Allen Key To Sport Development

As our National Lead (Operations) Colin Allen is responsible for overseeing both the strategic and day-to-day running of TASS. But his eye-catching extra-curricular activities suggest a busy year ahead for a familiar face on the dual career scene.

TASS: You’ve just been appointed as the new Chair of the Performance Sport Advisory Group at BUCS. Tell us more?

Colin Allen: I’ve always been keen to foster a closer relationship with BUCS and there’s obvious synergy between both organisations. When I saw that they were looking for someone to chair the newly formed Performance Sport Advisory Group I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring. It struck me as an ideal opportunity to bring my experience to the table and help to shape the future of performance sport for students across the UK. Initially, I was going to apply for one of the positions on the board as BUCS were looking for a wide range of representatives from the education sector and from UK sport. However, I spoke to Guy [Taylor, TASS National Director] and he suggested I apply to be chair. When I received the call confirming my appointment I was delighted.

TASS: Why do you feel you’re the right man for the job?

CA: As I said, I’ve always felt there was a natural synergy between TASS and BUCS. Although I’m not representing TASS on the PSAG it is an opportunity to explore that synergy and recognise the fact that the two organisations have a collective duty when it comes to developing performance sport for student athletes. In the past I would say that the relationship between TASS and BUCS has always been positive but not always collaborative. We operate in the same space but we could work better together in partnership. So, it’s my ambition to help to foster and develop that relationship.

TASS: And what is your wider ambition as chairman?

CA: In terms of the wider sectoral picture I’d argue that higher education is under-appreciated in terms of the role that it plays in performance sport. It could and probably should be valued more. However, it’s underrated to an extent and I’m prepared to do anything I can do to improve the level of recognition and underpin its value to the sport sector. In addition I’m keen to do what I can to drive the development needed to better support our student athletes.

TASS: What is the purpose of the PSAG?

CA: We’ve just reached the end of the previous BUCS Performance Sport strategy period which ran from 2017 to 2021. There’s still a discussion around how effective that was but the remit of our group is to renew the best parts of the previous development strategy and to assist in shaping the future strategy.

TASS: Where do your fellow board members come from?

CA: I work alongside eight representatives from across the UK sport sector. The board is made up of a mix of practitioners and people with specific expertise and experience. There are representatives from Para sport, the BUCS International Advisory Group and TASS.

TASS: have you already chaired your first meeting?

CA: Yes. We met virtually in January and it was a very positive experience. There was a high level of engagement from all of the board members and it felt like the two hours we’d set aside simply wasn’t enough! From a personal point of view my fellow board members made it very easy for me to settle into the chair’s role and I’m confident we can make real progress together. People were keen to share their opinions and to get involved. There’s a collective ambition to support BUCS on its journey towards developing a better performance sport strategy.

TASS: Aside from your BUCS commitments what other non-TASS roles do you fulfil?

CA: I’m proud to be a non-executive director for — and sit on the board of — the British American Football Association (BAFA). My interest in BAFA was sparked in the summer of 2019 when TASS opened up a dialogue with NFL UK. They had just launched their academy in London and it happened to be based at a TASS Dual Career Accredited site. The NFL was interested to hear what we had to say about the student sport sector and I was invited to attend their academy trials at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. As a Spurs fan that was an offer too good to refuse so I spent a fantastic day down there and met the chairman of the BAFA board, Nichole McCulloch.

TASS: What happened next?

CA: I realised that there’s something unique about American Football insofar as it offers people of all shapes and sizes the opportunity to play a team sport together. That really appealed to me even though my knowledge of the sport was — and still is — fairly limited! When I talk to Sport England about people getting active and the idea of engagement and inclusion it’s difficult to think of a single sport that could tick all of those boxes. I feel American Football could be that sport and I wanted to learn more about how I could support its ambition and development in this country. Its association with music, fashion and street culture all work in the sport’s favour and I feel it’s a sleeping giant in so many respects. I was keen to gain some board experience and jumped at the chance to join BAFA as a non-executive member. It’s great to be involved with an association very much at the start of its journey.

TASS: When did you join the BAFA board?

CA: After my initial conversation with Nichole I spoke to the Chief Executive, Pete Ackerley. Pete’s the first paid employee at BAFA and he’s been a breath of fresh air for American Football in this country. He’s also a board trustee for the England & Wales Cricket Trust and is an ECB board member so he has bags of experience within sport. My position was ratified by the members at an EGM in February 2020 so I’ve just passed the first anniversary of my official involvement with BAFA. It was one of the last in-person meetings I attended! As a board our focus has been keeping the sport going through the pandemic and ensuring it’s in a good position to hit the ground running when a return to sport is allowed.