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Sport facing the squeeze

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David Bond | 16:27 UK time, Thursday, 15 April 2010

The last 10 years have witnessed a golden age of funding for sport in the United Kingdom. From Britain's Olympians to sport in schools, more than £2bn has been pumped into all levels of sporting activity.

Since 2000, £750m has been received by UK Sport alone, principally to fund our top athletes. That investment has been paid back in golds - 39 of them, in fact, at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Games.

But as the General Election draws closer, sport is anticipating possible cutbacks.

David Beckham with Gordon Brown, 2009; David Cameron jogging
As prime minister, Brown has promoted England's World Cup bid while Cameron is a keen jogger and cyclist

Don't expect Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to be fielding many sporty questions in the Prime Ministerial TV debates, though.

London 2012, the 2018 World Cup bid and the continuing controversy surrounding football governance in England have all put sport on the political map. But, besides Brown's use of terrace chants and other strained footballing analogies to attack Cameron, it remains some way down the agenda.

Quite right, some would argue. How can anyone seriously sustain a case to keep sport at its current funding levels when hospitals, schools and the armed forces are potentially facing severe cuts?

But the great fear among the people who run sport is that even before the Olympic flame has been lit in London, their budgets will have been slashed and burnt.

The Treasury has already ordered the Department of Media, Culture and Sport - the Government department which allocates money from taxpayers and the lottery to sporting bodies - to find £60m in savings by 2012/2013.

Sport is a devolved issue, which allows Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland greater say in how they spend their money for sport, but UK Sport is funded directly from Whitehall.

So although the Government promised to ring fence the £600m for elite sport and the £800m for Sport England to boost participation up until 2012, sport has a major problem looming with the next Government spending review in 2011.

The commitments may have been well intentioned, but they could quite feasibly turn out to be meaningless.

Any drop in funding is only going to make it harder to deliver on the Olympic legacy promises made by Lord Sebastian Coe. Nevertheless, all three of the main UK political parties have included sporting pledges in their manifestos, launched this week.

Labour says it will create a "golden legacy for future generations" off the back of the Olympics. There are also pledges to maintain sporting integrity and the well trailed commitment to help football fans buy stakes in their clubs. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, there is no mention of the possible fall in funding. Yet, the sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe told me last week: "No one can say that there won't be cuts."

The Conservatives do partially address the issue by promising to reform the way the National Lottery works - reducing the number of funds it runs from five to four, meaning a 4% increase in the money sport receives.

Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrats' manifesto launch

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, give sport only a passing mention, although the party's sports spokesman, Don Foster, said they would raid money lying in dormant betting accounts and make tax changes to help boost any shortfall.

Sport England hopes lottery money will plug any gap caused by a drop in direct funding by the Treasury. But over at UK Sport, the threat is considered so serious it is already drawing up a document called "Life after London", which will set out the arguments for maintaining the current levels of funding.

When it comes down to it, the money sport receives remains relatively insignificant when compared with the £160bn hole in the public finances. And having invested so heavily in sport over the last 10 years, it would seem counter-productive to start making cutbacks just as the Olympic party starts.

But while they all talk a good game on sport, we will only see how valuable it is to our politicians once the election is won and the new Government works out where the axe will fall.


  • Comment number 1.

    Being such a popular thing in the UK, any minister would need a very good argument to attempt to cut the sporting budget. However with the Olympics and the hefty costs attributed to it, a step may be taken as the cuts will soon commence. How this will affect sport, who knows.

    Both Cameron and Brown have appeared many times in the sporting picture, however low key, they are attempting to relate with the everyday people of Britain, and for many of us; sport is our life.

  • Comment number 2.

    Surely putting more money into grassroots sports, and into sports that can inspire people to become more active, would take some of the strain off hospitals who have to deal with problems such as obesity, heart disease and others?

  • Comment number 3.

    I agree ad astra per aston villa - all the funding for sport doesnt need to come from a big pot labelled 'sport'. The effect that sport has on many other parts of the British lifestyle means money could be combined to help any shortfall - your hospital example is good, and education is another area.

    I think one problem is that sport isn't that popular in the UK - look at all the complaints about having sport on the BBC all the time, when it is barely on!! People like to have sport as a luxury (and normally their one sport - football, which is self financing...maybe) and don't want it to cut into the things they consider essential.

    I think that the best argument sport has is tying in with other groups to show health and learning benefits for the country...

  • Comment number 4.

    A golden age of sport? I don´t think so. While the football and cricket teams are performing reasonably well, Britain is in my opinion, rather underachieving in sporting terms. Look at the Australians who regularly outperform us with less than half the population. What is more Australia is successful in a far wider range of sports than we are.

    I think the problem is that funding is in the wrong areas- sports centres are being built but green fields sites for recreational sport are being sold off.

    What is more our elite sport structures lag far behind other nations in many disciplines. Where is the network of national football academies like the French have? Where is the national institute of sport funding a wide-range of athletes as in Australia or America?

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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