2012 Olympics: Investing in gold

London may have beaten Paris to the 2012 Olympic Games but hard work - and hard cash - is needed to ensure medal success
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The Independent Online

Proven performers such as Paula Radcliffe, Jonathan Edwards, Ashia Hansen, Steve Backley and Kelly Holmes rose to the challenge, while unexpected victories were supplied by the likes of long jumper Nathan Morgan, 1500m runner Michael East and hammer throwers Mick Jones and Lorraine Shaw. As London starts to metamorphose from Olympic bidder into Olympic host, the last Commonwealth Games stand as a vibrant model of what they should aspire to on a global scale. London 2012 aims to be Manchester 2002 writ large.

If British competitors are to make the most of an Olympic opportunity that has not occurred since 1948, a rising generation of performers needs to be nurtured, and the current crop needs to receive an extra financial boost.

No sooner had the International Olympic Committee's decision to award the Games to London been announced on Wednesday than sporting figures such as Sharron Davies, a former Olympic swimming silver medallist, and Kelly Holmes, double champion on the track in Athens last summer, were talking up the benefits of performing in front of a home crowd.

Both women have experienced the extra surge of commitment that scenario can generate. But if Britain is to emulate the surges in performance achieved by previous Olympic hosts such as South Korea and Spain, extra funding will need to be forthcoming immediately to supplement the £95m currently being provided to élite sport through the Lottery over the next four-year Olympic cycle.

Figures in the GamePlan document published two years ago by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport underline the efficacy of extra funding by host nations - but they also point up an accompanying phenomenon in which subsequent performances fall steeply away. For example, South Korea managed a top-five place in the medal rankings at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but by the Games of 2000 they had slipped outside the top 10. The example of Spain is even more dramatic. Outside the top 25 at the Seoul Olympics, they achieved a top-five place during the 1992 Barcelona Games, only to drop back to 25th place by the Sydney Games.

While the National Lottery Promotions Unit yesterday publicised a new body, the Olympic Delivery Authority, which will oversee the provision of a predicted £1.5bn through existing and Olympic Lottery games, that money will go solely towards the capital costs of the 2012 Games. What is required, after the triumph of Coe and Co in Singapore, is extra Treasury funding. It is believed that Sue Campbell, chair of UK Sport, has already had discussions with the Prime Minister over the level of extra funding required in the wake of a successful London bid.

And money has to start flowing now, in order to build an impetus in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Games, which in turn can be maintained in four years leading up to the London Games. The extra cost to the Government over the next three years will be a hefty proportion of the £95m currently earmarked - perhaps half as much again.

Britain is currently working towards a target of 42-45 medals at the Beijing Olympics. In the view of Nick Bitel, a council member for UK Sport and chief executive of the Flora London Marathon, the target for 2012 should be "very substantially higher". And in order for that to come about, funding has to increase in both range and depth.

Earlier this year, UK Sport made strategic decisions about how best to spend its resources on élite performers, rewarding sports like rowing and cycling which did well at the Athens Games, and reducing funding for those such as gymnastics, which failed to deliver. In the case of the latter sport, the average number of competitors receiving Lottery funding, which averaged 47 between 2001-2004, fell to eight. Even athletics, despite the late flourish from Kelly Holmes and the men's relay team, saw its figures drop from 86 to 40 for the same periods.

Now, however, UK Sport will be looking to increase those receiving support, a process which will see élite funding extended to many of the 10 sports which are currently lacking that support.

That is good news for the likes of basketball, volleyball, table tennis, handball, softball and baseball. Britain will expect - and be expected - to compete in the majority of the 28 Olympic sports in 2012, and a similar obligation will exist in the Paralympics, where five Olympic sports are without élite funding.

"The climate has changed," said Bitel. "Having said that, we have to recognise that there must be realistic ambitions in some sports. If you take handball, for instance, we are going to have to do a lot of work to build that up to a reasonable level, and with the best will in the world our team is not going to challenge the likes of Spain, Serbia, Denmark or Italy, where the sport is already taken very seriously.

"But I believe we can make real gains in some of the other sports. Our Paralympic women's basketball team, for instance, could make a real impact following their successful performances at last month's Paralympic World Cup in Manchester."

Further substantial funding will also need to be found to extend Britain's doping control capacity, given that home agencies will need to perform testing on the world's athletes in the Olympic period. But in the wake of one of the most extraordinary achievements within British sport, such calculations fade into relative insignificance. We've got the Games, and they need to be great. We can't afford not to afford it.

How a volleyball player can finally net funding...

You are Sharon Newstar, a highly talented performer in a sport - volleyball - that, unfortunately for you, does not command élite Lottery funding. But now London has the Games, you are in line to receive help with your training, travelling and medical costs just like athletes or cyclists or swimmers.

UK Sport, the body that oversees National Lottery funding for élite sport, will grade you as category A (top three in the world), B (fourth to 10th) or C (11th-20th).

Typically, the top two grades net around £28,000 per annum, of which around £15,000 goes directly to competitors with the rest supporting their federations.

C-graders typically get £11,000.