Since its introduction in 1997, National Lottery funding has seen hundreds of millions of pounds ploughed into elite sport in the UK, with Team GB reaping the benefits at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. With ever increasing medal tallies reaching a new high in Rio, much has been made of where this money should really be going: can the continued investment into sports such as cycling and rowing be justified with ongoing cuts to other sports, and a failure to provide equal care for grassroots sports?
Tomas Meehan : Yes, Lottery funding allows top athletes to flourish and helps inspire future generations
In 1996, Team GB won a solitary Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games. The following year National Lottery funding began and since then the number of Olympic medals won has steadily risen, with a record 67 medals gained at last summer’s Rio Olympics.
Between 2013 and 2017, £355m was ploughed into Olympic sports. National Lottery funding has enhanced the likelihood of athletes reaching the top of their chosen professions.
This funding gives Team GB an advantage over its competitors but it is by no means unfair. Sport needs money in order to thrive, and if GB were to take away funding, then their place on the medal table would be filled by a country that has formulated an effective funding plan. One benefit of the National Lottery funding is that it shifts the burden of responsibility from the taxpayer and onto National Lottery players – people who are willing to part with their cash in the hope of winning some prize money.
Former Tory prime minister John Major, whose government was responsible for the creation of the National Lottery, admitted to the New Statesman: “I knew there was no chance of funding the long-term development of sports and the arts from general government revenue.”
Therefore, the ongoing successes of many of our sports are safeguarded by this funding. Sports that are more likely to win medals will receive more funding, and a poor showing at an Olympics means a sport’s funding can be cut.
While this approach might seem harsh on some sports, it fosters competition. If every sport knew that they would be granted a fixed percentage of the total amount, then there might be less of an urgency for sports to aim for medals.
For example, basketball was given far less money than sports such as cycling and rowing, and failed to win a medal. Yet basketball flourishes in the private sector of the US via the NBA, proving that if a sport is given money, it can exponentially grow in popularity as well as contributing to an economy.
Furthermore, the Olympics provide a perfect opportunity for sports to advertise themselves and raise their profile, as well as attracting newcomers.
Critics of funding will of course point out that more money goes to the elite rather than grassroots levels. However, Sport England announced on Twitter that: “Positive news for grassroots sport in #spendingreview – no reduction in money for us, in fact an extra £2.6m pledged between now and 2020.”
It is, undoubtedly, a fine balancing act between funding for both elite level and grassroots sport, as without one, you cannot have the other. If no money is put into grassroots sport, then it is unlikely to produce a champion in the long term, however Olympic heroes such as Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mo Farah do serve as inspiration to youngsters getting involved in sport.
Giving children the opportunity to excel at sport helps to keep them fit and active as well as providing some with the possibility of pursuing a career path in their chosen field. This money comes from the National Lottery’s banner for “good causes”.
Some may question whether achieving excellence really deserves to be called a virtuous act, although, according to the National Lottery’s website, 40 per cent of its funding goes towards health, education, environment, and charitable causes, while only 20 per cent is reserved for sports.
Despite this, inequality has also been pointed as an issue with regard to GB’s Olympic squad. One of Britain’s most decorated Olympians, Sir Steve Redgrave, who was state educated, conceded that, “the opportunity of playing different sports and the coaching abilities at private schools are, unfortunately, much greater than at the state schools.”
While there is a disproportionate amount of privately educated Olympians, the more money available through funding, the more chance less privileged children have of profiting from the National Lottery system.
Hence, it cannot be denied that the benefits of Lottery funding far outweigh the costs.
James Gutteridge : No, while top-level success is nice, ignoring smaller sports is detrimental in the long run
There is no denying that the current British funding model for sport has brought great success for Team GB at both the Olympics and Paralympics over the past two decades. One need look no further than the stacks of medals won by British athletes, competing against the best that the world has to offer in their respective sports, to see the objective truth of this fact.
Undoubtedly this has had its benefits, not least the influx of positive role models for young people in the UK. Given the choice between their child idolising one of the multitude of vacuous reality TV ‘stars’ and the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill, you would hope that most parents would lean heavily towards the hugely decorated heptathlete.
However, the creating of superstar athletes to act as inspiration for the younger generations cannot solely justify the entire funding model. The focus on medal hauls as an indicator of performance and a method of allocating funding seems to ignore two crucial elements of what sports funding should aim to achieve.
First, with the rise of childhood obesity seemingly never out of the news, and the steadily falling number of British adults who are regularly engaged in proper exercise, should we not be looking to focus a great deal more of our sports funding into encouraging more people to regularly take part in sports at a suitable level?
In order to do so, it would seem to make sense to fund a wide variety of sports at a significant level, rather than focusing funding largely upon a select group of sports that are considered to have greater potential to win Olympic and Paralympic medals.
A prime example would be the extremely generous funding given to rowing in the UK. While rowing is undoubtedly a great sport for developing physical fitness, it does not have the mass appeal of a sport like football, nor the accessibility which should surely be a main consideration when the aim is to encourage greater participation.
Second, the allocation of additional funding to successful Olympic and Paralympic programmes would seem geared towards reinforcing existing successes rather than enabling more niche, less successful sports to make strides towards becoming realistic challengers for podium places at the Olympics and Paralympics. If a sport is successful then it seems only right to reward their success with some increase in funding in order to maintain their competitiveness on the international stage.
However, should a sport fail to meet the targets set for them, then this surely seems to indicate a need for either further funding or a considered reallocation of funds within the sport, rather than being a logical reason to deduct huge swathes of funding from sports that may attract huge numbers of casual players without achieving any great international success – a situation perfectly exemplified by the treatment of the GB basketball team and their governing body.
It is also worth pointing out that this funding goes purely on allowing athletes to succeed and flourish. It is not a wage; it is not going directly into the pockets of the sportstars who work tirelessly at their chosen profession in the pursuit of perfection. While other countries will use incentives – varying from new houses to cash rewards – Team GB do no such thing.
If they win a medal, that is their reward. They may be lucky: they might get a parade, a meeting with the Queen, or even a painted post box, but nothing to aid their financial positions.
In conclusion, while the success that Team GB has achieved is excellent, it seems obvious that there are great flaws in the current funding model used across the board for UK sport. If we want to see the aims and objectives of the UK’s sports funding programmes achieved, then there must be a reappraisal of just how funding is allocated.
Success undoubtedly breeds success, but there are some sports that are deserving of a little helping hand to get that first win.
Image courtesy of Matt Martin