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Slashing sports funding will kill off any Olympic legacy

16th August 2012

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It was announced yesterday that the government and UK Sports Funding Council will begin a process of cutting funding for various Olympic sports where they do not anticipate a British team to reach the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson attempted to explain the reasoning behind the decision, saying: "There's no point funding sports that are not going to qualify. We will fund any sport where we think there is a realistic chance of a medal in Rio or in the 2020 Games.

"The base cut-off is if a sport does not qualify for an Olympics, that is very important. But remember that even if there are sports that don't attract funding, they can still get funding through Sport England and so on to develop their talent into a position where they will qualify for a games in the future."

The UK Sports Funding Council officially calls this funding style 'no compromise', and it designed to channel money into developing elite-level athletes and teams who can compete at the highest level of their respective sports. Thus, sports such as track cycling, rowing, athletics, gymnastics, and others where Britain won significant numbers of medals at the 2012 London Olympics will continue to receive funding in order to ensure that Britain maintains and increases it's standings in these sports.

The flip-side of this coin is that sports such as volleyball and handball, which are comparatively minor sports in this country, will see their funding cut entirely, and they found themselves receiving significantly less funding than more prominent sports. Great Britain's men's volleyball team announced on Tuesday that their Head Coach, Harry Brokking, was stepping down due to the governing body not being able to pay him, as a direct result of the incoming funding cuts. Volleyball in the UK received approximately £3.5 million pounds in the run-up to the Olympics, but they did not meet their performance targets.

British Handball has already seen its funding cut dramatically prior to the Olympics, and this will impact the sport even further. Great Britain's handball teams were only formed in 2006, and many of the male players were shopped around to professional handball teams across Europe. Many of the team eventually found employment, but only after significant sacrifices. British players looking to get hired by professional teams in Europe had to leave their families for long periods of time, and take up low-paid jobs to sustain themselves whilst they worked their way up the ladder of European handball.

Granted, neither the British handball or volleyball teams were particularly successful, but they were only formed in the years immediately after London being awarded the Olympics. It is also unlikely that these teams would have qualified for the 2012 Olympics had they not been given hast-nation places. However, they gave a good showing against vastly superior and much more experienced sides, whilst serving as great adverts for their respective sports.

If the money is not there, and they are being forced to let key members of staff go due to not being able to pay them, then how are they supposed to improve and move forward?

This may sound fair and, as the saying goes, 'success breeds success'. However, what the UK Government and Sport Funding Council is doing can only be described as myopic. If minority Olympic sports find themselves back in the position they were in before London was awarded the Olympics, then they will go back to being minority sports which few people play, and Britain's national sides will never be able to match up against better international sides.

Track cycling is the prime example of a sport which Britain has been great in over the past twelve years, thanks to greater funding and an increased spotlight on these sports. What you may not know is that track cycling in Britain started receiving National Lottery funding in the 1990s, and has proved very lucrative for Britain since. I cannot say that, in 20 to 30 years time, Britain will be winning gold medals in handball and volleyball should they continue to receive funding, but it most certainly aids such sports to acheive greater things. If the money is not there, how are these teams supposed to capitalise on the increasing interest and popularity which they are seeing as a direct result of the Olympics? Clearly there are lessons to be learnt.

Success may breed success, but funding and greater awareness play a larger part in attracting young people to play these sports. If people see and hear about British teams, no matter what sport, playing against better nations in national media, as they did during the Olympics, then they will be more compelled to play or get involved in sports in some way.

Funding cuts to smaller Olympic sports in this country only serve to rewind the clock and completely abandon any attempt at establishing an Olympic sporting legacy. The slogan of the 2012 London Olympics was to 'inspire a generation'. A generation has been inspired by the Olympics, but they will soon become disillusioned if the UK Government and Sports Funding Council abandon 'unsuccessful' sports.

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