Funding Backlash Hits Brits

Athletics pays a heavy price in Athens backlash

Duncan Mackay
Thursday February 3, 2005
The Guardian

The paymasters of British sport are apparently immune to Kelly Holmes fever. Only 24 hours after Sport England cut funding to athletics, UK Sport followed suit by reducing the elite programme from £8.3m to £7.2m, and only 40 athletes will be funded compared with 82 before Athens.

UK Sport yesterday unveiled a £75m overall package for Olympic sports in the build-up to Beijing. That represents a £5m increase but a revised approach means fewer medal hopefuls will be funded and sports seen as having the best chance of medals in 2008 will be targeted.

Athletics is paying the price for its failure to meet a self- imposed Athens target when it told UK Sport it was aiming for five to seven medals. In the event it left with only four - two won by Holmes. Almost single-handedly she elevated Britain to third in the final athletics medal table behind the United States and China. Dual success over 800 and 1500m also transformed her into one of Britain’s top celebrities: she was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and made a Dame in the new year’s honours list.

However, the National Audit Office estimated last week that each of her medals cost the national lottery £2.8m - a figure the accountants did not think represented good value for money.

Athletics is now paying the price of a failure to reach its target, unfairly its chief executive David Moorcroft believes. “One of the stated objectives was to go up in the medals table,” he said. “We were third. We think we did our bit. For that to be rewarded with a drop in funding is disappointing. We will live with it.”

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On Tuesday athletics had been the biggest loser as Sport England, responsible for grass-roots investment, announced its funding for the next Olympic cycle. Last year’s figure of £2m will drop to £1.35m in 2005-06, reflecting what is seen as a failure to maximise its medal success from lottery investment.

“It’s like a double-whammy and not the ideal situation for our new performance director Dave Collins to inherit when he takes over at the beginning of March,” said Moorcroft.

“The advent of the national lottery-backed world-class performance programme has enabled us to reach a new level of Olympic and Paralympic success,” said Sue Campbell, the chair of UK Sport. “However, if we are to continue to make progress we have to sharpen our focus and invest in those sports and individuals who demonstrate they have what it takes to deliver on the biggest stage.”

Gymnastics has also been punished for failing to fulfil its potential. It had predicted that three medals would be won in Athens but returned empty-handed.

As a result, only eight gymnasts will be funded for Beijing instead of 14, and the sport will have £1.8m instead of £3.6m, although the cut is not as swingeing as had been feared.

The winners in terms of funding increases are those sports that performed well in Athens: cycling, rowing, sailing and swimming. In total 17 sports will benefit from funding increases.

UK Sport claims the new approach will be more targeted to ensure that athletes with the potential to mount the rostrum in Beijing are offered a full programme of support via their governing bodies - estimated to be worth an average of £45,000 an athlete each year in addition to their Athlete Personal Award.

“Our new investment strategy is designed to reinforce the best performing sports, support those that are developing and provoke positive change in those that are under- performing,” said Liz Nichol, the acting chief executive of UK Sport.

“The budget is bigger and it needs to be for Beijing. But we must guard against the temptation to spread it too thinly, which presented us with some tough decisions.”

UK Sport is also concentrating on other factors that are likely to be critical to a successful games in 2008. Coaching is high on the agenda through UK Sport’s elite coach scheme.

Nichol added that, “while inevitably people tend to focus on the amount of funding each sport is awarded, our mission is to work with other partner agencies to maximise our collective investment in world class success”.


Athens 3 gold, 1 bronze (target 5-7 medals)

2005-09 funding £7,200,000 (-£1,100,000)

Athlete places 2005-09 (up to) 40 (-42)


Athens 1S, 2B (target 2)

2005-09 funding £3,600,000 (+£150,000)

Athlete places (up to) 20 (-9)


Athens 2G, 1S, 1B (target 5-6)

2005-09 funding £7,920,000 (+£1,120,000 )

Athlete places (up to) 44 (+9)


Athens 1S (target 2)

2005-09 funding £1,980,000 (+£1,060,000)

Athlete places (up to) 11 (-1)


Athens 1G, 1S, 1B (target 2)

2005-09 funding £4,320,000 (+£1,560,000)

Athlete places (up to) 24 (-4)


Athens None (target 3)

2005-09 funding £1,830,000 (-£1,800,000)

Athlete places (up to) 8 (-6)


Athens None (target 2-3)

2005-09 funding £1,660,000 (-£1,220,000)

Athlete places (up to) 9 (-13)


Athens 1G, 2S, 1B (target 3)

2005-09 funding £8,640,000 (+£1,350,000)

Athlete places (up to) 48 (-20)


Athens 2G, 1S, 2B (target 3)

2005-09 funding £7,380,000 (+£2,030,000)

Athlete places (up to) 41 (-3)


Athens 2B (target 2)

2005-09 funding £6,120,000 (-£1,200,000)

Athlete places (up to) 34 (-11)


Athens None (target 2)

2005-09 funding £1,445,000 (-£400,000)

Athlete places (up to) 8 (-8)


Athens 1B (target 1)

2005-09 funding £900,000 (+£732,000)

Athlete places (up to) 5 (+1)


Athens None (no target)

2005-09 funding £720,000 (+£720,000)

Athlete places (up to) 4 (+4)

Modern pentathlon

Athens 1B (target 1)

2005-09 funding £1,620,000 (+£70,000)

Athlete places (up to) 11 (-1)


Athens None (target 3)

2005-09 funding £1,080,000 (no change)

Athlete places (up to) 6 (-6)