Sporting bodies yesterday gave a cautious welcome to Gordon Brown's announcement that the funding of elite athletes would be doubled over the next six years to £600m to boost British prospects at the London Olympics.
The Chancellor unveiled plans to give £200m in central funding to Olympic sports and raise a further £100m though a planned private sector sponsorship of individual athletes. Combined with the £300m in lottery cash which already flows annually to elite sports, this makes a £600m kitty to fund ambitions for Britain to enter around 750 athletes in the 2012 games and finish fourth in the medals table, leapfrogging Australia.
The London organisers and the International Olympic Committee are keenly aware of the importance of boosting the number of competitors from the host nation - entering non-traditional events such as basketball, volleyball and handball - as this maximises Games attendances.
Mr Brown, emboldened by the strong showing this week of Scottish athletes at the Commonwealth Games, also unveiled proposals for an Olympics Trust to run a nationwide cultural event in 2012, and committed £6m for schools to stage annual Olympics-themed sports days. These, however, will have to steer clear of using the heavily protected and highly marketable Olympics name and interlocking rings.
The Budget announcement was welcomed by the British Olympic Association (BOA) and UK Sport, the quango which distributes lottery cash to elite sports and whose funding proposals, "A Sporting Chance for 2012", have largely impressed the Chancellor.
"Whilst underpinning performance through 2012, this will provide UK Sport with the full level of funding required to aim for our ultimate goal over the next few crucial years," said UK Sport chairman Sue Campbell.
The BOA chief executive Simon Clegg said the funding would enable British teams to employ some of the world's best coaches. "The Government have listened and understood the arguments made by sport, and they are to be congratulated for the commitment they have given today. Speed of delivery and getting this new money to the coalface of sport is now the priority," Mr Clegg said.
However, concerns remain about the ability to tap the private sector for £100m, which is likely to be the responsibility of UK Sport and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There is a feeling that once the London organisers have sold the marketing rights for a projected £750m, which partly offsets the £2.375bn cost of the Games, and blue-chip companies have signed up to the BOA's recently launched adopt-a-sport scheme, only a thin slice of the sponsorship cake may be left for the Government.
"The private sector's ability to raise the £100m extra has been restricted since the rights to the Olympic rings have been signed away to pay for the staging of the Games," said the shadow Olympics minister Hugh Robertson.
It has been suggested that sports federations may simply spend the initial £200m and hold the Government to ransom over the remaining £100m when athletes' training programmes are at an advanced stage.
By committing £200m, Mr Brown has enabled UK Sport to implement the second of three options it put to the Treasury last October. "Option 2", at an average annual cost of £44m, funds all 28 summer Olympic sports up to 2012, except tennis and football which are considered rich enough to finance themselves.Reuse content