Moynihan warns of funding 'travesty'

Olympic chief coughs up own £20,000 for next Winter Games - then puts pressure on Treasury for 2012
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The Independent Online

But as the Winter Games end, the uphill battle begins to extract sufficient funding from the Government for future Olympians and to convince the public that as far as winter sports are concerned we do not just go along for the glide.

Lord Colin Moynihan, freshly installed as chairman of the British Olympic Association, has made a start by donating his £20,000 annual honorarium to the war chest for Vancouver 2010, but such is the state of attrition in sports politics that this is likely to be seen as inflammatory gesture by Gordon Brown, who is still sitting on the requested hand-out from his own Treasury chest. Last night Moynihan returned to the fray, warning that "a further period of deliberation will damage Britain's chances of medal success even further".

The former boxing Blue jabs at the Chancellor even more aggressively, adding: "An announcement of future funding for Olympic athletes would be welcomed by everyone. There are concerns that more valuable time should not be lost. Our future Olympians do not have time to waste. They have six years to prepare for a peak performance at London 2012 and it will be a travesty if talented athletes do not get the opportunity to aim for the medal rostrum.

"I am determined that that all 35 Olympic sports must and will benefit from the 2012 Games. All are part of Team GB."

Moynihan also wants to see sports bodies given an immediate breakdown of the allocations they can expect. "This will at least demonstrate that the eight months since Singapore [where London won the vote for 2012] have been put to good use."

This renewed pressure will not go down well with a Government seriously miffed that efforts to block the Tory peer's election to the BOA chair failed. Moreover, sports minister Richard Caborn has been quick to point out that "no amount of money can buy the kind of spirit, talent and determination that wins medals". He was alluding to Rudman, whose success in the bob skeleton came without the assistance of Lottery funding.

Caborn says the case has been put "very forcibly" to the Treasury. "But the times of knee-jerk reaction have gone. It needs to be done by discussion."

However funding, both from the Treasury and the Lottery, is set to become an issue of some contention in the coming months. There are a growing number, myself included, who believe that the funding system as at present operated by UK Sport, is inherently flawed, with apparent emphasis on slide-rule calculations and anorak-like arithmetic which does not allow for the human element of which sport is basically composed.

It denies many with the opportunity to hone genuine talent and aspirations, posing the question: "What have you achieved?" rather than: "What can you achieve?"

The question arising from Turin, though, is whether the majority of the 40-strong British squad have been worth the money already invested in them. Definitely yes, argues the BOA's chef de mission, Simon Clegg. He had correctly predicted one medal and considers the all-round performances as "first-class... up to the standards we would expect for a Winter Olympic Games".

For some, the temptation is to dismiss the Brits as a bunch of frozen stiffs but Clegg argues: "The success of the team should not be judged by the medal table. It may be hard for the public to appreciate but some of the levels of performance have been extremely pleasing. Kristan Bromley and Adam Pengilly had medals within their grasp in the bob skeleton, ice-dancers John and Sinead Kerr's 10th place was the best on ice since Torvill and Dean; Chemmy Alcott, 11th in the downhill, and Noel Baxter, 14th in the combined were fantastic Alpine skiing results for a lowland nation. And A J Rosen's 16th position was our best-ever in the luge."

There were also logistical problems in this make-do-and-mend Olympics. "The financial challenges that faced the organisers have had an effect," says Clegg. "There have been some shortcomings and instances where we have had to improvise ourselves to make the living conditions for our athletes a bit better.

"We must have consistent funding over the next few years to enable us to prepare properly and have a stronger-in-depth team. Vancouver is going to be particularly important for British prestige, coming just two years before London 2012."

Back home, we found the BBC's coverage somewhat overheated. Without Rudman, the Kerrs and the curlers it would have been an even harder sell with competitors mostly as colourless as the substance they were attempting to perform on.

One reason why winter sports will never be big in Britain is that the personalities involved, outside of the skating and curling rinks, are simply not identifiable in their helmets, hoods and balaclavas.

Is it that the British still play at snowsports while the Alpine world works at them? Yet there is no real reason why we should not do just as well on ice as any other country that has indoor rinks, though, as with playing fields and swimming pools, other nations do not close as many as Britain does.