This week Britain’s marathon superstar Paula Radcliffe had her national lottery funding cut. The 38 year old confessed that with her ongoing decline in performance she was unsurprised by the cut but it is a stark reminder to a post-Olympic Britain that only excellence is enough.
This summer Team GB went above and beyond all our expectations and got our best medal haul ever. However this does not mean that the Olympics went without disappointment. Rebecca Adlington’s two bronze medals were impressive but won’t win over funding associations.
After her incredible performance in Beijing in 2008 local pools were flooded with free swimming programmes for youngsters in a
concerted effort designed to gain Britain more winning swimmers. Now that swimming seems to be less likely to win British medals, reports suggest that we can expect to see funding slashed this summer.
This approach is slightly counter intuitive. If we want to succeed in any sports, consistent long-term investment is necessary. Britain’s performance in the velodrome this summer is a testament to this, with GB winning 70% of the gold medals available after years of sustained funding.
On the opposite side of this argument are the winners of the Canoe Slalom. An incredible and unexpected achievement as GB won both gold and silver. The team compete with minimal funding and the athletes work part-time. In spite of this they showed both talent and commitment in victory. Funding must be applied at a young age to a wide variety of sports.
The building of a new football centre is brilliant but a gross misapplication of funds. Football can be played almost anywhere, this is what has made it such a strong part of our culture. Other less accessible sports need to be invested in. Rowing has gained a mystique of being only the very rich due to its inaccessibility.
If more appropriate funding can be provided to cover just a portion of the cost we might find ourselves doing better than our already record breaking haul in 2012. Handball is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, it is allocated an estimated £2 million per year but this is still not suitable to make it a national sport.
If we ever want to compete well at it we need a much more substantial commitment from the government. The lesson here is that talent is always worth investing in. It would be an awful legacy to leave if we suddenly allowed swimming to become a lost sport. Good athletes will get lost unless appropriate support is provided for them. Our less established sports deserve their chance on the national stage. With a more diverse funding strategy, we could surprise ourselves with the hidden talent we have.