Thursday, 10 March 2011

Globe-Trotting Cohen


Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners

Services to Officiating – Chris Cohen.

Nicola Bamford profiles the winner of the 2010 Services to Officiating award from the England Athletics national volunteer awards ceremony last autumn.

Chris Cohen was born to be an athletics official. As early as aged nine, he would organise high jump competitions for the children in his neighbourhood, using canes and clothes pegs to hold the bar in place – officiating some might say, is his natural habitat.

A club-level high, long and triple-jumper in his youth, Cohen took his love for the sport into teaching in the early 70’s and taught for over thirty years, such was – and still is – his passion to educate others.

Around the turn of the Millennium, he left the teaching system, explaining:

“I was fortunate to be elected Chairman of English Schools in 2000 but I knew I had come towards the end when the new Head-teacher announced himself to me in the school playground as a former county sprinter whom I had coached while he was at school!”


Keen to use his new-found spare time for good, Cohen went onto coach two-time World long-jump champion Fiona May and his most recent accolade is testament to the years of establishing himself as one of the world’s finest, well-travelled officials.

“It was a real surprise to be considered for the (England Athletics) award,” Cohen explained.

His shock confirms the modesty of a man who has achieved so much in a voluntary career spanning more than two decades.

His officiating days took off, quite literally, with a trip to Seoul for the 1988 Paralympics, where he Cohen was asked to educate the officials on how to run the athletics competition:

“I was the only person who knew the rules of all the disabilities so that meant I had to travel out to Korea six months before the Games to teach the three-hundred plus officials,” Cohen revealed.

“I was appointed Technical Delegate for the Games, a task I performed at each of the next five Paralympics.”

Working on the Paralympic stage on five occasions is an honour Cohen understandably holds dear and further emphasising his authority in the field, he was elected Chairman of the International Paralympic Committee – a post he held until retiring after the 2008 Beijing Games.

“This was partly due to the fact that I had been in that position for nearly twenty years but also because we were to stage the next Games in London and I wanted to be involved more closely, which I could not do as an international post holder,” explained Cohen on the forthcoming 2012 extravaganza.

His duties in the post ranged from being responsible for the management of the sport and its technical progress to the staging of wheelchair and disability exhibition events at IAAF World championships and Olympic Games between 1988 and 2007:

“One of the areas that were fairly obvious from the beginning of my time in disability athletics was the lack of knowledge and understanding of both the rules and how to stage competitions, so these were priorities from the outset,” Cohen revealed.

Leading seminars all over the globe and acting as Chairman of the Jury of Appeal as late as 2008 in Beijing, Cohen at the time, combined his efforts with his work in raising standards in UK official’s education, which resulted in him chairing the track and field and endurance Officials’ Education groups:

“Along with a dedicated group of senior officials from all disciplines and all parts of the UK, this has led to a new system of education and training for all our officials, including school and university students who can achieve a Young Officials award,” explained Cohen.

“The next step for this system is to take as much as possible of it online so that candidates can learn at home rather than have to wait until there are courses available for them to attend.”


Since retiring from the IPC in 2008, Cohen has been involved in a project for Manchester University’s School of Business as part of their World Academy of Sport through writing an online resource to teach officials around the world the rules of Paralympic athletics.

“I enjoy officiating at all levels of the sport, from helping at my local club, Derby, through to national and international level,” Cohen revealed.

Though when asked to pinpoint his favourite memories, he names watching the men’s World championship long-jump final in Tokyo between Carl Lewis and Mike Powell and Cathy Freeman’s 400m victory in the Sydney 2000 Olympics as his top two.

“I also enjoy officiating at combined events competitions at any level, especially schools events because the athletes are together for the whole day or two days and work together to support one another and, again, enthusiastic officials can make a real difference to the outcome for the athletes,” explained Cohen.

At present, Cohen is a newly-qualified IAAF International Technical Official – a role which he participated in at the World junior championships in Canada last summer - after spending four years as an Area Technical Official for European Athletics:

“As an ATO, I was fortunate to be appointed as Chief ATO at the European Indoor Championships in Turin in 2007 as well as the European Team Championships in Munich,” Cohen revealed.

“In a few weeks time I will be in Paris for the European Indoor Championships as an ATO, have also been appointed as Technical Delegate for the European Youth Olympic festival in Turkey this year and I have just been appointed as the Technical Delegate for the 2014 European Championships in Zurich.”

Honoured with a CBE in the 2010 New Year’s honours list for his work in sport, it is little wonder that this globe-trotting official with such vast expertise, experience and respect, has been recognised by England Athletics – long may his adventures continue.

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