Lottery money sought to fund future success

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The Independent Online


British athletics is submitting a major National Lottery bid this week which could transform the parlous financial position of the sport in this country and underpin the development of elite performers through to the year 2002.

The bid, which seeks several million pounds in funding spread over the next six years, has been put together by Mike Whittingham, the former Olympic 400 metres hurdler who now coaches athletes such as Roger Black and acts as a consultant for the British Athletic Federation.

It seeks to establish a co-ordinated programme of services for elite and developing athletes which will provide everything from medical back- up to funding for training breaks and competitive opportunities.

Such an idea has been mooted in the past, but has foundered on two main points. The first has been a straightforward lack of funding - at last Saturday's BAF annual meeting, the outgoing treasurer, John Lister, announced an operating loss of pounds 174,000 for last year and warned of "painful" years ahead.

The second vexed area has been the linking of such services with undertakings for elite athletes to take part in Britain's major televised meetings, an arrangement which was met with some suspicion within the sport.

Whittingham's proposal was developed through discussions with the BAF executive chairman, Peter Radford, the director of coaching, Malcolm Arnold, the chief medical officer, Dr Malcolm Brown, and the athletes' consultative group, headed by Black and Geoff Parsons. It intends to provide sufficient funding for the programme to exist on its own.

"British athletics can no longer rely on ebb and flow of the market place," Whittingham said. "In the past it has been a Catch-22 situation - the federation has had to look after elite performers because they bring in TV and commercial money, and the cake simply wasn't big enough to go round.

"The idea behind this programme is that becomes separate from the commercial side. It allows services to stand on their own two feet. And if athletes can see that, they will be only too willing to build a closer partnership with the sport."

Whittingham envisages that around 1,000 athletes would benefit from the programme over a six-year period that encompasses 43 major championships, including two Olympic Games. It would chime in with the philosophy of government assistance which has been operating with increasing success in countries such as Portugal, Spain and France.

"Everyone is wondering where the next Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell or Colin Jackson is going to come through," Whittingham said. "They are going to come through from this programme."

The initiative is timed to fit in with the widening of Lottery funding from capital to revenue projects which was announced in principle in February.

Whittingham attended the launch of the Prime Minister's sporting initiative, Raising The Game, in July and took the opportunity to hand John Major a synopsis of his plan.

He has since made presentations alongside Arnold, to both the Minister for Sport, Iain Sproat, and the Shadow Minster for Sport, Tom Pendrey.

"We had very positive feedback from both of them," Whittingham said.