Streamlined grant system to boost British medal tally

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In an effort to improve the chances of Britain's medal hopefuls at the 2012 Olympic Games, the Government announced yesterday that funding for élite English athletes would be administered by UK Sport alone rather than split between that organisation and Sport England.

About £33m a year will now be diverted to UK Sport, leaving a slimmed-down Sport England to concentrate on promoting sports participation at grassroots level.

However, due to the devolution agreement, élite athletes from the home nations will continue to be jointly administered by UK Sport and the sports councils of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Cycling's performance director, Dave Brailsford, said: "I have been concerned for some time about the complicated and fragmented system of support for Olympic sport, and have always said it is a distraction for performance. The changes announced today, placing responsibility for performance with UK Sport, are fantastic news."

John Anderson, the performance director of canoeing, said that "2012 is the best thing ever to happen to Olympic sport in the UK and this decision will have a very positive impact on our performance strategy for the next seven years".

The new system was announced by Tessa Jowell, the secretary of state with responsibility for sport. She said: "We have been given a new momentum and a new focus by our success in winning 2012. We are going to be world-class in everything we do and we need the right structures to support that."

Under the process Sport England, the former sports council, will be regionalised even further, leaving the organisation with about 80 employees in London compared to more than 400 three years ago.

UK Sport will also take over the English Institute of Sport, the nationwide network of top-class sports facilities which is headed by Steve Cram.

All funding from scholarships for talented teenagers to Lottery money for the very top athletes will now be distributed by UK Sport, who also have responsibility for drug-testing and supporting British bids to host world-class events.

The UK Sport chair Sue Campbell admitted that there would be challenges to be faced over sports such as hockey, which is played almost entirely on a home-nation basis but with a single British team at the Olympic Games.

Campbell said: "We hope these changes will mean we can achieve our best-ever medal success at 2012 and beyond."

The changes are a direct result of Lord Carter's report on the organisation of sport, published in April.

Carter is the chairman of Sport England, the body which will now lose its influence over élite athletes, but he has no doubts that the changes are necessary.

He said: "It's clear to everybody how confused the landscape has been. We needed to separate responsibilities for élite and community sport."