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GB's have-nots are broke but not broken

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Matt Slater | 23:18 UK time, Monday, 2 February 2009

There's a lot of talk at the moment about rock bottoms. I don't mean the Suzi Quatro in leather or anything by Limp Bizkit type of rock bottom - I mean the "is this rock bottom for house prices/consumer confidence/Southend United's season?" variety.

I think it would be safer to assume the answer is no to all of the above, particularly the latter, no matter how much we want the answer to be otherwise, particularly the latter.

But there is a group of Brits that can stop worrying about how bad it is going to get and start thinking about how it will be better tomorrow and the day after.

Because last Thursday's confirmation that eight Olympic sports would have to make do with only a third to a quarter of what they hoped to spend pre-London 2012 was rock bottom. The uncertainty is over. Now they must get on with the job or go home, literally for many of them.

Having been told in early December that there isn't enough money in Team GB's kitty for everybody, the likes of handball and water polo have finally learned just how much money there is for them to spend on fripperies like away matches, kit and decent coaches.

Beijing flag-bearer Mark Foster does his bit to top up UK Sport's coffers

The news, when it came, hit hard. And that was with nearly two months to prepare for it.

One performance director told me he wanted to cry when he heard his allocation, another was said to be lying down in a dark room after hearing hers. But my favourite response came when I asked one what he would do next: he said he was going to the pub - it was four in the afternoon.

But we all deal with setbacks differently. I like to lie down in dark pubs and cry.

What was more interesting was how each sport - and different people within each sport - reacted to the initial shock of being told Christmas has been cancelled and you might have to rethink your summer plans for 2012 too.

Some of the damned, unable to comprehend why their medal chances were considered to be smaller than (let's say) basketball's, hit out at the saved. Some froze, paralysed by the unfairness of it all.

But others were spurred into action. British Handball's chiefs, for example, toured north Europe's handball hotspots looking for homes for their soon-to-be homeless Olympic wannabes.

It is to their credit that they have largely pulled it off. The women's squad move en masse from the Danish academy in Aarhus to a new, Norwegian abode in Asker, and half a dozen from the men's squad are Bundesliga-bound, with high hopes that more will follow.

But even amongst the proactive, there was still that most false of friends, hope, ahead of last week's announcement.

The anxious eight knew there was only £11.2m left in the budget after athletics, cycling, rowing, sailing and swimming took a combined £130m - and they knew they were going to have to share those scraps with four Paralympic sports - but until they heard for sure, some harboured hopes of a haircut, albeit a severe one, as opposed to a scalping.

But 12 into 11.2 doesn't go, particularly when three of those four Paralympic sports got themselves worried for no reason - they were getting big increases on their Beijing allocations, and the fourth was getting away with just a trim.

Shooting star Richard Faulds with his double trap gold at the 2000 Games

So there was anger from shooting, a recent medal-winner which saw its budget cut by nearly £4m, dismay from volleyball, which will now have to fund the beach and indoor teams on about 30% of what they've had since 2006, and resignation from wrestling, a sport so underground it should really be fashionable.

These emotions were shared, to varying degrees, by fencing, handball, table tennis, water polo and weightlifting, the other sports deemed by UK Sport, the funding agency, to be shots too long for backing in these straitened times.

But the key questions for these sports now is not "what happened?" or "why us?"

The missing £100m of private-sector cash that caused this crunch is not suddenly going to arrive - the usual suspects have been asked and they're all battening down the hatches - and UK Sport has made its "no compromise" call with characteristic firmness.

But each of those eight sports can still get their most talented athletes to London if they start asking the right questions.

Each of them needs to ask themselves about the size of their programmes. Shooting has already signalled it will reduce its pool of athletes from a staggering 46 to a more credible 10. It could, and probably will, concentrate that money even further.

Water polo, on the other hand, has said it would drop its men's team if it got less than £2.5m. Well, it got much less than that but must think long and hard before it pulls the plug on the two dozen players and coaches who have given up jobs, degree courses and relationships to move to the sport's Manchester base.

Perhaps the first question the sports need to answer is how they would like to receive their reduced rations: two lumps or four?

UK Sport, mindful of the need to "stay in the race", has offered to frontload the cash in two payments, the last coming in 2010, as opposed to spreading it over four years. It's a risk, of course, they could be left with nothing 18 months out from the Games, but it's a roll of the dice they should take. This recession can't last forever, can it?

