Sailing: Still waters blow up funding fears

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The Independent Online

Fears were being discussed yesterday about the possibility of a booby trap for Great Britain's Olympic sailing squad in seven years, when the Games come to the country.

As the wind failed to co-operate, leaving thousands of sailors pinned ashore on a grey Monday in Cowes Week, thoughts turned to what could happen if the same thing were to occur during the Olympic sailing regatta at the Beijing Games in 2008.

Lack of wind could deal a major and damaging blow to British sailing and, more specifically, the build-up to the celebrated prospect of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games.

The host city for the sailing events at the 2008 Games in China is Qingdao, more than 400 miles from Beijing. The weather analysis shows that, for more than 50 per cent of the time, there will not be enough wind for serious sailing.

That means, in such light conditions, the results will be a lottery. However good you are, your fate would be in the lap of the gods.

Worryingly, it is the UK lottery that provides the £200m a year, which is distributed by UK Sport, to help each of the chosen governing bodies to fund their World Class Performance programmes.

The rules say that Olympic medal results drive the allocation; so, if the UK sailing squad, which has won five medals at each of the last two Games, were to be on the wrong end of the roll of the Chinese dice, then, in theory, their funding would be cut.

Which means that, while the country invests £17m in the sailing centre at Weymouth, sailing could struggle for funding to produce the best medal chances.

As host country, Britain has the right to a place in every event, rather than having to qualify. So talks are underway with all sports about whether there should be a dilution of the pot to prepare teams and people that would not qualify under the performance criteria or whether the pot needs to be increased.

"We go to Beijing with a history of performance on our side and we can also open negotiations, if necessary, on the basis of performance in European and world championships," said Stephen Park, the UK's Olympic sailing manager, at the announcement of a six-figure injection of Alfred McAlpine Team GBR sponsorship here yesterday.

"But we already have people coming through who are expected to peak in 2012."