• Phil Packer

Former CEO of the British Canoe Union, Paul Owen OBE, joins the BRIT Ambassador family

We are delighted that Paul has joined our BRIT Ambassador family and is championing the annual BRIT Challenge to support and improve young adult and student mental health and fitness throughout the UK.


Paul believes that life is about what you are going to do rather than what you have done. Since 2018, Paul has been an Ambassador for Sport in Mind ® - an independent mental health charity founded in Berkshire in 2010 with a simple mission:


“To improve the lives of people experiencing mental health problems through sport and physical activity”

Sport In Mind are the UK’s leading mental health sports charity and deliver physical activity projects in partnership with the NHS in order to promote mental wellbeing, improve physical health, combat social isolation and empower people to move their lives forward in a positive direction.


Paul led the British Canoe Union (BCU) for 23 years taking the organisation from a small National Governing Body (NGB), to the large and extremely respected and successful organisation it is today.


After Paul was appointed as Chief Executive of the BCU, British athletes medalled at every Olympic Games, most significantly at the Games in 2008 and 2012, where three Olympic champions came from the BCU. Paul’s leadership skills were influential in this process, resulting in proven achievements on the world stage.


Paul worked tirelessly to ensure that the BCU were best placed to deliver results at London 2012 and provided a lasting legacy from the London Games. This is evident in the Whitewater Course at Lee Valley, which Paul was involved with from day one.


Additionally, Paul was a trustee and director of the BCU’s charity, the Canoe Foundation. During his time on the Canoe Foundation, the charity went from strength to strength, with over 35,000 children benefitting from its donations and having positive experiences in the sport. The growth of the charity is, in part, due to Paul’s creativity and drive and ambition to succeed.


Paul is passionate about equality and is prepared to stand up and be counted when it comes to driving forward situations that he sees as unfair. Paul was a key advocate in taking forward the participation of women and in developing the sport for people with a disability.


In 2011, Canoeing was added to the programme of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. The British Canoe Union, under Paul’s leadership, was key to this decision, having organised the first Paracanoeing Championships in the UK during the 1990s and then finally having proposed at the 2008 International Canoe Federation Congress, the inclusion of Paracanoeing in its future development and World Championships. During the International Paralympic Committees decision phase, Paul actively lobbied IPC members for its inclusion.

Paul Owen OBE - BRIT Ambassador

“As former Chief Executive of the British Canoe Union and Chair of the Sport and Recreation Alliance Water Recreation Division, member of the Board of Trustees of Get Berkshire Active, and as an Ambassador for Sport In Mind, I am very aware of the increase in mental health challenges faced by so many young adults and students throughout the UK.


The British Inspiration Trust (BRIT) Vision resonates with me both personally and professionally as we must do more to proactively support mental health and fitness through a collaborative, multi-organisation approach. I applaud BRIT for their work to forge partnerships and special relationships across the education, sport and charity sectors in order to have a positive UK-wide impact on young adult and student mental health and fitness.


I am delighted that BRIT are delivering the annual BRIT Challenge as a feelgood February fundraiser for every university, college, specialist college and Students’ Union to enter teams and encourage student and staff participation. It’s also great to see that the annual BRIT Challenge has been designed to be inclusive, enabling students and staff of all abilities to participate by either hand-cycling, cycling, wheelchair pushing, swimming, walking, jogging, running, rowing or paddling (canoeing, kayaking or paddle-boarding).


I am thrilled to be supporting the BRIT Ambassador family to promote the BRIT Challenge, destigmatise mental health and champion equality, diversity and inclusion. I urge both former and current Great Britain canoeists to join our BRIT Ambassador, choose a university, college or specialist college to support, and encourage their students and staff to enter teams and take part in the annual BRIT Challenge”.


Paul Owen OBE

Former CEO of the British Canoe Union

Paul Owen OBE - Working as a Technical Advisor for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

During his seventeen years of voluntary service, Paul worked in a number of roles from Press Officer of the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, where he established the Event as a World renowned brand to a committee member and international official for Canoe Marathon. Paul served as secretary of the BCU’s southern region and was a key member of the committee of Reading Canoe Club.