But the sports should also be looking at sharing costs for admin, equipment, travel and so on. There are synergies to be had and they should not really impact on performance.

Savings could also be made within the sports. English table tennis, for example, was recently given £9.3m to invest in grassroots projects. Might some of this money also help the elite too?

And some fund-raising would not go amiss. Locog, London 2012's organising committee, has pledged to help pass the bucket around, as has the British Olympic Association. But the sports themselves can do more and there are encouraging signs that some have started.

GB star Denise Johns in action at London 2012's beach volleyball venue, Horse Guards Parade

Locog's promise of help is particularly promising. It is also a no-brainer as the sports and London 2012 want the same thing: British teams competing in every event.

A volleyball tournament without a GB presence would be a less well attended, less vibrant event. That's something the international federations would be keen to avoid too, so I would think about tapping them up for assistance as well.

And there is one other revenue stream that was mentioned in the small print of last week's press release, £1.8m of "realigned" money from the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, a pot of cash intended to support developing talent still in education.

That scheme is operated by SportsAid, a charity with expertise in fund-raising and a track record in backing talent. The sports should cosy up to them.

So the message is that the eight sports with reduced funding packages have options. Their situation is difficult but not impossible. And who knows, some of the money given to other sports could be reallocated. The UK Sport system does allow for that.

I have already blogged about the rights and wrongs of bidding for something as expensive as an Olympics and then penny-pinching on the important stuff, like what happens afterwards, so I won't spin that record again.

We are where we are: £257m of public money has been allocated to 27 different sports and that is £22m more than those sports had to spend in the build-up to Beijing. And we didn't do so badly there. We can, and should, do just as well on our own patch.

How well Britain does in Olympics to come will depend on how much bang we get for our bucks over the next few years. Medals from each of the anxious eight in 2016 would be a great return on investment.


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting Article, do you think that Great Britain will be able to match its medal tally of last year in 2012? How much new talent is coming in, compared to sports men and women reaching the end of their career?

  • Comment number 2.

    There are really good suggestions for those sports that were left out, but I am utterly disappointed at the suggestion that grassroots funding should be shifted to the elite teams.
    The 2012 Olympics were obtained on the basis of 2 main arguments: 1. Increased participation at all levels in all communities and 2. Remarkable legacy.

    With no grassroots there will be none of the above. However, you may argue that unless there is a team in the Olympics there won't be any interest on grassroots.

    I believe that it is not the case.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good article....
    What are your thoughts on Cycling having its money increased by £4 million?
    Personally i dont see why they need an increase.
    1. The infrastructure and facilities are already now in place.
    2. The haul in beijing is going to take some matching and I don't think its possbile to have nearly the same success.
    3. Part of the Beijing success were the indivduals - you cant find too many Hoys, Wiggins, Romeroo's.

    I would have preferred a decreased amount to Cycling and have that shared with the minority sports!

  • Comment number 4.

    Shooting is NOT a sport and the participants are NOT athletes . Why should we fund ridiculous events like this ?

    Beach volleyball, Taekwondo, Fencing and all the equestrian events should have the plug pulled on funding.
    A gold medal in 10m air pistol is a worthless joke.

    Give the money to real athletes.

  • Comment number 5.

    To be honest, I have never much cared for beach volleyball and the debacle with the Russian and was it ... the Georgian teams at the last Olympics didn't help. Seemed to me it was an excuse to have a bunch of women running around in two-piece swim suits. Perhaps the cuts will help to focus the mind a little on actual sports as opposed to wishful thiking.

  • Comment number 6.

    The whole issue of athlete funding is one frought with difficult balances, controversies and winners and losers.

    I can sympathise with UK Sports decisions. Take things like Water Polo or Handball - with the greatest will in the world, these things are, and will remain, minority sports. The problem is, as team events, there are just 2 medals up for grabs in each sport. Its a huge risk to take funding dozens of athletes and coaches on the off chance of some success or recognition. That money could be used to instead further the funding of a dozen swimmers, who as individuals competing in perhaps 20 events between them, just have a better chance of success.

    I know there should be other factors at play - promoting minority sports and ensuring representation. But whats really going to drive the grass roots and take-up of sport is success - not just representation. If that is the case, then UK Sport have taken the difficult, but justified position of focussing money where it has a higher probability of funding medals.

