Clegg satisfied with Britain's haul as funding row looms

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The Independent Online

Having set Britain's Winter Olympians a target of one medal "of any colour" at the Games which concluded here yesterday, the team's chef de mission, Simon Clegg, was hardly going to damn them in his overall assessment.

Clegg duly declared himself well pleased with Britain's performance in Turin, one that yielded a silver medal for Shelley Rudman and a number of near misses, notably from the men's curling team, who finished one place off a bronze, Kristan Bromley, fifth in the men's skeleton, and short-track speed skater Jon Eley, who was fifth in Saturday night's 500m final.

"Overall, we are delighted," Clegg said yesterday. "But we need to scratch below the surface of the medals table. There is no place for complacency. We will analyse performances and evaluate qualifying standards ahead of Vancouver in 2010.

"Youth is on the side of our competitors, and with consistent levels of funding there's no reason why we shouldn't see better performances at Vancouver," he added.

Youth may be on the side of Britain's competitors, but history is not. Since the Winter Olympics began in Chamonix in 1924, Britain has won more than one medal on only three occasions, the last being 2002 when the women's curlers won gold, Alex Coomber took bronze in the skeleton and Alain Baxter finished third in the slalom, only to have his medal taken away for a doping infraction.

Britain is never going to win large numbers of winter Olympic medals, and what has been achieved here has been a pretty decent return on the far from grandiose £2.3m of government money that has gone into a four-year campaign.

Yet the discussion now ensuing over what an appropriate figure would be for the next cycle is bound up with the larger debate over funding for the whole of Britain's Olympic preparations, up to and beyond the London 2012 Games.

At the moment that debate appears more of a wrangle as Colin Moynihan, the Tory peer whose appointment as chairman of the British Olympic Association in October was not welcomed by the Government, has spent his time since effectively poking the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, with a large stick.

Moynihan has endorsed the view that Britain can finish fourth in the medals table at the 2012 Games and is seeking a general level of financial support that is almost twice what Britain's Olympians currently receive.

The Chancellor's position can be gleaned through the recent comments of the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, in praising Rudman's efforts. "No amount of money can buy the kind of spirit, talent and determination that wins medals," Caborn declared.

While money does not directly buy medals, Rudman made it clear after her race that it had been tough trying to compete with opponents who had easy access to a bobsleigh track.

Caborn's analysis of funding strategy is not wrong. "The times of knee-jerk reaction have gone. It needs to be done through discussion," he said. But that discussion needs to be urgent, and the funding needs to increase steeply unless Britain is going to be embarrassed come 2012 - or even 2010.