pounds 9m Lottery largess lands in lap of chosen seven

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The money tree which is the National Lottery yesterday dropped a windfall worth nearly pounds 9m into the laps of seven eager and grateful sporting bodies.

Athletics, rowing, hockey, swimming, netball, the Commonwealth Games Council for England and the British Paralympic Association all benefited from what will be the first of a series of multi-million pounds hand-outs.

These are the first Lottery money awards for revenue - rather than capital - projects. The initiative - which will provide sport with pounds 40m a year for the next three years - will give British competitors parity with funding levels already existent in countries such as France, Germany and Spain.

"For the first time we are now able to support our sports men and women at levels which go far beyond what any organisation has been able to do before," said Rodney Walker, chairman of the English Sports Council, which is awarding the funds as part of the World Class Performance programme.

The largest of the one-year awards announced yesterday went to the British Athletic Federation, which received pounds 2.6m, of which pounds 1.17m will go directly to subsidising 195 individual athletes' living and training costs.

The Amateur Swimming Association was the next biggest beneficiary, with pounds 2m (pounds 652,824 subsistence), the Amateur Rowing Association received pounds 1,861,243 (pounds 674,306), the English Hockey Association was given pounds 1,657,234 (pounds 580,698) and the All England Netball Association pounds 102,459.

The British Paralympic Association received pounds 135,480 over the next four years, and the Commonwealth Games Council for England's award is provisional.

The English Hockey Association, which will be formed on 1 June from the merger of the men's and women's associations, has secured funding right through to 2004, with its total rising to pounds 3.2m by 2000 in time for the Sydney Olympics.

Nigel Hall, the director of coaching for the All England Women's Hockey Association, said: "Now we've got the money to go with the expertise we've always had, we know we will be one of the top hockey playing nations in the world, both men and women.

"The men won gold in 1988 and women won bronze in 1992 but by the time we get to the 2004 Olympics I hope both sides will get to the final. We're not just wishing this time. We know we can do it. It's given us the opportunity to realise our dreams."

Hall says the English Hockey Association will form an elite training group of 80 men and women and introduce paying for travel and competition.

David Tanner, the British rowing team manager, said the number of full- time coaches in the sport could now rise to six. "Four years ago, we only had one," he said. The award also meant that rowers would no longer have to fund themselves to travel for training and competition, starting with the World Cup later this month.

Malcolm Arnold, the British Athletic Federation's performance director, said he was "delighted" with the award, even though it was less than the initial proposal of around pounds 4m.

Referring to the bad publicity athletics has had in the wake of internal dissension, Arnold said: "This is a signal that the sport has integrity and is moving in the right direction. For me, this is a victory for those who love the sport over those who love themselves."

The World Class Performance funding will be effectively ring-fenced within the sport, directed by a subsidiary of the BAF.

Eleven other sports have so far submitted applications to the programme, and the next round of awards is expected in early June.