  • Comment number 7.

    "English table tennis, for example, was recently given £9.3m to invest in grassroots projects. Might some of this money also help the elite too?"

    Yes, lets take money from those kids, get them out on the streets, its free to join a gang...

    What next? Take money from grass roots football, pump it back to the Premiership?

    I thought the point of the Olympics was to encourage participation in sport, not suck all the money out of it!

  • Comment number 8.

    Surely this is an arguement around what the country wants to be successful in. The amount of money that has been handed to swimming is scandalous! Given the amount of medals that have come from the pool in the last 3 olympics Adlington aside should give reason to a massive cut along with athletics. However, the mass majority would prefer to win a couple of medals in the prestiege events rather than challenge at the top of the medal table with medals from shooting ect. Cycling and Rowing are great examples of NGB's that have put a winning system in place and spend money on winners. Not on people whos aim is to get into semi finals and finals.

    Until NGB focus their elite programmes on winners and the general public shift their attention from the glamor sports smaller governing bodies will have to rely on handouts and scraps.

  • Comment number 9.

    Shooting is NOT a sport and the participants are NOT athletes . Why should we fund ridiculous events like this ?

    A gold medal in 10m air pistol is a worthless joke.

    Give the money to real athletes.


    So fatClyde, what factual evidence do you have to substantiate your assertions? Been an international shooter have you? Understand the physical, technical, tactical and mental demands of the sport? How do they differ from say, Golf?

    Or are you just another opinionated bigot pontificating about something you know nothing about?

  • Comment number 10.

    Anyone who has actually competed at a high level in ANY sport knows the hours of dedicated work that go into it, not to mention the huge amount of funding. Suggestions that trips to contests can be cut out of programmes is at best ill advised, medals are often almost decided in the pre-games events and just re-run for show at the main event. For too many years British athletes particularly in the 'minority' sports have suffered at the hands of the spoiled brats of athletics and swimming. Swimming does not include it's minority disciplines, despite it's assertions to the contrary.
    Look at what will happen to the games facilities, there will be NO legacy. Look at facilities around the country, any kids who get the buzz will rapidly lose it when they find they cant have a go locally.
    My kid saw Tom Daley(diving) said can I try, no diving boards available let alone coaches for a 50+ mile radius and we live almost on top of the NGB for swimming, who are supposed to run their 'minority' sports. How many others will go this way.

  • Comment number 11.

    Trouble is the Government has probably said they need some of the funding that goes towards these "minority" sports (accept those who take part in Shooting and Table tennis work just as hard as those in Cycling/Swimming etc) to fund the actual London Olympics so we can actually get the games ready on time!

    I can see the arguing for why do cycling and rowing need more money when they are successful enough but then its like that in football and the Premiership ofcourse with the big clubs getting the most money etc.

    Ofcourse to an outsider like me an Olympic medal could be more worthy in some sports than others but remember a winner has had to work hard no matter what their chosen sports are.

  • Comment number 12.

    Evening all, thanks for reading and commenting. I'll try to reply to all of your points/questions but I'll start with the issue I thought would come comment about diverting some grassroots money to the elite end.

    I hummed and hawed about keeping that line in but decided to leave it as I wanted to make a few points. First, I specifically said "some" of the grassroots money might "help" the elite end. I was vague about this help but had in mind the areas I mentioned in the paragraph before, particularly admin costs. I understand the need to ring-fence cash for certain projects, be they the Olympic squad or community schemes, but I don't think people should work in silos. Sport needs to be more joined up in this country. Keeping the different ends of the "pathway" so separate is daft and the potential for duplicating and wasting effort is great.

    On top of this I intentionally mentioned this table tennis's grant from Sport England as that organisation has recently been through another lengthy debate about its aims and strategy. One of the products of that debate was to say its money could be spent on identifying and developing talent. This clearly moves it closer to UK Sport's orbit, the elite end. Good, I say. This is the overlap the GB table tennis programme (and all the others) should explore. Because, and this is my real point, it is all very well saying there would be no elite sport without grassroots investment - no kidding! But that equation goes the other way too. Roles models - the London 2012's living legacy - are absolutely crucial in getting people into sport and keeping them there. a5255b (10) talks about his son being inspired by Tom Daley to try diving but then not being able to find a place to try it. That's very sad and it's a result of generations of under-investment in's going to cost billions to fix that. But at least your son was inspired to try something different to football, computer games, loafing about etc And perhaps there were other kids in places with diving pools like Sheffield, Manchester or Plymouth that also saw Daley and wanted to emulate him. Grassroots sport is driven by role models.

