Twenty years after a stinging Olympic failure in Atlanta, Great Britain has risen from the ashes to become a sporting "superpower" thanks to a judicious, if ruthless, allocation of lottery and public cash to the sports most likely to win medals.
Liz Nicholl, the chief executive of UK funding agency UK Sport, declared on Sunday that "we are one of those sporting superpowers now", while the Mirror newspaper called it “Britain’s Golden Age”.
But rather than revolutionary coaching, technology or even, as some more bitter opponents suggested, doping, it is the investment of hundreds of millions of pounds by the National Lottery (introduced in 1994, two years before Atlanta, where Britain won a single gold medal) and public cash in the last two decades that has paid off handsomely for Team GB.
But the allocation of money has been ruthlessly targeted, its only goal being the development of “elite” sports likely to gain medals.
Sports that don’t meet pre-Games medal targets have seen their funding cut, meaning grassroots facilities. Basketball, for example, which doesn’t stand a chance of winning on a global stage, has been starved of National Lottery cash.
Even if total funding was increased by 3%, to a total of 330 million pounds compared to the four years leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, only 20 disciplines were allocated funding ahead of the Rio Games.
Professor Steve Haake, head of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, told FRANCE 24 that while the allocation of funding to elite sports “could be seen as ruthless”, it was also a pragmatic way of “making sure taxpayers get value for money – we need to know that if we spend all this money we actually have a chance of winning”.
Haake also defended the fact that “fringe sports” were left out. “They get plenty of investment from English and Scottish authorities,” he said.
“The strategy is to put money into sports and to spend it wisely on the best athletes, the best coaches and the best infrastructure,” he said. “It is a common sense approach to achieve success.”
He also hinted that he expects such funding to continue and for Team GB to shine again at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“If you fund an elite sport like cycling and continue to do so when it is successful, you get a conveyor effect that goes through into the future,” he said.
According to British media estimates, the government spent just £5 million per year funding Olympic sport before the disastrous 1996 Atlanta Games, where Britain finished with just one gold medal and 15 overall.
That sum increased to more than £50 million in the four years before the 2000 Sydney Games where Britain won 11 golds and 28 medals overall.
Before London 2012 it was spending more than £80 million a year -- and Team GB won 65 medals and came third in the table.
UK Sport chairman Rod Carr, a British yachting coach at three Olympics, sees the origin of today's success in a failure of funding at the 1996 Games in Atlanta when he was team manager.
"The reality was at the time of Atlanta, John Major (prime minister at the time) was kicking the whole lottery act through parliament and we were doing the best we could," Carr told AFP.
"Well, in the late 90s it would have been a bit of an act of faith, but by the early 2000s it was pretty obvious there was a linear relationship between medals and funding."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2016-08-22