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Opinion: UK Sports ‘no compromise’ approach a stabiliser in uncertain times

UK Sports ‘no compromise’ approach should give British sport something to look forward to in uncertain times

by Andy Reed | Published in Sports Management Aug 2016 issue 125
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Andy Reed
Andy Reed

We have been living through what can only be described as ‘interesting times’ over the last few weeks. Britain’s place in the world changed on 23 June with the vote to leave the EU – a subject I will return to as details become clearer about how sport will be able to engage in the Brexit process at Whitehall.

But despite all of the uncertainty in many aspects of sport policy – from Brexit to the future details of Sport England’s new strategy – I think there will at least be some certainty in the Team GB medal haul in Rio. It looks as though we could be heading for another record-breaking Olympics and Paralympics.

My confidence comes from UK Sport’s ‘no compromise’ approach and a funding regime which matches the ambition that has been in place since we won the right to host London 2012. Providing the additional funding to UK Sport was one of the things I enjoyed working on while part of the Treasury ministerial team.

Focusing resource
However, merely having the resources in place does not necessarily guarantee success – as the England football team has shown. Indeed, over the last 12 months football teams such as Leicester City, Iceland and Wales have shown the opposite may well be true, if vast resources are replaced by a work ethic and genuine team work.

But the success of Team GB in London 2012 is no accident. It is a clear example of evidence-based decision making at UK Sport – even when elements of its no compromise approach, which focuses resource on sports which have a chance of medaling, has proved controversial.

Since National Lottery funding was introduced following Atlanta 1996 – where Britain won only one gold medal, ranked 36th overall – there has been a dramatic improvement.

At Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Britain were ranked 10th with 11 and nine gold medals respectively. With additional Treasury funding at Beijing Team GB finished fourth with 19 gold medals. At London 2012, the team was third, with 29 golds.

Consultation
UK Sport has been reluctant to alter the no compromise approach; it has been a great success, so why break it? But along with many other stakeholders the Sports Think Tank said that there should be at least a debate to test the public’s appetite for a system which only funds a few select sports capable of winning medals at major events.

The consultation revealed 86 per cent of those working in sport and 70 per cent of public respondents endorsed UK Sport continuing its focus on Olympic and Paralympic medal successes.

After the consultation there was a slight softening of the no compromise stance but it does appear that, as a nation, we are reasonably content that our sporting success should be measured in the number of medals Team GB wins at the Olympics and Paralympics.

So, as we head to Rio 2016 we should have confidence in the system to produce the best chance for an Olympic team to replicate its home success and possibly, for the first time in history, come back with more medals than at a home Games. Given the rest of the world is trying to catch up and are creating their own systems to match Team GB, this would be a remarkable achievement.

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