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How money buys medals

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John Beattie | 16:52 UK time, Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Poor countries cannot win at track cycling, nor swimming, nor rowing.

Rich countries have an advantage.

We have to temper our pride against the truth, which is that it's an unfair fight.

Marvellous though it is, it's only a small pool of countries prepared to spend the millions needed to win medals at expensive sports.

I write this having watched Sir Chris Hoy ride to glory in the Kierin final, but close your eyes - unless you are driving - and try to think of the most successful sports at the London 2012 games from a Team GB perspective.

Sir Chris Hoy

Let me see. I'd go for rowing, cycling, swimming, sailing and athletics. And guess what?

That's the five sports funded to a far greater extent than most of the others - and one sport has received huge sums of cash but hasn't delivered the medals.

Put it this way. You'd have to be a fairly rich country to build indoor velodromes.

The tracks are built to fractions of an inch, the indoor climate is controlled, and the doors are air-sealed.

Then you'd have to invest in the most high-tech bikes in the world; so light you can pick them up between your fingers, so strong they don't fail, so fast they have no rolling or internal resistance, and so aerodynamic they cut through the air.

So, take a look at how much money UK Sport gives to some sports.

There are five sports getting more than £20m each between 2009 and 2013. And all the sports have agreed targets.

At the very top of the money list is Rowing.

Again, remember all the medals Team GB won in rowing, including Katherine Grainger in the double sculls and Heather Stanning in the rowing doubles.

Rowing is richer to the tune of £27,287,600.

Yes, a huge sum, and that buys the best sport physiotherapists, the sleekest boats, access to the best training, world travel and, well, the list goes on.

Rowing's performance target for London 2012 was six medals, it produced nine. A good return, but £3m per medal.

In second place in terms of funding from UK sport is cycling.

Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton are the top of the tree that shares £26m give or take a few pennies.

The first indoor velodrome in the UK was built for the Manchester Commonwealth Games of 2002, and at the moment there are only three in the UK.

The medal target agreed for that money was six to ten. As I write this cycling, both track and on the road, has won a combined total of nine medals.

Cycling's performance director Dave Brailsford will be a happy man. Just.

He promised those medals.

Swimming is getting £25,144,600. State-of-the-art pools and training and science back up all cost money.

Their performance target was five to seven medals and they have failed to meet even the lower level of that deal as swimming sits at just the three medals.

Someone is in trouble, or should be given that massive investment.

The fourth richest sport is athletics with £25m, give or take a few pennies.

They promised five to eight medals and sit at four as I write with quite a few solid medal prospects.

Sailing is funded to the tune of £22m, has a performance target of three to five medals, and, even before Rhu's Luke Patience gets his guaranteed silver, sits on three medals.

These are huge sums of money. Swimming, obviously, has underperformed.

Other underperformers include canoeing, who get £16m but came up with two medals against a target of three to four.

Diving received £6.5m, had a performance target of one to three medals, but won none.

I could go through the list and pick the underperformers - whose directors of performance will have difficult interviews to come - and those who have done well.

But as I sit in the velodrome and, rightly, applaud Sir Chris Hoy and his team mates on their stunning success, it's worth remembering that, actually, it's not a fair fight.

Cycling's success cost millions and yet, as I write, there is no sign that the performance was vastly greater than what was promised.

Money talks


  • Comment number 1.

    I posted a comment on your last blog. Where did it go? Oh well it's not important.
    Very interested to read these statistics. Olympic success is indeed expensive. But I believe it is worth it. I think it is important we don't put all our eggs in one basket. We did badly in swimming as did Australia. That ruined Australia's chances of finishing high up the medal table. Where as we have had our most successful Olympics ever. Invest, diversify, innovate, and provide opportunities for our most talented up-and-coming athletes, and may our olympic success continue.

  • Comment number 2.

    So money buys sporting success. Well who would have thought it......

    You don't have any eggs you could give my granny by any chance?

  • Comment number 3.