    Right, I've waffled on a bit there, so I'll race through the other bits.

    GODammitMan92, I think we'll do even better than we did in Beijing, with a better spread of medals. There's plenty of talent coming through in our big medal-winners and four more years of good money and home advantage will help lift the others too.

    Ravens_defence_DOW etc you make an interesting point and one that has been made to me by a few of the sports above. I'm not so sure, though. Elite sport doesn't stand still so you can bet the other track cycling nations will come back at us...we need to keep the hammer down. I'm also fairly sure that money will be used to boost our chances of medals in the men's road race, mountain bikes and BMX.

    FatClyde, the whole such and such a sport isn't really a sport or doesn't belong in the Olympics is an old favourite. But I'm going to abstain from it this time as we'll head off in all kinds of tangents. Don't worry, it's one I'm sure we can return to.

    anapplefellonmyhead, good points, well made.

    giuseppi84, I hear what you're saying and I know swimming and athletics have often come in for criticism, but it's important to remember three things. One, they're the biggest sports at the Games, with the most medal opps. They are also the most competitive, particularly athletics. And third, GB swimming's performance in Beijing was a big improvement and, as I've said before, we did much better on the track than many gave us credit for...we're going in the right direction there.

    Thanks again for reading

  • Comment number 13.

    pretty confident that if u take up a sport that requires u to buy a horse, then u can afford to look after it, plus what mental demands are there for shooting something? U can even argue it promotes violence, i don't agree, but just a thought if uwanna be that perdantic.

    let's face it, there isn't any factual evidence to substantiate these assertions, as they're just people's opinoins.

    Although i will say that more people compete in athletics than at shooting FACT

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Matt,
    Intersting your reply about a5255b's comment re his son.
    I got involved last year in a discussion about diving facilities in the Uk and pointed out to the governing body (ASA), Sport England and the Gov't that we had lost over 75% in the last 30 years and the numbers were still declining.
    I was told that:
    a. I was taking Rubbish and my figures were wrong
    b, it didn't matter because of the programmes in place and we were doing great
    c. That there were more than 100 more pools than I was claiming.

    Turns out, once the debate had been stifled by the official figures that we were right all along and the ASA eventually admitted that the 'official' figures of over 170 accessible facilities should actually have been around 76....
    Whole swathes of the country hve no facilities for diving - Birmingham for instance has no diving board!
    London will have lost facilities by the time 2012 arrives, and it already has lost over 90% of those that were there when I started in the sport.
    Funding is only going to two areas, the elite (fine) and layers of management which we could do without.
    You can't get on a teacher course to teach the sport and if you do, you can only qualify if you live near an active centre.
    The NGB's have too much power and are not answerable in any meaningful way.
    The whole structure is rotten from top to bottom and conspires against anyone who wants to change anything.
    What 2012 will give us is, sadly, a very well expensed management process, a few elite centres and athlete and nowhere for the majority of kids to actually try a sport.

    My worry (as a5255b bought up) is that kids WILL be enthused and want to try these differenent sports that would get them involved, but, that there will be nowhere for them to do it!

    There should be potentially 10 Tom Daleys in Birmingham, but there is no way we will ever find out!

  • Comment number 15.

    diverjohn46, you make some great points, and I can't say I'm surprised by your dealings with officialdom. But what's the answer?

    Our problems with sporting infrastructure go back years and are a direct result of neglect and under-investment. Basically, we talk a good game in this country whe it comes to sport but we're just not prepared to put our money where our mouth is. Oh, we'll give Sky £500 a year to watch football, or shell out whatever it takes to spend a day at Wimbledon or a Test match, but actually pay, through our taxes, for decent football pitches, tennis courts, swimming pools, indoor tracks....forget it. And that's why we're fatter and less healthy than our European cousins. And it's also why we have more bored, disaffected youngsters doing violent things to each other. How is that doing to change in a hurry? It's not.

    But that is why I am so convinced London 2012 is the best chance we're going to get for a very long time to address some of these problems (whilst providing some great entertainment, showcasing our country AND revitalising a scruffy part of our capital).

