Kelly Sotherton retired from competitive sport months before the London 2012 Olympic Games. At the launch of the International Leadership Programme (ILP), a UK Sport development initiative, we spoke to the Olympic bronze medal-winning heptathlete about life after retirement and why it’s important to keep athletes in the high-performance system.
How did you find retiring form sport and moving into the next phase of your life?
"It wasn’t really the way I wanted to retire, I wanted to go out after London 2012 but my injuries meant it wasn’t meant to be that way. I was massively depressed at points because I’d worked so hard, obsessed so much, to get to the Olympics. There was a point, every day for two weeks where I worked opposite the Olympic Stadium and strangely that was quite therapeutic.
"I thought I knew what I wanted to do once I retired, but it all changed once I had more time to think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I’ve always had something to say, always wanted to make things better for the next generation of athletes, this led me to speak to a number of people for advice and to ultimately take up a course on governance and then to be recommended by British Athletics for UK Sport’s International Leadership Programme."
Do you think it’s important to get more athletes involved in programmes like this?
"It’s vital. Sportspeople need to get involved with the ‘administrative’ aspect, we’ve got to keep the expertise within the system, those that have grown within it have so much to contribute and should put back into it whether it’s a job, or volunteering or coaching the next generation. We absolutely have to utilise the expertise, knowledge, experience and passion of our champions and heroes to put back into the system. If we let them go, we’ll never get them back again."
Why did you want to be part of ILP?
"I instantly realised, and learnt, how many dimensions there are to sport and I’ve gone from tunnel vision to 360 degree scope where there’s suddenly the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, International Federations, National Olympic Committees, European and National Federations and I’m learning about what they do, their remit and I’m thinking 'why didn’t I know about this before?'. It’s an eye opener, but now I know there are specialisms within sport that I didn’t even know existed, I’m meeting new people and networking and gaining fantastic knowledge and advice on how to operate effectively in the international environment."
What do you hope to get out of it?
"That’s simple, a broader understanding of international sport, how it works, how decisions are made, those ‘corridors of power’ people speak about, the politics of who’s who and genuinely how it’s just interesting. Actually, it’s quite daunting! I never realised the intricacies and structure of international sport, the landscape is massive. It’s a bit like the film Labyrinth, you’re in the middle of the maze, you can see the castle at the top of the hill but you’ve just got to figure out how to get there. I’ve opened the first door on my journey; I’ve just got to figure out the rest of the path now!"
The International Leadership Programme (ILP), launched in 2006, is designed to equip British sport administrators with the skills, competencies and behaviours they need to become effective representatives at international level. This also ensures that the UK’s sporting interests, and that of its representatives, are positioned at the forefront of international elite sport.
The full list of members of the International Leadership Programme:
- Ashley Metcalfe, CEO British Weight Lifting
- Jane Jones, Director of Marketing and Communications, British Paralympic Association
- Mahdi Choudhury, Sport Engagement Manager, British Olympic Association
- Ian Howard, President and Chairman British Triathlon Federation
- Iain Graham, CEO British Showjumping, FEI Technical Delegate British Equestrian Federation
- David Sweetman, CEO Scottish Hockey
- Kelly Sotherton, Retired Athlete, British Athletics
- Matt Hammond, Performance Director, Great Britain Boccia Federation
- Rob Udwin, RFU Council Member, Rugby Europe Board of Directors, RFU
- Hitesh Patel, Head of International Sport, Major Events and Anti-Doping, DCMS
- Mark Hunter, Retired Athlete, British Rowing
- Graham Edmunds, Chair of Swimming Competitors Association, Athlete representative on the British Swimming Board of Directors
- Nicola Newman, Director of Communications and Education, UK Anti-Doping
- Emma Mason, BWF Council member and Chair of Athletes Commission. Retired
- Athlete, Badminton Scotland