Paul was a volunteer in the sport of canoeing for 17 years from 1975, and was then appointed as Chief Executive of the British Canoe Union (BCU) in 1992. He was the youngest ever appointed Chief Executive of an Olympic Sport in Great Britain.


Paul was a leading member of the team that organised the first Canoe Marathon World Championships in Nottingham during 1988 and in 1989 Paul was awarded the BCU’s award of Merit.


As Chief Executive, the BCU’s Olympic disciplines went from strength to strength under Paul’s guidance, resulting in their athletes consistently winning medals at significant competitions, and now being recognised as amongst the best canoeing athletes in the World. Paul wrote the first World Class Performance programme for canoeing in 1996, and initially to get the programme running, took on the role of the Sports Performance Director. Paul continued to play an active part in the strategic management of the BCU’s World Class Programme, providing guidance and acting as a “critical friend” to the programmes Senior Management Team.


Under Paul’s leadership, the BCU grew from a small organisation to one, which now has in excess of 70,000 members and a further 2 million participants in the UK. Paul drove the success of this growth, with his innovative thinking and by encouraging the workforce to buy into the aims of the business, with the creation of a positive work culture.


As an NGB, the BCU is highly regarded within the sport industry, for its high standards in governance and good practice. Paul was instrumental in ensuring that the pathways were in place to achieve this, and he provided on going-support to ensure it was maintained.


Paul has been responsible for securing international level competitions in the UK including several World Championships, and in particular Paul led the successful bid to host the 2015 Canoe Slalom World Championships at Lee Valley; the first London Legacy World Championships to be awarded.


Paul was canoeing’s representative on the National Olympic Committee contributing immensely to the organisations activities and strategic direction. In particular, Paul worked tirelessly behind the scenes towards the goal of bringing the Olympic games to Britain; first Manchester, then London.


Until recently Paul was the Chair of the Sport and Recreation Alliance (previously CCPR) Water Recreation Division, having previously been its Vice Chair for six years, and before that an active member since 1992.


He also served on UK Sport Ethics and Anti-Doping Committee and has been a Director of the Sports Aid Foundation Southern region.


Internationally, Paul has actively supported the International Canoe Federation (ICF). Avoiding seeking office, Paul carved out a role of unofficial consultant and advisor to the ICF; this role gave Paul an extensive influence in the direction and affairs of the federation.


In 2004, Paul voluntarily took the role of Finance Director of the Commonwealth Games Council for England, a position that he held for three years, instigating major reform with the introduction of a new independent chair and the structure we see today.


At a club level, again voluntarily, Paul worked tirelessly, with his wife Tamsin, to redevelop Reading Canoe Club to become the fine community facility it is today.


In 2012, Paul was awarded British Canoeing’s highest award – the Award of Honour. In 2016, Paul was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Canoeing.


Through Lane 5, the Management Company that Paul created in 2016, he has an eclectic mix of paid and voluntary roles that combine his passion for sport and events with his desire to put something back; believing that sport and physical activity can be reached by and enjoyed by everyone. Paul enhances people’s lives through creating social networks, together with activities that suit personal needs and having fun. Paul’s ability to motivate others, and his experience in a variety of roles and situations at home and overseas, make him ideally suited to interim CEO roles and project management; particularly in events across all aspects of sport, education and entertainment.


Since 2016, Paul has been a Member of the Board of Trustees of Get Berkshire Active who work with their partners and stakeholders to inspire, enhance, co-ordinate and deliver physical activity where they matter locally.


Between 2019 and 2021, Paul was a Technical Advisor for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Paul provided a range of services including Event Management, Sports Presentation, Contingency Planning, Legacy development and Management.


In May 2021, Paul became an Advisory Board Member to JoggingBuddy – an online platform that allows members to find other members to go running with. Launched in 2008, the site now has members in 118 countries and growing.


In September 2021, Paul became Sports Board Chair at Henley College.


You can follow Paul on Twitter.