Why it’s time for sports losing out on UK Sport medal money to move the goalposts

winner-1548239_1920UK Sport would win the gold medal if the competition were winning gold medals. Sports losing out on funding need to change the terms of the race.

This time next week the last of eight governing bodies will begin to argue their case to be allowed back into the magic circle of UK Sport funding.

To be in or to out largely determines whether your sport can win an Olympic medal. It is, in short, the only show in town.

The ten members of the UK Sport board will doubtless listen carefully to each of these entreaties.  But they will do so from the lofty ground that second in the Olympic and Paralympic medal table provides you.

Whilst the attention to the process must be uncomfortable, I doubt that any of the key players at UK Sport will be reaching for anything from WADA’s Prohibited List this week. The fact is that UK Sport, having been charged with delivering Olympic and Paralympic medals, have done so in a way that has made them the envy of the sporting world.

Regardless of the outcome of the appeals process, my advice to NGBS on the margins of funding would be to look a little further to the future.

“Regardless of the outcome of the appeals process, my advice to NGBS on the margins of funding would be to look a little further to the future.”

UK Sport’s relentless medal-eating strategy is indisputably effective. But while UK Sport is free to set the strategy, its objectives are set elsewhere – in Westminster. And that’s where governing bodies should now set their sights – with the long-term goal of moving the goalposts altogether.

Where to? That’s up for debate.  Sports with a large participation base might argue that a medal for their sport is worth more than a medal for one with only a few thousand grassroots participants. And that funding should reflect that.

Other sports can argue that it is better to have a spread of medals across a wide range of sports, instead of a high concentration in a small number of sports. So rather than monopolising track cycling, for example, they might argue that a couple of velodrome medals should be sacrificed to support a sport that would not otherwise be funded.

Some independent observers might ask the wider question – where is the evidence base that Olympic and Paralympic medals do anything more than make us feel good for six weeks every four years? Should UK Sport have goals linked altogether more clearly to public policy outcomes around health and physical activity in the general population?

As it stands, UK Sport would win a gold medal for winning gold medals. Against its brief, it is almost certainly the most successful of the government’s 200 non-departmental bodies. It is bulletproof. The challenge for some sports, then, is to convince politicians that the brief is wrong in the first place.


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