UK Sport, the Government body responsible for financially supporting top-level sport in Britain, recently announced preparations to consider revising its medal-focused criteria for funding elite sport via online and face-to-face consultation with their key sporting partners. The verdict of the consultation, open until December 10th, aims to be presented to the UK Sport board in February, beyond the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. UK Sport Chair, Rod Carr, said “The board aims to ensure all those who care about the future of British high performance sport, and their wider impact British medal success can have on our nation, have the opportunity to engage and input meaningfully to the consultation”.
The government agency, which invests around £100m of public funds each year, (via National Lottery and Exchequer) in high performance sport, has recently facilitated a surge of British achievements on the global stage and may arguably be attributed to UK Sport’s “targeted approach”; the central precept being to carefully select a sports funding expanse based on their medal winning potential within the eight-year pathway strategy. This recent surge in British achievement, specifically in the London 2012 Olympics leaves some in backing of UK Sport’s “no compromise” funding strategy. Great Britain secured 65 medals (29 gold, 17 silver, and 19 bronze) and finished third in the medal table rankings, and fourth in the total number of medal rankings, compared with a 36th place finish in the Olympic medal table in 1996.
While the Olympic medal count appears to be profiting from UK Sport’s funding criteria, some more developing sports have requested for a longer 12-year funding. The board publicly announced that they have the “capacity to dig deeper and extend the remit” which to some demonstrates compassion and flexibility towards these rising sports. UK Sport however withdrew funding for seven sports prior to the London 2012 Olympics based on their medal-winning potential, (for sports including basketball, water polo and synchronised swimming) some appeals, in particular basketball, received board reassessment.
After a challenging Olympic campaign in 2012, British Basketball had it’s £7m funding reclaimed by UK Sport. However appeals led to funding being reinstated dependant on “particular performance criteria” being met, one of which being on the basis of both men’s and women’s teams qualifying for the 2014 Basketball World Cup’s. Despite both teams ultimately finding the performance criteria too challenging to overcome, British Basketball performance chairman Roger Moreland spearheaded an appeal for the decision to be “urgently reviewed”. Earlier in October and after much deliberation, headway was made and Sport England (a grassroots funding organisation associated with UK Sport) agreed to offer an annual sum of £500,000 to support elite level athletes and programmes.
Roger Moreland welcomed Sport England’s announcement, highlighting the reach and popularity of basketball, claiming it is the second most popular team sport among 14-16 year-olds, with approximately 218,000 players each week. UK Sport’s Liz Nicholl claimed that although medal success may likely continue as their main priority, more emphasis aims to be placed on sports that demonstrate “high levels of participation”.
While opinions appear divided, and perhaps steered by UK Sports financial support towards particular sports, the continued evolution of British sporting excellence is unquestionably due to UK Sport’s potency. Public consultation with sporting bodies aims to forge an amenable middle ground in plans to continue Britain’s recent surge in sporting success into the foreseeable future, post 2016.
What additional measures might UK Sport embellish in order to ensure future Olympic success beyond Rio 2016?