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Cycling pays Olympic dividend

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Mihir Bose | 18:31 UK time, Monday, 31 March 2008

Back in the 1990s, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism, there was much talk of a peace dividend. We all know what happened to that.

But, perhaps, it is time to speak of an Olympic dividend.

What do I mean by Olympic dividend? I mean Britain staging major international sporting events and Britain doing well in them.

This weekend's events in Manchester where Great Britain dominated the World Track Cycling Championships and which also made the media sit up and take notice, has made me think that we are seeing the first part of that Olympic dividend. The cyclists in Manchester last weekend paid us a very bankable dividend on both counts. Both parts of this dividend cheque are important.

The old cliché of one swallow may not make a summer holds, but this event has a significance which goes much beyond the sport.

Danny Crates, Dame Kelly Holmes, Steve Cram and Sarah Webb jump for joy as they hear the good news on London winning the Olympic 2012 bid

Let us go back to the London winning the right to stage the 2012 Olympics. Before that magical night in Singapore when London beat the favourites Paris there was a deep-seated feeling that Britain could not win such contests. Many, including myself, who argued that we should bid for 2012 felt that if we won, it would make Olympics and Olympic sports once again important in this country.

The events in Manchester provide tangible and welcome proof that those who wanted London to bid were not wrong.

The first thing to be said is that this World Championships showed how useful the Velodrome in Manchester built for the Commonwealth Games of 2002 is now proving to be.

The importance of such venues is that it means this country is able and willing to host such championships and that is no small matter.

In that long period when Britain failed to get the Olympics - recall Birmingham and Manchester twice failed to get the Games - I spent much time asking Olympic officials of various sports why this was the case.

The feeling in Britain was that the men and women who decided such things did not like Britain and had it in for this country. The refrain I heard time and again is that they will never vote for us - they hate us.

However, when I spoke to the Olympic officials who were supposed to be anti-British they recalled with warmth how back in 1908 and 1948 Britain may have come to the rescue of the Olympics by staging the Games when no-one else could, but said Britain had turned its back on the Olympic movement. Britain, said these officials, gave the impression it did not care for any sports other than football.

For evidence they pointed to the fact that Britain rarely bid to hold World Championships of the various sports that make up the Olympics programme.

And, of course, we had humiliating proof of that over the Picketts Lock fiasco and Britain's decision to return the 2005 World Athletics Championship after it had won the right to host it - an action which a third world country would be ashamed of, let alone a country with the fourth largest economy in the world.

The Government decided it could not spend the money required to make Picketts Lock ready.

Recall how the Government tried to offer Sheffield instead infuriating the IAAF and meaning that the Championships went to Helsinki instead.

But after Singapore, Britain bids for major Championships and gets them - it is as if a prodigal son has returned.

If the staging of the Championships was important, then the performance of the cyclists showed how far certain Olympic sports have come in recent years.

Victoria Pendleton cycling to victory in the Cycling World Championships 2008

The lottery money being provided to these sports and the various programmes like the World Class Performance Plan and the Olympic Podium Plan has been of enormous benefit.

Older cyclists like Chris Hoy who once had to scrounge around now have security and it has certainly played a big part in the rise of Victoria Pendleton, who is now such a star that at the weekend she easily dominated the headlines, even overshadowing footballers.

It could be argued that Pendleton is a good cyclist, very marketable and so is an exception, but the way the media has handled the British success makes me think this is not a flash in the pan.

A lot more needs to be done before we right the imbalance that has developed in our sports where it seems all that matters is football and nothing else, but if we keep getting such Olympic dividends then by the time 2012 comes that may not be impossible.


  1. At 05:46 PM on 31 Mar 2008, Paul Hayward wrote:

    Cycling started producing results before London won the Olympics. Sailing and rowing are other good example of sports that Team GB have made good use of the additional funding and taken significant steps forward.

    But why has lottery funding not made a difference in athletics? Why not swimming?

    I suspect that come 2012 Olympics we will still not be winning many more swimming or athletics gold medals than in previous games. I hope I am wrong but remain unconvinced that the answer in these sports will be solved by better facilities and better funding.