    Does money buy success? That depends on the individual sportsmen and women. I would suggest that football has the largest sums of money spent on it in the UK and what have we got? In general we have sportsmen who are not exactly very good role models. Footballers earn huge amounts of money yet the levels of skills they show can be extremely poor. How many are highly proficient with each foot, first class headers of the ball, have the stamina to run non stop for the length of the match, including extra time, and tackle well? Very few if any with many struggling to keep control of the football and passing consistently well, simply beyond them.

    What i have seen during the last few weeks at Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the Olympics are men and women who seriously bust a gut because of their dedication to their sport, their pursuit of excellence, to push themselves to try and become the very best in the world at their sport.

    Can any of our footballers, and dare i say rugby players say the same?

  • Comment number 4.

    You're absolutely right about the exclusion of most of the world from competing in cycling and swimming, but it goes further than that. While African athletes dominate the running events there is one in which we never see an African- the pole vault. This is because they are extraordinarily expensive. The solution is to have a standard , cheap pole and the same goes for cycles. And don't get me started on the medals reserved for the super rich upper class in horsey events.

  • Comment number 5.

    Take a look at the pride and joy in the country, John. Sport costs money. Success raises a fairly miserable population's morale. I can't really see the point in your article, which I normally enjoy btw, next week are you going to have an exposé revealing politicians often lie?
    Come on John, you're better than this.

  • Comment number 6.

    Perhaps we should copy rugby and just pull in some foreigners to play? That'd save a few bob.

  • Comment number 7.

    John, the sports you mention, the Olympics are the pinnacle of their career. The athletes make huge sacrifices both in terms of career and family, some are now rewarded by funding from external sources. You mention not a fair fight, what is the point to your argument? If you want to be the best you need to invest in the infrastructure. 10 years ago Paris had more 50m polls than the whole of the UK. If we want our children to have role models and aspire to be the next Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington, etc, they need the facilities and support to do so. Is it right to say, come on kids get into sport, you can represent your country at the Olympics but by the way, you have to train a a 25m pool not a 50m pool. You have no physio support..John I think you should stick to rugby blogs and write about something you seem to care about, not having a go at funding in these sports.. Can you quantify the £4.2 Million spend on Edinburgh players next year???

  • Comment number 8.

    #3 AngelicOne: You raise an interesting point but I think it's a little skewed. Whilst football in this country has the most amount of money involved in it, it does not necessarily have the most spent on the game itself. As you rightly point out vast sums of money go to the players themselves, in fact I would hazard a guess far more than on the development of future talent.

    Spain & Germany roughly 10 years ago started to spend the money on infrastructure and coaches (in 2008 Spain had almost 15,000 Uefa A and Pro Licence coaches - more than double the number of any other European nation) The results pretty speak for themselves.

    Switching back to the Olympics we have to hope that that kind of investment is sustained, or even increase to other sports if possible, so we don't backslide in results and developing our sporting talent to the maximum.

    I can only wish though that we had this kind of funding available to the development of junior rugby and upwards in Scotland!

  • Comment number 9.

    Good post Stu (No 7)!!! You can only beat the man in front of you, and let's face it... there was PLENTY of top-notch competition for our cyclists, swimmers, rowers, etc to face!! Well done Team GB!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Initially I took this blog to be a typical moan - who would be at the spectacle of seeing possibly Scotland 's greatest athlete and think about money? - but, having given it some thought and a second reading, Beattie is actually complaining about the amount of sports funding in Britain! What kind of sports commentator would do that? Sheer idiocy. Absolutely shocking. I hope you'll visit all the schools and sports clubs next year to explain why sport shouldn't be funded. I have to advocate a boycott of this blog, although judging by the lack of comments that wouldn't take much. Shame on you John, abusing your position for an attempt at controversial and sensationalist writing. Shame on you.

  • Comment number 11.

    This is so true but Britain does not invest huge amounts of money in all Olympic sports. the rhythmic gymnastics today is a prime example. British Gymnastics did all in their power to stop the GB group from going to the Games and it is with hard work and fund-raising that those girls have even reached London at all. The Olympics is different for everyone and for some just being there is a great achievement.

  • Comment number 12.

    Yeah, back to oiled up naked men running , jumping and throwing in a field...might please some people i suppose.


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