An interview with the CEO of Welsh Triathlon, Beverley Lewis, about the last 10 years.
Tell me how you got into Triathlon and became involved with Welsh Triathlon.
I became involved in triathlon the same way many mums get involved. After staying home with three children I began to get back into some running and tennis but was suffering knee and ankle pain so thought I had better start swimming and wanted to start cycling.
I emailed Andy Deans (then Cardiff Tri Club Chair) and said; I couldn’t swim far, I had a new road bike I wasn’t confident in riding, and would I be suitable for the Club. I received such a welcoming email I joined and have never left. This was September 2011.
Joining Welsh Triathlon a year later was in answer to an advert linked to the Cardiff Triathletes website which said Welsh Triathlon were looking for a part time administrator. I was interviewed by James Taylor and Clare Hoskins and started 1st September 2012 on 18 hours a week. It took a few years to be recognised in the leadership role and to become the full-time manager and it has been an interesting journey to Chief Executive.
Had you worked in sport before then?
No, I have a BSC in Geology and an MSc in Geophysical Exploration and had spent my early career in the Oil Industry and Mining Consultancy. I had taken a career break to have my three fantastic children and knew that technology in that field had moved on too far for me to want to catch up.
Joining a sports governing body was not planned and as my involvement in the organisation expanded, I realise I needed to go back to school. I went part time to Cardiff Metropolitan University and now have an MA in Leadership and Management in Sport, with a dissertation in sports governance.
This provided me with more knowledge of the history of sport, the environment and framework in which I was working and the rest I needed to learn on the job.
What progress have you seen in the last ten years in Welsh Triathlon and in Welsh Sport?
Welsh Triathlon has established itself as a well governed national body in the sports sector with a Board of high calibre and passion. The staff always give 100% and are known and appreciated by the membership. We have grown staff from 2 to 8 full time, membership from 300 to 3000, race starts in Wales now exceeding 20,000 and nearly 70 Clubs.
What gives me greatest pleasure is how innovative and flexible we are and how we are positioned collaboratively within the community and the sports sector.
Welsh Sport is a brilliant community to work in. Sport Wales’s Vision and Strategy, achieved through consultation with the Nation through ‘Your Conversation’, has developed a progressive relationship with the governing bodies which I welcome.
The pandemic showed how the sector could pull together to inform and support the Welsh Government’s decisions which affected the cautious but steady return to sport after lockdown. This collaborative approach continues as indoor sports return and I hope it will continue into future years.
I currently Chair the Forum for Chief Executives of Welsh Sport and was impressed by the courage and dedication of the leaders in Welsh Sport who stopped, composed themselves and then went on to assess and solve the issues and in some cases, devastation caused by the pandemic. It has been a tough time and though not a front-line sector we are very aware of the position sporting activity had in the well-being of the Nation.
You are launching a new strategic framework this weekend, how have you identified your role as a governing body?
With a new Chair in place last September, we had a complete review of our strategic direction. As the Directors, staff and key volunteers communicated it became very clear that Welsh Triathlon’s role was to support the wellbeing of the Welsh population through the triathlon community. Our direction of travel was already to be inclusive, expand our reach, and offer education, protection, and support to those engaged in triathlon. We have now fully aligned our strategy with the Well-being of Future Generation Act (2015) Wales; a piece of unique legislation which looks to create a better Wales. I believe we are the first governing body to take this approach and we are very excited by the opportunities it allows in participation, performance, and events.
What are the biggest challenges facing Welsh Triathlon going forward?
Welsh Triathlon needs to become more commercial and develop greater business skills to survive in a world with less public funding. This means news skill sets. We are fortunate to have great experience on the Board which supports staff but we cannot rely on our non-executive directors to give up huge swathes of their own time to work operationally for Welsh Triathlon. We need to employ people with new skills and this means we need to find the resources. It’s a chicken and egg situation!
As we grow, we need to maintain close working relations with British Triathlon and the other Home Nation organisations, Triathlon Scotland, and Triathlon England. We are all working to the same end game for triathlon. The Federal structure we operate is the envy of many other sports but it requires constant attention to ensure we have a Welsh voice and operate to support Welsh members in a Welsh environment.
We have been working with Events Wales, Welsh Government to bring a major international triathlon to Wales for many years and by 2022 may have succeeded – watch this space! This event will showcase Wales as a venue for further international events which supports our commitment to the goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act around sustainability, economic growth, and a developing workforce.
It also has to be said that environmental sustainability is a big challenge for us, particularly on the events side. We genuinely want to make a difference and have signed the UN Sport for Climate Action Charter to demonstrate our commitment.
What are the biggest successes from the last 10 years?
There are many areas of success from membership engagement to new and innovative activities however the few stand outs for me are as follows.
1. The National Triathlon Performance Centre Wales developed from the nucleus involving Andy Lane in Cardiff Met and is now a collaboration between Cardiff Met, Cardiff University and ourselves with two (soon to be three) full time coaches. It is recognised by British Triathlon as a pathway Centre and currently supports athletes from three Commonwealth Games teams. The growth in interest has been boosted by the demonstrable added value and impressive race results the coaching team deliver.
2. The Welsh Super Series was set up with support from Ron Isles of Dream Team Television. It is a six event, bilingual series with stunning venues across Wales showcased. Broadcast in Welsh by S4C it then goes global via an English version and we have had tremendous positive feedback from participants and viewers.
3. Our maintenance of a strong governance and compliance structure. For a small team we are held to account just as much as a larger organisation and need the full policies and procedures in place to support all our activity. Good governance makes us transparent to membership and able to enact policies and procedures to solve issues and concerns. This is an area we will continue to review and improve with the support of a skilled Board.
For me personally, I need to shelve the stresses of the last few years and get back to training. I qualified for British Triathlon Age Group Team racing and was due to be in both Tartu and Edmonton in 2020. Right now, 5k is a tough ask, so back to basics!
For Welsh Triathlon, we need to ensure a solid recovery from the pandemic, attracting our racing membership back to the sport now events have returned. We are looking towards developing the club structure and inclusive pathway into our sport for young children and adults. We need to work towards the clear strategic goals in the new Framework Strategy understanding that we need to find new ways to measure well-being and the impact of our activity on the Welsh people. This will come through research, data and insights and we will be seeking lots of membership feedback.
Then of course there is the Commonwealth Games, Birmingham 2022 – nearly a home games – we will be nominating a team to be selected for Team Wales.
There are many challenges but supported by a great staff team, passionate and dedicated volunteers (you know who you are!) and a highly skilled and experienced Board of Directors I look forward to the next few years with great enthusiasm.