Athletics: UK Sport to cut funding for athletes who fail to deliver

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The Independent Online

Many of Britain's Olympic athletes will feel the pinch next week when UK Sport announces funding packages for the four years leading to the 2008 Beijing Games.

Many of Britain's Olympic athletes will feel the pinch next week when UK Sport announces funding packages for the four years leading to the 2008 Beijing Games.

Although the total available to the World Class Performance programme in the next Olympic cycle will rise from £94m to £98m, it will be spread among a significantly smaller proportion of competitors as the government's funding body targets those with a "realistic chance" of winning medals.

The shift in policy coincides with a report from the National Audit Office released yesterday which calls upon UK Sport to make "tough decisions based on performance about which sports merit funding and on what scale".

The report highlights six Olympic disciplines - gymnastics, judo, triathlon, shooting, Tae Kwon Do and weightlifting - which received a total of £12.4m in funding but earned no medals in Athens last summer.

Although the NAO report has emerged after all the major funding decisions have been made by UK Sport, a spokesman for the government body explained that they had been given access to early drafts of the document in the wake of the Athens Olympics. Liz Nicholl, UK Sport's acting chief executive, said: "We appreciate the input from the NAO review and have already taken action on most of its findings."

A UK Sport spokesman confirmed that four of the six underperforming Olympic sports were likely to face a similar funding adjustment to that which took place in swimming after the failure to secure any medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. "After Sydney, we cut funding to swimming by about £50,000 per year, around five to six per cent, and the number of athletes on the programme was cut, although those left were getting proportionately more," the spokesman said. "Swimming got two medals in Athens, and hopefully that trend will continue in Beijing."

Graeme Maw, performance director for British Triathlon, confirmed that the number of competitors on the WCP programme this year would drop from 16 to 12, adding that the figure could fall further as the Beijing Games drew closer.

"We have already had extensive discussions with UK Sport," Maw said. "It is all about being appropriate. It's about recognising that we need to target winning medals."

A spokesman for British Gymnastics warned against cutbacks which could be counter-productive, pointing out that although Beth Tweddle had failed to earn a medal in Athens, she was the first British woman to have won medals at European and world level.

"It takes at least seven years to raise a talent in this sport," the spokesman said, adding that gymnastics was unlike many other sports in that there were political factors which influenced medal chances.

"Once a nation is up in the leading group, then they can start thinking about medals. The road to this élite group is so long and so painful, and British gymnastics is already going through this process. If funding is reduced or capped, it would mean going back 20 years."

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