Investigation is underway after the organisation receives complaint that leading official joined in social media attacks
Ian Roberts has stepped back from his position as chair of the English Schools’ Athletics Association (ESAA) while an investigation takes place into the role he allegedly played in a case of online bullying.
Roberts, who is also the ESAA’s welfare lead, is accused of joining in with an online attack that athletics official Paul Baxter directed at Katey Ross, a volunteer administrator on the popular Facebook group I Was, Or Am, A Runner.
Baxter was recently given a three-and-a-half-year ban by UK Athletics for online bullying and harassment of Ross, with an inquiry now underway to look into the part Roberts played in it.
AW has seen the social media posts that have led to the complaints, although the messages have since been deleted.
“I became aware of an allegation by Katey Ross, so I voluntarily stepped back from my roles to enable an investigation to be carried out by the ESAA,” said Roberts, who did not want to comment further while the investigation was ongoing.
The ESAA is building up to its flagship track and field championships in Birmingham in a month’s time and it will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2025. Yet it did not have an appropriate complaints procedure to deal with this case and initially approached England Athletics for assistance before choosing to handle it in-house.
The ESAA receives funding from England Athletics but is otherwise an independent organisation run by volunteer officials who are largely teachers or ex-teachers. So whereas it was originally unclear which body would investigate the accusations, the ESAA has belatedly created its own complaints procedure which is being checked by a legal team before the inquiry begins.
Ross made her complaint to the ESAA about Roberts at the end of April and told AW that soon afterwards she was surprised to receive an email from him where he denied knowing Baxter and claimed his contributions to the abuse – which included adding a GIF – were a joke.
“Mr Roberts not only joined in with the very personal attacks upon me but highlighted his position as ESAA chair within the comments, adding significant weight to the bullying,” said Ross. “Like many others I regard ESAA as a hugely important organisation in the sport – and one very dear to my heart as a former eight-time ESAA athlete. How someone in the position of chair and welfare lead at ESAA wouldn’t recognise such serious online abuse and bullying by a large group of men, let alone contribute to it, is beyond me.”
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