Badminton: Balancing act of fund and games

Stephen Brenkley talks to a sportsman for whom the windfall has come too late
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The Independent Online
For Neil Cottrill the news came too late. For Andy Raspin it arrived in the nick of time. It means that one has already quit his sport, broke and concerned for his future and that the other can now plan in relative comfort for his world championships next year.

Until he decided to retire five months ago at the age of 25, Cottrill was one of Britain's top badminton players. He and his partner, John Quinn, were the 12th-ranked pair in the world, the sort of placing which would have qualified for fairly serious money under the scheme announced last week to help talented sportsmen and women with pounds 40m from the National Lottery.

Raspin, a slalom canoeist, is the world's No 9. The day after the lottery windfall was announced as being available, the private sponsorship which has helped him survive for the past three years ran out. He could not have continued, or at least not with any realistic hope of returning with a medal from the world championships.

Cottrill was philosophical but in no doubt that it could indeed have been different. "If this had happened exactly a year ago instead of just now it would certainly have given me the impetus to continue for a few years," he said. "Money wasn't the only factor in my decision to stop but it was the big one. That decided me more than anything else."

The Mancunian now has a full-time job in a sports shop in north Wales and is also studying to be a sports and fitness lecturer. He coaches badminton and still plays at county standard. But while he is not entirely insistent, he suspects it is too late to return to national level, although cash would now be available to allow him to keep body and soul together between tournaments.

How differently - just - it has turned out for Andy Raspin. He was not quite on the verge of quitting but he was anticipating a thoroughly dispiriting winter being rebuffed by potential sponsors and missing crucial training.

"My present sponsorship has just officially stopped," he said on Friday. "But the phone call didn't have the awful effect it would have done a couple of days earlier. It's impossible to overstate what all this means to somebody like me. As far as I understand there won't be any money available until next March, but now there is something to aim for."

Raspin, 27, readily concedes that he has been one of the lucky few in his career to date, having been paid pounds 13,000-a-year sponsorship by the Teesside Development Corporation. Even that amount may pale into insignificance with the advent of lottery cash. Raspin could qualify for up to pounds 28,000 a year as well as funding for vital training abroad in British winters.

There were stories like those of Cottrill and Raspin across the whole range of British sport last week. Fortunately, it seems there were more of the latter than the former. As David Tanner, international officer of the Amateur Rowing Association - the one discipline in which Britain earned gold at Olympics - put it: "The day after the news I had at least four calls from rowers wanting to know if they can benefit. They can and I hope will; and believe me it will make the difference between their continuing or not."