Britain's most decorated Olympian Sir Chris Hoy led a succession of medallists yesterday in warning David Cameron of the dire consequences of cutting funding for elite sport.
Hoy, who won his sixth gold medal in the velodrome on Tuesday, spoke out as ministers refused to guarantee that current levels of sports spending will be maintained. Funding for elite sport is set to be cut next year, leaving depleted resources when Team GB appears at Brazil in 2016 if it cannot make up the shortfall with lottery money.
The Prime Minister insisted money was not the only answer to promoting sporting excellence - and provoked a backlash from teachers when he suggested many of them were not committed to nurturing the next generation of medal-winners.
Hoy told The Independent: "Fifteen years ago the lottery funding came in and it was the whole catalyst for the team’s success, the starting-point. When [coach] Peter Allen came in and said he had this dream that we could be the best national team in the world, we thought he was mad.
"The heated hotpants we use, you know [to maintain muscle temperature], they're a great example of the importance of funding. That would never have happened were it not the opportunity to invest in finding these things out."
Pointing to fellow medallist Laura Trott, sitting beside him, Hoy added: "Laura, you know, she's 20, she's only known the team since after that happened. Me and Jason Quealy, and some of the others, remember when it was run on a shoestring budget. It was very different, and we weren't anywhere near as successful."
Trott, who picked up two cycling golds on her Olympics debut, said: "Funding is very important - it is the key to our sport, really. We would be lost without it."
Peter Wilson, who took Britain’s first shooting gold medal for more than a decade in the double trap event, said: "Without lottery funding I would not be here."
The British Olympic Association, which benefited from the £250m of lottery and public money used to support elite athletes since London was awarded the Olympics, warned that the funding was "absolutely critical" to Team GB’s victories and would be needed to achieve further success.
Darryl Seibel, its spokesman, said: "Without it we would not be where we are today. It is one element of a whole package, which includes the talent and determination of the individual athlete and everything that underpins securing the best performance.
"You have to have the funding to attract the best coaches, the best technology and the best team. So the money is not everything but it is an absolutely critical element."
The high jumper Robbie Grabarz, who won a bronze medal on Tuesday despite having his lottery support withdrawn, said: "Funding is fantastic and it helps a lot of people on their way. It would be a shame if it were to go. But it is not the be all and end all at the same time. If you really want something you can do it."
His coach, Fuzz Ahmed, said that sports funding "works out at 80p per person per month. It is an irrelevant amount of money compared with, say, a submarine. What would you rather have - Chris Hoy or a submarine? I know what I would like. We are 20 years ahead of the rest of the world, so if we give that away we are idiots. If there is a politician out there who thinks they are going to get elected by not giving sport a chance, dream on."
Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said yesterday he could not promise to protect funding beyond 2013: "[Predicting] the outcome of the spending round...is obviously something I can’t do and we need to have this discussion across government."
The Government has also found itself under attack in recent days over sports provision in state schools, which Mr Hunt has conceded is patchy.
Ministers have ditched a target for pupils to take part in at least two hours of PE and sport a week. In addition, the Coalition has scrapped a £160m school sport partnership scheme and approved the sale of more than 20 schools playing-fields.
Mr Cameron said yesterday the biggest drawback to identifying and encouraging future champions was not cash, but attitudes among some teachers. "The problem has been too many schools not wanting to have competitive sport, some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part," he told LBC Radio. "We need a big cultural change - a cultural change in favour of competitive sports. That’s what I think really matters."
But Christine Blower, general-secretary of the National Union of Teachers, retorted: "It is ludicrous to suggest teachers are letting the side down. It is not because of teachers that funding for schools sport partnership has been drastically cut."
Sir John Major, who introduced the national lottery, said he bitterly regretted not using some its proceeds for paying for full-time sports teachers.
"I believe every child has the right to a physical education as well as an academic education, but over the last 40 years that has fallen away."
Dame Kelly Holmes, a double gold medal winner in the 2004 Athens Olympics, called for two hours' compulsory PE a week and, designated teachers in primary schools and for stronger links between schools, communities and sport clubs.
The British beach volleyball player Zara Dampney said the Government must protect funding for both elite athletes and sports facilities for children: "It’s really important. Obviously the Olympics has put loads of sports out there, not just beach volleyball but so many other minority sports as well. There are lots of sports that people didn’t know existed or know much about. So it’s a real chance for kids to get involved in other sports other than the ones that are offered the most regularly.
"It’s a crucial time now. The grassroots are ready and people want to get playing."
The captain of the Britain men’s volleyball team, Ben Pipes, added: "A lot of us were here on chance. Chance encounters with PE coaches who said ‘Hey you should try volleyball’. Chance encounters with a friend of a friend who said ‘We’re playing beach on holiday do you want to get involved?’ If we can eliminate that chance element to our sports, bring kids into the proper systems at the right ages, we’re going to be standing toe to toe with these teams the next time we come to a major event."
Yesterday GB Basketball said it would wait until December before appointing a new coach after the resignation of Chris Finch, because it would await a decision on future funding before signing any deal with a coach. Last time, basketball received £8.5m (part-lottery, part Treasury) from UK Sport.
The British Olympic Association has expressed hopes that schoolchildren will be allowed to attend a parade of athletes on the Mall by Buckingham Palace on 10 September.
Andy Hunt, its chief executive, said: "Let’s hope many schools are allowed an opportunity to come and celebrate. It is going to be broadcast live but we hope there will be millions on the streets."
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