Apparently it is winning that counts: UK Sport’s approach to distributing funding is deeply troubling

It’s a cold attitude. And distinctly un-British

Share

Whenever the BBC trumpeted a “Team GB” medal-winner at the Sochi Winter Olympics and Paralympics, I confess to a sensation of nausea.

It wasn’t the athlete – well done to them – that turned the stomach but the gushing, at times hysterical, jingoistic commentary which had a Pravda-like quality. Erase “Team GB” from the mind and you could be in Eastern Europe before the Wall came down or, God forbid, the present North Korea. Suddenly, from a country that was content merely to try to participate, we’ve become boasting, shouting champions.

It was the same in the last summer Olympics in London, when any hope of an unbiased commentary was non-existent. Indeed, if you recall, we were supposed to be experiencing collective  depression because at first we were not winning medals – no matter that the Games were providing a superb spectacle and the rest of the world was loving them.

This week, this lust for gold, silver and bronze, and hang the rest, reached its nadir with a sad parade of sports appealing against the decision to withdraw their central funding because they’re no longer regarded as serious medal prospects. One by one they’ve been trooping into UK Sport – basketball, synchronised swimming, water polo and weightlifting, and from the Paralympic sports, five-a-side football, goalball and wheelchair fencing – to make their pitches.

They will hear next week if they’ve been successful. But I would not count on it. As UK Sport chief executive Liz Nichol has declared, her organisation takes a “no compromise”, winning-is-all approach towards investing its cash.

No matter that the £100m UK Sport spends each year is public cash, drawn from all of us, from the National Lottery and the Exchequer. No matter, too, that at school we’re always taught that it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.

Something has changed, so that winning is everything – regardless of how many people actually play the game or the role it fills in society. Basketball is young, inner-city and largely black. Who cares? They’re never going to beat the basketball superpowers, so as far as cash goes, they’re out. They’ve had £8.5m withdrawn.

Goalball is played by the blind and visually impaired. It’s a bit like handball, involving a ball that contains bells and a wider than normal goal. Incredibly fast, physically demanding and requiring a lot of skill, it was started after the Second World War as a way of rehabilitating blinded soldiers. It’s big in the rest of Europe and is growing here – up to 240 UK competitors and 28 clubs.

UK goalball relies upon finance from Sport England (£750,000 a year) to develop the grassroots, and private donations. UK Sport had agreed to help develop its national women’s team to the tune of £800,000 annually over four years. Then the women had one bad tournament, and slipped down the rankings. UK Sport reviewed their funding, decided they were no longer a probable contender for a medal, and withdrew.

John Coles, chairman of Goalball UK, told me the youngest member of the squad is 16, the oldest 27. These are young people with a profound disability who derive enormous pleasure from playing a sport and had set their hearts on going to the Paralympics. Now that carrot has been removed. “They may lose interest if they can’t go to Rio for the next Paralympics or, after that, Tokyo,” he said. “They will probably look for another sport or give up sport completely.”

His argument is that “the balance is wrong. The funding is based too much on medals – and not encouraging people to play the game.”

Within the sports community, arguments rage as well about which activities still continue to be favoured. So the likes of basketball and goalball say goodbye to their UK Sport money but fencing (almost £4m a year), sailing (£25.5m), modern pentathlon (£6.9m), rowing (£32m) and shooting (£3.2m) will get theirs. All of these are not exactly easy to take up pastimes, known for being mass participation, and open to the urban poor or disabled. It could be maintained, as well, that these are sports which might attract private sector, City sponsorship, rather than rely on the public purse. But under the new, all-pervading super-efficiency, they present us with chances of securing medals so their money is guaranteed.

It’s a cold attitude. And distinctly un-British. Of course, we love to win, but we’ve never regarded the medals table as the be all and end all, an expression of our collective self-worth. Carry on like this and it won’t be long before we’re taking small children that display athletic promise away from their parents and sending them to strict training camps to turn them into adult world-beaters. We used to sneer at this sort of behaviour when it was practised by authoritarian regimes. Now we’re not far away from heading there ourselves.

Is it really, despite the breast-beating and screaming of the BBC, what we desire? Is there anything so petty as to remove the funding for a young blind woman who loves goalball because her team may not win a medal? A cherished attribute will disappear from out national psyche if we allow this policy to remain. The joy and romance which we adore so much will perish.

From now on, at the school sports day we will be reminding our kids: it’s the winning, not the taking part. And GB will be the loser.

i@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect