Olympic Games: Olympians are 'under-funded': Survey of British competitors shows disturbing evidence of financial hardship

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BRITAIN'S Olympic competitors yesterday called for urgent reforms, including state funding for athletes, to prevent the country from slipping into 'further sporting decline'.

A survey of 200 British Olympians at last year's winter and summer Games, the first of its kind, concludes that sportsmen and women in this country are 'woefully under-funded' and asks for a 'significant proportion' of new money from the proposed national lottery to be directed towards elite sport.

In the last three summer Olympics, Britain's total of medals has fallen from 37 to 24 to 20; the winter Games record reads 1, 0, 0. 'In international terms, we are a second-rate nation, in danger of slipping even further down the medal table,' said Martin Cross, the former Olympic rowing gold medallist who chairs the competitors' council responsible for producing the report. 'Other nations are way above us in the league of funding for sport.'

Over the years, there has been a fund - if that is the right word - of stories about British competitors who have done things the hard way, battling through in the face of insufficient money and facilities. Now the statistics are in place to underline the general position.

'This is a definitive report,' said Adrian Moorhouse, who was one of the seven representatives on the report's steering group.

'It is the Olympic team saying, 'this has got to stop, because we are going to lose more and more if we don't act carefully.' So this is the bottom line for all the various sports bodies and the Government to refer to. We are not politicians. We can't make these things happen. What we can do is present the facts and say: 'It's about time.' We don't look after our sports people.'

A timescale for the recommendations is something which has been deliberately avoided because of the possible effects of Manchester getting the 2000 Olympics. Should they succeed, there is likely to be a sudden financial input of the kind witnessed in Spain before the last Olympics.

The call for direct state funding for all national elite athletes appears to cut across the independence on which the BOA prides itself. Internal debate on the subject of accepting Government grants has already begun.

In the past, the BOA has fought shy of being under political influence. In 1980, when the politicians wanted Britain to support the United States's boycott of the Moscow Olympics over the Afghanistan problem, many members felt that it would have been impossible to send a team had they been beholden to the Government for grants.

'The question people are beginning to ask now,' a spokeswoman said, 'is whether that independence is worth it if we are becoming second rate? Perhaps there is room for a partnership.'

The group are seeking a meeting with Iain Sproat, the relevant under-secretary, who has been sent a copy of the report.

Jackson's European record, page 39


45 per cent of Olympic athletes in debt to average level of pounds 5,000

84 per cent said sporting potential was limited by need to keep a job

42 per cent earn less than pounds 10,000 pounds a year

Only 38 per cent had ever earned any prize-money or sponsorship

53 per cent do not have access to adequate training facilities

200 athletes of the 455 who competed at last year's Winter and Summer Games completed the questionnaire