The Scottish Mail on Sunday
100 GOLDS FOR £1.2BILLION, BUT WHAT’S REAL PRICE?
Lottery cash helped fund win-at-all-costs approach
IT may come today. It could be Jade Jones, the Welsh taekwondo athlete. ‘The Headhunter’ is in search of her third Olympic triumph in a row.
If it is not Jones, it could be Adam Peaty tomorrow. The destiny of the 100m breaststroke gold is as close to a certainty as you will get at these Olympics. He breezed into the semi-finals yesterday, holds 16 of the 20 fastest times ever, has won the last three World Championships and triumphed in Rio.
One of them should win GB’s first gold medal in Tokyo and with it the 100th gold medal for Britain since the introduction of Lottery funding 24 years ago. It will be 100 gold medals since embarrassment in Atlanta when Britain’s only success was a solitary Steve Redgrave gold.
Since then Britain has become a gold winning-medal machine. There were 11 in Sydney, nine in Athens, 19 in Beijing, 29 in London, 27 in Rio and four at the Winter Olympics. Team GB were fourth in the medal table in Beijing, third in London and second in Rio.
It is, in the words of the British Olympic Association chairman Sir Hugh Robertson, ‘a remarkable achievement’.
‘There is a very persuasive argument that over the last decade Team GB has been the most successful team the country has produced,’ he said.
‘I remember that slight sense of embarrassment (after Atlanta) that a country that had made such a big contribution to the development of the Olympics and had such a rich sporting heritage was proving to be so inept on the field of play.
‘We were lagging behind as a cheerful set of amateurs. The seismic change that has driven Britain’s success since is the introduction of Lottery funding.’
Every week, when your grandma buys her lucky dip for Wednesday’s triple rollover, some of that money is invested in the country’s elite sportsmen and women.
It’s a cause for celebration. Denise Lewis says it changed her life when, after winning bronze in Atlanta, she claimed gold in the heptathlon in Sydney.
‘I was extremely proud,’ she told The Mail on Sunday. ‘To come away with the medal and everything that ensued, people’s perceptions of me, the event that had been quiet in the background since Mary Peters, everyone was talking about heptathlon.’
We cannot celebrate the 100 gold medals without acknowledging the sacrifice. What has been the cost?
The short answer in monetary terms is about £1.26billion. That’s how much has been divvied up by UK Sport, according to their website, to various summer and winter Olympic sports since Atlanta. About £12.5m for every gold — a lot of scratch cards.
Without it, we would never have seen such a change. But the true cost goes beyond the purse. There is the obsession and culture of winning at all costs. The allegations of abuse and disregard for athlete’s welfare.
During the past year, scores of gymnasts have revealed the horrors they suffered at the hands of coaches: locked in cupboards, beaten with sticks and told they were fat.
The Mail on Sunday revealed last year how Olympians ahead of London 2012 were forced to sign waivers and used as guinea pigs to test performance-enhancing ketone supplements.
We also reported that UK AntiDoping had been placed under investigation for allowing British Cycling to conduct their own probe when one of their cyclists tested positive for a banned substance. And coaches threatened to quit if Mo Farah was forced to end his relationship with disgraced coach Alberto Salazar, now serving a four-year doping ban.
Cath Bishop, the former world champion rower and Olympic silver medallist, believes the obsession with the number of medals has made us disregard what is important. ‘If we only count the quantity of medals, we disregard the “quality” of those medals — how they were won, the experience of the athlete (and coach) and the story they tell when they step off the podium.’
Bishop, author of The Long Win: The Search for a Better Way to Succeed, said: ‘We have seen a number of Olympic and Paralympic sports reviewed with serious findings around toxic environments and “cultures of fear”. This does nothing to enable current athletes to thrive, potentially cuts short their sporting careers and certainly won’t inspire the next generation or impress the British public when they tell their stories.’
In 2004, UK Sport made their position clear. ‘The impact of funding will be diluted if too many athletes are supported,’ they said.
‘It is a tough, no-compromise approach that will strengthen the best, support the developing and provoke change in the underperforming. Future funding of sports will take account of both past performances, which demonstrate whether the sport has a winning formula, and future potential.’
No compromise: no medals, no money. When that is the only barometer of success, lines get blurred.
‘I do care about more than medals but I think you have to understand that winning medals and establishing role models is a key part in what we might call a holistic sports system,’ said Robertson.
‘But that doesn’t mean to say that you should allow some of the things that have emerged over the past year or so: the bullying allegations and all the rest. That is wrong.’
Katherine Grainger, Bishop’s former rowing partner and now head of UK Sport, says there will no longer be a win-at-all-costs agenda. UK Sport expects between 45 and 70 medals in Tokyo.
‘I would like to see us in the top five over a 10-Games cycle,’ said Robertson. ‘That establishes our credentials as one of the leading Olympic nations around the world, which is where I want us to be.’
No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National
Lottery players, who raise around £36m each week for good causes including elite and grassroots sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has on sport at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk