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We’re leaders, not followers now, says EIS national director

By Andy Knaggs    11 Mar 2019
GB has enjoyed unparalleled Paralympic and Olympic success in recent times / Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images
I’m not saying we’re the best institute in the world, but we’re certainly in the leading group
– Nigel Walker

English Institute of Sport (EIS) national director Nigel Walker believes that the organisation is now among the leading national sports science and medicine institutions in the world, and can point to an enviable track record of elite performance success as proof.

Heads have been turned around the world by Britain’s Olympic medal-winning excellence, going back to 2008 in Beijing, followed by the home games of 2012, and then even better results in Rio in 2016. Other countries want to know the keys to success, says Walker.

“It’s interesting that when we were established, the first national director, a woman called Wilma Shakespear, had been working in the Australian system before she came across and set up the EIS in 2002.

“Now, we have requests from our contemporaries in Australia to come across and look at what we’re doing, as well as requests from Denmark and Holland, and India and China, and other countries. I’m not saying we’re the best institute in the world, but we’re certainly in the leading group. Rather than following the pack now, a large part of the pack is following what we’re doing, to understand how we have been so successful across Beijing, London and Rio.”

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of EIS’s work is its talent identification programme, which has unearthed Olympic gold medal winners such as Helen Glover (rowing) and Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton). Its day-to-day work, however, is working with the Olympic and Paralympic teams, as well as English netball and squash, on science, medicine, technology and engineering delivery.

EIS is growing the level of impact that it has in its relationships with sport, across optimising training programmes, maximising performance in competitions, identifying and developing talent, improving health and wellbeing and at the same time minimising training days lost to injury and illness.

“We’re working more closely with the sports and have moved to the centre ground in the high-performance system, so we’re working across those areas that the sports have told us they couldn’t do themselves,” Walker continues. “These are areas where it is more efficient and effective for it to be done centrally, such as cross-performance innovation and athlete health.”

Another Olympic year looms, with Tokyo 2020 fast approaching. Walker says the EIS is looking to increase the numbers of athletes and sports that it works with, to give them the best chance of success, and to ensure that every penny of government funding is used wisely.

“For a country of our size, we’re certainly punching above our weight,” he said. “Yes, we’re well resourced, but that money is targeted and used effectively and efficiently for maximum effect.”

To read the entire interview, see the Issue 4 2018 edition of Sports Management here.

English Institute of Sport  Nigel Walker 
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