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An insight into the future leaders of Australian Athletics

An insight into the future leaders of Australian Athletics

“We want to make it clear that people can be involved in the sport as a participant – and you can participate as an elite athlete but, more importantly, you can also participate recreationally for the enjoyment and the camaraderie that you get out of the sport,’’ – Jan Swinhoe

 

LAA and AA are well prepared for the unification of the sport with the establishment of the prospective members of the Board of Australian Athletics. The new Board will commence operation, subject to State and Territory Member associations approval later this year.

Jan Swinhoe, recently announced Chair of Athletics Australia has been appointed by the prospective directors to the position of Chair of Australian Athletics and Colin Segota, current director of LAA, has been appointed as Deputy Chair. 

Here, we take a deeper dive into two inspirational individuals who will lead the new organisation – Australian Athletics.

Jan Swinhoe has run her five marathons since turning 55, inspired by many mature athletes who believe that goals and dreams are possible at any age. In fact, she spent precious evenings running with her own dad as a teenager before leaving home, discussing her fears for what life might hold. She has run alongside strangers she now calls close friends.

Having first jogged around the block – a big block – as a 15-year-old in Tamworth in regional NSW and discovering cross-country, Swinhoe continued after moving away to university, and enjoyed the flexibility it gave her to exercise during a demanding and highly-successful corporate career that has spanned four decades.

Now 64, the woman nominated as the inaugural Chair of a unified Australian Athletics board still covers 40-50km per week; in her well-organised fashion, she routinely checks the weather forecast before carefully folding suitable exercise gear ready for the morning.

“I can’t imagine that I will ever not run. Ever. I feel that’s where I belong,’’ says Swinhoe, whose family have been members of the UTS North club for close to twenty years and who competes in cross-country and road relays and admires the remarkable 80-somethings from other clubs who know and cheer her on.

 “I will support our local and state organisations to make the junior and youth transition easier to navigate. I want us to work more harmoniously together, and for the sport to be less fragmented and more collaborative. That’s how we will attract more people to join and stop people from leaving. For me, it’s what the national unification is about.”

“For me, it’s a community thing. There are fabulous people that I’ve met through athletics. Both my parents have passed away and I’ve had my three kids, and the thing that’s been constant through everything has been running. It really has become a sport for life.’’

Swinhoe’s goal is to provide more Australians of all ages with a clear and co-ordinated pathway to encourage them to stay involved for longer. That vision of a sport united at a national level is shared by her prospective Deputy Chair and current Little Athletics Australia director Colin Segota and their eight fellow Australian Athletics board nominees.

“We want to make it clear that people can be involved in the sport as a participant – and you can participate as an elite athlete but, more importantly, you can also participate recreationally for the enjoyment and the camaraderie that you get out of the sport,’’ says Swinhoe.

The initial to-do list includes appointing a CEO and forming Board sub-committees; welcoming all employees of the new entity, with every existing job safe; continuing to work on a national insurance program; building communication through regular Member Association forums; aligning the AA and LAA calendars; creating a National Charter between the MAs and the national body to define responsibilities. 

“Our board is working to develop a culture where everyone is welcome in athletics,’’ says Swinhoe. “We will be inclusive regardless of age, ability, race or gender and want our members – athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers – to feel proud of being part of the athletics community.’’

Now the Chair of Mercer Superannuation, among other non-executive roles, Swinhoe’s athletics contribution came about through the participation of her children in the sport, Catherine, 24, and 22-year-old twins Charlie and Eloise – prompted by the appreciation of what they had gained, each in their own way.

“One day I was watching my son race and I got into a conversation with someone about planning and budgeting and the best ways to do that for a corporation – I don’t know how we ended up in that conversation!’’ she recalls. “It turned out that that person was on the board of Athletics Australia.’’

There was soon to be a vacancy, and Swinhoe filled it. That was 2014. “I love athletics and I’ve learnt a lot about the sport from being on the board and hopefully I’ve contributed to the board by bringing what my skills are, which are finance,superannuation, insurance, banking, risk management and governance.’’

The Deputy Chair of AA’s Audit, Risk and Finance committee is proud of what has been achieved so far, and heavily invested in what unification offers going forward. Just don’t assume her leaning will be towards the elite side of athletics, Swinhoe says.

“I’m very much about grassroots. I grew up in Tamworth and I’ve got three kids who went through Little As, so I understand the importance of the Centres, kept alive by the volunteer officials, coaches and parents. IN many small country areas, it’s the Centres and our senior clubs that are the beating heart of communities.

“I will support our local and state organisations to make the junior and youth transition easier to navigate. I want us to work more harmoniously together, and for the sport to be less fragmented and more collaborative. That’s how we will attract more people to join and stop people from leaving. For me, it’s what the national unification is about.”

Copy of Copy of From Little Athletics to two-time Olympian
 
So, too, Segota, who started as an eight-year-old at busy Dandenong Little Athletics Club in Melbourne’s east, which morphed into a way of building his fitness for weekends spent as a football umpire, and has remained a passion ever since. His two daughters Bronte and Ella, now adults, spent a decade or so at Brighton Little A’s but chose not to make the transition to seniors. “They left. I stayed,’’ Segota laughs.

He moved from official to centre president, joined the Southern Region committee as Competition Director in 2008, then became region president in 2010, officiated at region and state state events and served as a Little Athletics Victoria director from 2015. After being elected state president in 2017, he also joined the LAA board, where he remains, having relinquished the state role as the LAA Board moved to an independently-elected model in 2019, and winning another term last year.

Segota sees unification as vital to the sport’s prosperity, helping to unlock funding opportunities and providing clarity among the pathways for athletes (and, importantly, their parents), coaches and officials, and committed to a structure that will be a win-win for both organisations.

“We want to be the sport of choice. So whether you’re six years or 60 years old we want to make sure that we have a product that allows you to participate in athletics – whether that be competitive or social athletics, however you want to engage,’’ he says.

“So making sure the opportunities are there and that people feel they can stay in the sport, and then for the higher performing athletes, how do they make the transition into that state, national and international level arena? Yes, there is the on-the-track component of athletics, but there needs to be a good strong structure around the sport to enable the sport to survive and grow.’’

“So making sure the opportunities are there and that people feel they can stay in the sport, and then for the higher performing athletes, how do they make the transition into that state, national and international level arena? Yes, there is the on-the-track component of athletics, but there needs to be a good strong structure around the sport to enable the sport to survive and grow.’’

Generally, Segota aims to deliver “on the promises and the expectations that the members have in terms of going forward with the one entity’’. Specifically, that includes the new youth product aimed at the 14-18-year-old bracket where retention rates typically decline.

“Athlete retention is one of the key challenges facing the sport and it’s a particular challenge from the Little Athletics perspective, especially if you’re in that 13 to 15 age group and someone says to you ‘what are you doing on the weekend?’ And you go ‘I’m going to Little Athletics’, people go ‘what? Little Athletics – aren’t you too old for Little Athletics?’. So getting that targeted product inside the Little A ecosystem that’s is going to resonate with that particular age group is going to be one of our key priorities.’’

Meanwhile, Swinhoe keeps running, for it’s where she finds peace, and time to think. As to what is the biggest challenge on the path ahead for athletics? “Believing that it’s all possible – it’s just going to take some time and persistence,” she says, after a moment. “The athletics community is deeply passionate about the sport and wants change. We need to never stop acting for its betterment. Colin and I will keep the focus on the big picture. If we get this right, the opportunities for Australian Athletics are immense.”

To find out more about all directors of the Australian Athletics Board Click Here