    We haven't got the time or money to fix the diving pool problem in the short term, but we have got the chance to create some more Tom Daleys and start the debate about facilities and genuine "sport for all".

    Don't worry, I hear what you're saying and it annoys me too. But let's concentrate on getting 2012 right first.

  • Comment number 16.

    Thanks for the response Matt.
    You have a little more faith in the way things work than I do!

    If Tom Does well, we will get what we have had before which is the 'Look how well we are doing, we don't need any more expensive facilities" (we are getting this already!)

    But looking at other sports, what many forget is that, pre lottery there was a degree of money provided anyway to sport, lottery however not only increased the money available, but also removed the minimum amount that all sport got.

    Some sports did very well out of it, some lost almost altogether and the government got away with saving money without a whimper!

    One of the problems we are going to get is the idea of doing away with 'local' facilities and the concentration on a small number of regional ones. This is happening already and a huge number of swimming pools are going, being replaced a by a small number of PFI funded centres (look at Rotherham) which makes for good quality facilities but decreases accessibility.

    I supported wholeheartedly the bid for 2012 as I saw it as a once only opportunity to get this generation active and to redress the balance for sports infrastructure in and around London. I sincerely hope it does, but in London, in my sport, it will not be allowed to have the major effect it should have as there is not the infrastructure in place to allow it to happen. Cart and Horse.....

  • Comment number 17.

    One final comment Matt about the question you pose in your reply.
    Part of the answer is for the media to actually hold the NGB's and Sport England and the DCMS to account.

    I believe that many reporters actually do just take what these august bodies state at face value and very very rarely delve any deeper into what they are told.

    The ASA actually lied to the BBC in their statement and made comments that were as blatantly untrue to the Telegraph, but no one was prepared to actually hold them to account! If they know they can get away with it, they will. There might be a brief rucus, but the NGB's and the rest know that it will only last for a little while and then the fuss will die down.

    Most sport NGB are not answerable in a democratic manner to their membership. The members know things are wrong but have no real power to make changes. and as Sport England just ask the NGB's to tell them if they are doing a good job with their money........

    This is the problem, they know they can get away with anything they want really, and do.

    I KNOW that consultants are briefed against diving facilities for public use, but the NGB say they are not so that's that! I get the impression that other sports suffer the same as we do. But if they get lottery funding from the NGB no one dare be critical otherwise the funding might disappear.

  • Comment number 18.

    I've seen some of the stuff in the press that this guy is talking about and it is clear from personal digging that the NGB's in this case swimming, robustly supported by the specific government department are so far up each other, that the lay person doesn't have a prayer of sorting out truth from fiction, and diving facilities in London is a great place to start. DCMS actually gave incorrect information in the 'House' because it relied on information from NGBs.
    Yet in particular this same NGB sat on vast sums of it's own money pre-lottery and invested very little on it's elite sports especially the minority ones, and now it sits at the high table and is getting grants to run it's talent ID, its education programmes, it's elite programmes and is growing it'sarray of managers like they're going out of style. It would be interesting to have these people actually called to account for every penny spent in a clear and open way, so we can really see what return on investment we are getting.

  • Comment number 19.

    Whoever it is that thinks Shooting is not a sport is clearly misinformed.
    Just because its a static sport does not mean you do not have to train just as hard.
    To stand still and concentrate for upto two hours is an extremely difficult achievement. You need to be very fit mentally and the only way you can achieve this is to be very physically fit. These "Athletes" spend more time training away from the range than they do on the range. Do not judge any sport until you know exactly whats involved.
    The comment made on this blog is an insult to those who are working very hard to get to 2012 and beyond.

  • Comment number 20.

    Although the BBC shouldn't be funding these sports, they can help by giving the Olympic sports the exposure they require on terrestrial TV to attract sponsorship.

    However, as the BBC are even snubbing the most successful British sports team in recent history by not showing the World Cup Cycling (it's four events a year - not exactly something they couldn't accommodate!), what hope have the rest got?

    Long term the BBC giving more exposure to Olympic sports (other than athletics) should attract more sponsorship to the sports, which in turn brings more success to the sports, which ultimately increases the interest once we get to London 2012, and therefore increases the BBC's ratings too.

    But no, the BBC would much rather show a footy game from Milan featuring some British ex-pat.


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