A mass rebellion is set to put UK Sport under further pressure to reform, with 11 national governing bodies of sports calling for a major renovation in how the funding agency assigns lottery and exchequer money.
The governing bodies will claim the spirit of sport has been obscured by what is dubbed as UK Sport’s growing obsession with medal targets over the past decade.
In a petition to the newly appointed UK Sport chair, Katherine Grainger, it will be implied that this focus on the medal table has left many elite athletes feeling “disenfranchised” and unconsciously created a “two‑class system that runs counter to Olympic ideals”.
The unrest follows a tumultuous 14 months for UK Sport as many of the sports to which it gives funding have been shocked by bullying and athlete-welfare scandals. Concerns have been raised over more than a third of UK Sport-funded governing bodies over the most recent four-year cycles for the winter and summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The 11 governing bodies – Archery GB, BaseballSoftballUK, British Basketball, British Fencing, British Handball, British Volleyball, British Weightlifting, British Wrestling, GB Badminton, GB Wheelchair Rugby, Table Tennis England – have united to claim athletes with a real chance of winning Olympic and Paralympic medals are being overlooked because funding is concentrated on too few sports.
Team GB had its most successful Olympics to date in Rio last summer, before the Paralympic team also reached its best-ever medal tally. But the backdrop of this medal success has been growing discontent among athletes, coaches and administrators, particularly in minority sports. The overwhelming feeling is that other elements than medal potential, such as grassroots participation, need to be accounted for when funding is being decided.
The breakaway group will highlight the narrowing number of UK Sport-funded sports to prove its point. At London 2012, UK Sport initially funded 18 of out of a total of 26, or 70% of Olympic sports. In 2016, out of 28 Olympic sports, UK Sport funded 18, or 64%. For Tokyo, they will fund 16 sports out of 33, which is less than 48%.
The rebellion appears to have stemmed from the UK Sport funding announcement for the cycle to Tokyo 2020. GB Badminton had its UK Sport funding removed completely, from £5.7m, while fencing lost its £4.2m pot, wheelchair rugby (£3m) and archery (£2.9m) were also defunded completely.
UK Sport’s chief executive, Liz Nicholl, said earlier this month that, while the organization had a “no compromise” approach, this was not the same as a “win at all costs” mentality.
However, Nicholl defended UK Sport’s funding strategy. “The outcome that we are charged with delivering is investing in best medal success to make the nation proud,” she said, “So we are investing in our very best medal prospects to deliver more medals and more medalists in Tokyo. Unapologetically. That is our remit. That is what we are here for.”
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