  2. At 06:30 PM on 31 Mar 2008, Brekkie wrote:

    One positive of the new look BBC site then is the link back to your blog - it's been a nightmare to find in recent weeks.

    Absolutely brilliant cycling coverage over the last week, of course helped alot by the fact we're pretty damn good at it.

    It's certainly something the BBC should be showing regularly through to 2012 and beyond - and as the World Cup series is only four events a year, it isn't too much to ask for really.

  3. At 08:09 PM on 31 Mar 2008, ChrisL wrote:

    For many years after the Manchester velodrome was built in 1994, both local and national press took great delight in lambasting it as a 'white elephant'. And the initial Lottery funding was won against huge odds.

    The cost? Just £8m for the velodrome, less than £0.5m a year initial lottery funding rising to several £m a year currently - allowing athletes to be full-time cyclists and paying for professional support.

    The achievements? Multiple medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, domination at the track Worlds in '07 and now '08. Looking good for Beijing 2008. And increased participation at all levels.

    The recognition? Oh so, so slow to arrive. Victoria Pendleton not even making the top 10 of BBC sports personality in '07 despite being a triple world champion and great persona. Finally deposing football in the press for a day this weekend, but only after arguably the best world class performance by a British team across any sporting discipline in recent times.

    When will the wider media (BBC & some press excepted) have the courage to consistently report high achieving UK sports other than the all-pervasive football, cricket etc - at which the British teams are currently losers on the European and world stage? Until that happens the dividend is going to be patchy at best, I fear.

  4. At 09:48 PM on 31 Mar 2008, dlamb wrote:

    This article shows a really poor understanding of the recent history of cycling in Britain. Three points:

    1) Manchester's Velodrome opened in 1994 and was built as part of a bid for the Olympics, not the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

    2) The World Track Cycling Championships in both 1996 and 2000 (as well as this year) were held there. So we do host world championships in Olympic sports.

    3) The cyclists won Olympic golds at both Sydney and Athens, both before London won the games. Their performance has been getting better each year for around a decade.

    Two minutes research confirmed all the above.

    British cycling has been the biggest success story in British sport over the past ten years. It's great they are now getting the attention they deserve, but I wish the journalists would at least get some basic facts right.

  5. At 10:59 PM on 31 Mar 2008, Stewart wrote:

    I agree with Brekkie that the cycling coverage was brilliant. The BBC has a great opportunity to benefit from being the Olympic broadcaster and not being able to afford to buy the big football games. Give all Olympic sports similar coverage to the cycling over the full 4 year cycle and expose the British public to the great variety of sports that exist. Then when the Olympics come round the viewers will recognise more of the athletes and sports and may have been spurred on to go and try some of them thereby boosting participation and maybe introducing some potential future champions.
    Roll on the Beijing Velodrome.

  6. At 12:57 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Ieuan wrote:

    But why has lottery funding not made a difference in athletics? Why not swimming?


    Easy, those sports are so much bigger that the money is spread much moe thinly.

    Cycling provides a tight knit roup of top level performers, coaches, promising youngsters and clubs so money can be better and more easily targetted.

    Athletics on the other hand sees all too often money shared out among clubs around the country instead of being chanelled into the best.

    It also sees far too much money thrown at supporting at best average youngsters in certain events because Britain has a history in them. All too often young british sprinters who will never likely break 10 second are funded year after year while long distance runners are left to fend for themselves.

    Swimming however is suffering from over 50 years of neglect. While other countries were building 50m pools we were pulling them down to be replaced by fun pools.

    Cycling is one of the sports that would really benefit (and has) from a relatively small increase in funding. How I would like to see other such sports (Shooting, Archery, Gymnastics, Table Tennis and Martial Arts come to mind immediately) recieve even a fraction of the amount spent on Athletics, Tennis and Swimming as they could dramatically improve their infrastructure in the country for less than the amount that is being wasted on a temporary facility in Woolwich for the games.

    I'd also like to see private funding getting invlved. Other countries allow this, companies get invlved in funding promising young ahtletes in a number of sports, they sponsor the players in exchange for either a percentage of future winnings or the exclusive use of the athletes for commercials later on.

