Britain's Olympic team sports face being "destroyed" when funding for the Rio Games is revealed later this month, it has been claimed. The amount of money handed out to volleyball, handball, hockey and bastketball is set to be drastically cut from its London high, a reduction that threatens to waste the progress made by sports in the build-up to this summer's Olympic Games.
Leading figures in the sports expected to be worst hit will meet at the British Olympic Association's HQ in London to explore their options on 10 December – eight days before UK Sport, the body that awards Lottery and Treasury money, announces funding levels for the Rio Olympic cycle. Team sports fear a "raw deal".
UK Sport distributed over £264m for the London Olympics and another £50m for the Paralympics. A similar amount is available for "Project Rio", although it is expected to be concentrated on fewer sports. UK Sport has already outlined its ambition of bettering Britain's total of 65 London medals in 2016.
"It would destroy us," said Richard Callicott, chair of British Volleyball and a former chief executive of UK Sport, of the expected cut. "It would knock us back to where we were before we started out on this journey to London. I've got between 30 and 40 players playing professionally in Europe now. That's the progress we've made. We have got more coming through. It's a loss of opportunity to capitalise on that original investment."
Callicott believes that original investment for London will have been wasted if elite funding now disappears. He said: "Absolutely. However much money was invested, if we are merely saying we did [so] because we were hosting the Olympic Games what a sad reflection that is on the state of sport."
In all UK Sport has been guaranteed £500m to fund the next cycle, some of which goes to the English Institute of Sport, who invest in technology and other support services, and some to pay for bids to host sporting events in this country. Flagship sports such as cycling, rowing and athletics will receive the lion's share, while many team sports face cuts as they are not considered medal prospects. UK Sport insists on a "no compromise" approach – sports have to demonstrate they are capable of competing for podium places in the future, as well as having met the targets set for London 2012.
Host status ensured Britain could field teams in London in sports such as volleyball and handball for the first time. The teams had to convince UK Sport and the BOA that they would be competitive before receiving their backing to enter the Games.
These two in particular came from lowly bases – in handball's case from nowhere – and were given partial financial assistance to do so. Volleyball received £3.5m towards fielding four teams, men's and women's beach and indoor. That was not enough to pay for all four – the women's team effectively funded themselves, but thanks to their win over Algeria they met UK Sport's lower-end target of one victory at the Games.
Over the last couple of months all Olympic sports have made presentations to UK Sport outlining their case for funding. Under the stewardship of chair Sue Campbell, chief executive Liz Nicholl and former performance director Peter Keen, UK Sport have cemented a success-first policy that has been key in Britain's impressive rise to third in the Olympic medal table in London. But Callicott believes its narrow focus on winning medals alone threatens to squander the advances made by the lesser sports and scupper their chances of ever competing for medals.
"I think that's a very narrow-minded viewpoint," said Callicott, who adds those who run team sports were "perturbed" by Campbell's post-London announcement that the push towards Rio will be concentrated ever more on winning medals. According to Callicott it takes far longer – at least two, if not three, Olympic cycles – to lift a team to the elite level. Britain's volleyball teams were praised post-London by Jizhong Wei, the president of the sport's global governing body, for having made "substantial progress".
"What I'm calling for is a public debate on how we fund team sports in Olympics and Paralympics and on what basis. They are getting a raw deal," said Callicott. "A team sport wins 12 golds or 12 silvers or 12 bronze and then those 12 medallists go back to 12 communities, not a single community that the individual athlete comes from – and helps the participation and the social cohesion of those areas. That's not taken into consideration by UK Sport – the amount of money that is available for the Rio cycle is at least as much as there was for London so it's not as if there is any less money.
"Team sports are the soul of where we have come from. The fact that we have invested huge amounts of money into cycling and rowing and we've got results is to be applauded and it's something I welcome. I want the same opportunity for team sports."
Part of Callicott's argument for further elite funding for his and other team sports revolves around participation. Team sports offer an important means towards boosting participation, a key part of the promised Olympic legacy.
The first post-Games participation figures were due to be released by Sport England today and volleyball is one sport that expects to see a rise in numbers off the back of the Games.
The sport is likely to receive funding from Sport England for grass-roots investment but the future of the elite game could be over before it has even started.
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