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Fencing: French lottery cuts red tape for British fencer

THE nation's best fencer, Ian Williams, has found a way of avoiding problems of gaining National Lottery funding which afflicted so many elite British performers. He has found support from the French Lottery system.

Williams, who competes for Britain and took part in last year's World Championships, has fenced for the last two seasons with clubs based in Paris which are subsidised from the French lottery funds. His French club pays for him to represent Britain in World Cup events.

That is a benefit which continues to elude Williams's British-based colleague, James Williams (no relation). James, who reached the last 32 of the sabre event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, before losing to the silver medallist has seen his hopes of funding delayed by bureaucracy. While other fencers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been paid directly by their national sports councils, James has had to wait for his funding through the performance plan submitted by the British Fencing Association. That plan has been rejected by the UK Sports Council, and an application for an interim grant is, in James's words, "in the pipeline". No decision is expected until August, by which time James needs to be in Malaysia for the Commonwealth Games.

James was only able to attend a recent World Cup event in Greece through a pounds 500 grant from his local council in Gillingham. It is the largest amount of funding he has had in a year.

While he can only wait and hope, so too must the British bobsleighers who won an Olympic bronze medal in Nagano two months ago. Sean Olsson, who steered the four man bob to Britain's first Winter Olympic medal since 1964 spoke yesterday of his frustration on learning that their success did not guarantee a continuing flow of National Lottery funding.

Last year's funding delays meant, Olsson estimates, that each member had had to find around pounds 6,000 to subsidise living and travel expenses. Once again this year, no funding is expected until September.

"It's all red tape," said Olsson, a paratrooper based in Aldershot. "There has been no continuity. As far as I'm concerned we had fulfilled our end of the bargain by coming home with a medal."

Apart from financing trips to Gibraltar and Calgary, where the team spent a month last year, there are more mundane costs - petrol money for trips to their only training venue in Britain, a rusting push-start run on waste ground at the back of the Thorpe Park amusements in Surrey.