  7. At 06:45 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Wharfedale wrote:

    Good points, but the downside of all this is that non-Olympic sports, sports where we have also seen far more success than so-called traditional sports, are being bled dry of funds to prop the Olympics up. 2012 may be good for our relationships with the Olympic movement - the jury is out as to whether it is for sport in this country in the broader context.

  8. At 07:10 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Chris Murphy wrote:

    The next test for British Cycling will be translating track success into success in the other cycling disciplines particularly on the road. It is a striking imbalance that track cycling has taken precedence in British cycling over roadracing despite track being the younger brother to the road pretty much everywhere else in the world. Partly this is due to the British love of the car and the long standing impossibility of organising open road cycling events and presumably also partly because road racing can't be measured in gold medals (only 4 up for grabs at the Olympics)

    In order to redress that particular imbalance its good to see international events like the arrival of the Tour de France last year and the Tour of Britain being held on our streets however these need to be backed up by more local road racing events the kind of which you see in almost any town you go to on the continent. The beauty of these events over track racing is they take the sport directly to the people, no stadiums needed, no tickets, and whats more they encourage people to get out into the outdoors, alas in order to do that rolling roadblocks need to be used and motorists would have to slightly extend the length of their journey which in this country naturally is impossible.

    Still if British Cycling only needed 10 years to turn us into a nation of world beaters who's to say they can't make anything possible?

  9. At 08:48 AM on 01 Apr 2008, stoty wrote:

    Thought the cycling coverage was excellent and was so thrilling.. I actually posted similar on football sites and 70% poh-pohed the article.
    Suppose can t get them all but after the shambles of weds night in Paree it was great to see a national team with so much pride and effort..Surely they will win the Sports Per Team of the year now??? :-)

  10. At 09:33 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Kipper wrote:

    A great weekend for British Cycling and a vindication of the funding given to the sport. These athletes will continue to work and produce great results come the Olympics unlike swimming and track & field.
    1 reason for this is possibly that the funding is used wisely and managed well.

    Well done Dave Brailsford!!

  11. At 09:46 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Gary Parker wrote:

    I agree with every word of Mihir's blog.

    Olympic success results from world-class facilities like the velodrome in Manchester.

    I think any major city deserving of that name should have at least one 50 metre swimming pool; a proper athletics stadium and an indoor velodrome.

    My home town: Birmingham, has none of these!

  12. At 09:49 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Andrew Tattersall wrote:

    It also helps that the people running cycling have made good use of the money invested in facilities and in winners. Is there some way the people running athletics and swimming can learn from/be taught how to do what cycling has done? Congratulations too to team cycling GB for the hard work and the success it has brought this weekend. Well done also to the cyclists.

  13. At 10:02 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Eric Farquharson wrote:

    The fact is that British Cycling has been preaching the cycling message to schools for some years now and consequently has a pool of young talent quietly being groomed for their shot at the big time. While the less informed journalists concentrate solely on drug stories, British Cycling has been acquiring the best coaches and preparing for the battles ahead.The vision of Peter Keen and now Dave Brailsford are perhaps unsurpassed in any other sport.Without lottery funding none of this would be possible, perhaps now commercial sponsors will view cycling as a must have for the future.

  14. At 10:06 AM on 01 Apr 2008, Mr B wrote:

    Would love to meet these people who talk warmly about the 1908 Games...

  15. At 10:12 AM on 01 Apr 2008, John Yeatman wrote:

    One of the main reasons we do well at Rowing, Sailing & Cycling in particular is that through the lottery, our teams are very well funded compared to most of the opposition. One quote from Manchester was that GB was the only 'professional' team there. The rest were still 'amateur'. This is not the case in athletics & swimming where most top teams have been 'professional' for many years and GB is catching up with the best in the world rather than leading as is the case in cycling.

  16. At 10:12 AM on 01 Apr 2008, John Rigby wrote:

    I agree with Paul - the rewards we are reaping from cycling started long before the awarding of the 2012 games to London.

    In the early 1990s Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree's innovative and courageous cycling exploits on the Olympic and world record stages inspired a new generation of cycling intertest.

    This was later helped in no short measure by the facilities created for the Manchester Commonwealth Games - including the purpose-built Velodrome which added global focus for our burgeoning ranks of cyclists.

