Sports politics: Winter sports feeling the pinch

As Britain's competitors reach the critical preparation period for this February's Winter Olympics, they have yet to receive a penny of promised National Lottery funding. Mike Rowbottom found a mood of increasing anger at yesterday's annual meeting of th
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Britain's chances of significant success at the Winter Olympics starting in Japan on 5 February next year are receding fast in the absence of financial assistance.

Craig Reedie, chairman of the BOA, launched a strong attack yesterday on the National Lottery distribution process, which he described as "unnecessarily bureaucratic and cumbersome''.

He added: "Financial support that is currently in a logjam has to be unlocked if British teams are to have a chance of success at the winter Olympics.''

Following the outcry over the relatively poor British performance at the Atlanta Olympics, which yielded just one gold medal, the launch of the Lottery's World Class Performance programme in November held out the hope of substantial assistance for competitors in future events.

But, nearly a year on, only a handful of sports have received Lottery money - none of them winter sports.

The delay threatens to undermine the prospects of those British sports which have the best chance of earning medals in Nagano - bobsleigh, speed skating and curling. The British Paralympic team in Nagano is also without funding.

"Joe Public pays his one pound on Wednesdays and Saturdays and thinks he is helping British sport," Paul Pruszinski, a director of the British Bobsleigh Association, said. "But where is all this money? Sitting in some bank account making an enormous amount of interest for someone while our governing bodies are cash-strapped. What is going on?"

The British bobsleigh team, who finished fourth in last year's World Championships, will compete in Calgary on 4 November in the first of this season's World Cup events. The competition determines seedings for the Games and is vital to any chance of success.

Under the current system of Lottery distribution, application has to be made to the recently instituted UK Sports Council, but once their criteria have been satisfied, the actual payment to sports has to be administered by each of the four home sports councils.

Reedie who has been part of the consultation process for the Government's forthcoming White Paper, The People's Lottery, said: "We have to change the rules of distribution, and we have to change them quickly, because we simply cannot go on like this in the long term.''

He also criticised the sports councils for overstepping their powers. "Their role is to support, not to have pretensions of leading British sport forward," he said. "This is the issue which we would like the Government to take on board.''

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