say they felt uncared for. These voices must be heard #MentalHealthMatters.”