    The awarding of the Games to the UK has spurred on this progression and offers even more incentive to perform on the biggest sporting stage.

    We have progressed in Cycling, Rowing and Sailing where our athletes and training regimes are world beating and ground-breaking - the same cannot be said for athletics where, apart from notable exceptions, we lack depth of innovative training to bring forward our talent.

    If something does change it will take a long time before we see the results - probably long after the Olympics have left London.

  17. At 07:25 PM on 01 Apr 2008, Doug Clements wrote:

    Excellent Comment, I loved the cycling and it made a refreshing change from wall to wall football
    coverage,and the ensuing debates etc.
    We can broaden our sporting horizons,
    by promoting other sports on the bbc.The olympic legacy should be to grow sports participation for everyone - and too much focus on just one type of sport is no good for this.

  18. At 08:25 PM on 01 Apr 2008, Mihir Bose - BBC wrote:

    Thanks for your responses. In reply to comment #4 dlamb, I take the point that the Velodrome was built in 1994, what I should have said was it was one of the centre pieces for the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

    However, my larger point was the impact that getting the 2012 Olympics has had on Olympic sports both in staging world events and doing well in them. I did not say Britain had not held world events before, I said they had held them rarely.

    Since 2005 Britain has pitched for and is getting more such events like these:

    (World Cross Country Championships – Edinburgh, 30 March) – Awarded Nov 2006
    (World Track Cycling Championships – Manchester, 26-30 March) – Awarded Jan 06
    FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) – Manchester, 9-13 April - Awarded Oct 04
    IRB Rugby Union Junior World Championships – Wales, 6-27 June – Awarded Nov 07
    FIVB Junior World Beach Volleyball Championships – Brighton, 3-7 September
    World Squash Championships – Manchester, 11-19 October – Awarded Jan 06
    Mirror Sailing World Championships – Pwllheli, 27 July – 1 August – Awarded Jan 07
    World Modern Pentathlon Championships – Crystal Palace, 10-19 August - Awarded Oct 06
    World Wheelchair Basketball Championships – Birmingham, 13-25 March – Awarded Oct 05
    IBSA Blind Football World Championships – Hereford, 13-23 August – Awarded July 06
    Laser Sailing World Championships – Largs and Hayling Island – date tbc – Awarded Sept 07
    Trampoline, Tumbling and DMT World Championships – Birmingham, 16-31 October – Awarded May 07
    Badminton World Championships – London, date tbc – Awarded Dec 07

    The other point I was making was funding for Olympic sports has also increased as these figures show for cycling:

    National Lottery funding via UK Sport’s World Class Events Programme:
    World Track Cycling Championships – Up to £275,000
    World Track Cup Classic – Up to £75,000
    World Cup Track Classic – Up to 61,000
    Women’s Cycling World Cup Road Race –Up to £78,000
    World Cup Track Classic – Up to £110,000
    World Cup Track Classic – Up to £110,000
    World Track Cycling Championships – Up to £189, 451

    Yes British cyclists have done well over the years, long before London won the 2012 Games. But again their performances since 2005 show a marked improvement.

    Given the improvement in the World Championships we can expect the medal haul to increase further in 2008.

  19. At 11:41 PM on 01 Apr 2008, dlamb wrote:

    Thanks for the response Mihir.

    My main problem was that your article appeared to be making the point that the event was in Manchester and our cyclists were successful because of London getting the Olympics. Whilst I don't doubt the Olympics in 2012 will and is having an impact, I don't think it was the primary reason here.

    The hosting of events did happen fairly often pre-2005 as well. I'll throw in 5 big ones - Euro 96, Cricket World Cup in 1999, Rugby Union World Cup in 1999, Rugby League World Cup in 2000 and the 2002 Commonwealth Games. As well as that there were a few in Olympic Sports - World Rowing Championships in 1996, Badminton Worlds in 1993 and 2003, Judo Worlds in 1999, the World Cross Country Championships in 1995 and 1999, World Indoor Athletics in 2003 (and the Cycling ones already mentioned). Sometimes I think we are too quick to mention failures such as the Picketts Lock fiasco, and forget a huge success such as the 2002 Commonwealth Games (the success of which probably had a part to play in London getting the Olympics).

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