Britain's elite athletes need an extra £40m

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Great Britain's élite athletes need an extra £40m of funding in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics in Athens if they are to maintain the standards that led to the record medal haul at last year's Sydney Games, the Government has been warned.

A review of athletes' Lottery funding, overseen by Jack Cunningham, called on the Government to take urgent action to provide the money, or risk a drop in the standards of performances. Around 650 British athletes are currently funded through Lottery money, receiving between £4,500 and £9,800 in subsistence payments with extra help for coaching, travel and medical expenses. Income from the Lottery is predicted to fall, however, and £10m a year is needed to maintain current funding levels.

Several of Britain's 11 gold medal winners from Sydney, including the modern pentathlete Stephanie Cook and the cyclist Jason Queally, attributed their success to being able to dedicate themselves to their sports because of Lottery funds. The British rowing team, including Sir Steve Redgrave's gold medal-winning coxless fours and the men's coxed eights, echoed their sentiments, as did UK Athletics.

"In order to guarantee the required stability of funding, it is recommended that UK Sport is provided urgently with an additional £10m of Exchequer funding annually from 2001-02 for the next four years," Cunningham, the chairman of the funding review group, said yesterday. "Funding will have to be cut if [a shortfall in Lottery money] isn't made up. There simply isn't enough money available to support UK Athletics and Sport England and sustain the level of funding.

"Some groups are receiving more money than others. The system needs to be streamlined, we need to get rid of the bureaucracy and make the system user-friendly for athletes, we would like a one-stop shop for young athletes."

Brendan Foster, the former distance runner who was also a member of the review group, said Britain was lagging behind and the situation would get worse unless funding is maintained. "It's a necessity – otherwise in future Olympic Games' we will be sitting in front of the television cheering for European athletes. My message every time I go to a major games is that it's getting tougher."

Cunningham's report also recommended a limit on the number of athletes receiving funding and then making all those eligible for £9,800 annual means-tested payments.