Athletics hit by funding penalty for poor results

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Track athletes appear to have been punished for their poor performance in recent events by being given only a meagre share of extra Government funding aimed at boosting Britain's medal haul at the London Olympics.

UK Sport, the quango responsible for distributing the extra £300m earmarked by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, in the budget, revealed yesterday that athletics will receive only a seven per cent increase in funding over the next year.

The announcement follows a disappointing effort by British athletes at the Commonwealth Games and modest returns on the track at the Athens Olympics masked by the gold-winning feats of Kelly Holmes and the men's sprint relay team.

The rise is a relatively modest amount compared to rowing, swimming and sailing, which each receive between £17m and £20m over the period up to the 2008 Beijing Games although fewer medals are available.

The funding - available for all 26 summer Olympic sports except cash-rich tennis and football - is intended to maximise the number of competitors at 2012 and promote Team GB to fourth in the medals table.

It has enabled UK Sport to fund handball, volleyball, basketball, water polo and synchronised swimming for the first time. While there is little expectation of these five producing medals in 2012, it is hoped they may be among the top 12 in the world. The total additional investment in 27 disciplines - not sports - is £58.8m until Beijing.

Boxing also emerges as a beneficiary of extra funding, with a 337 per cent increase, reflecting recent performances by Audley Harrison in Sydney and Amir Khan in Athens, and to encourage young talent to remain amateur for a shot at the Olympics in 2012.

Sue Campbell, the chairman of UK Sport, stressed that the funding was guaranteed only until Beijing, after which it would be reassessed. UK Sport have set three main criteria for sports applying for extra money. They can qualify for the "World Class Podium" fund for athletes in the top 10 in the world; the "World Class Development" fund for the hitherto neglected level of juniors with world-beating potential; and for funding of fresh talent.

Such a system explains why gymnastics, which consistently fails to deliver medals, has benefited from a 32 per cent increase in funding to £7.25m up to Beijing. This reflects the potential in boys' and rhythm gymnastics, Campbell explained.

"We have started today a six-year process that will not just deliver medals in 2012 but help transform the high performance system in this country forever," Campbell said.

"Allocating funding across so many sports is never easy but a decision eventually has to be made about the relative merits of competing demands."