Chris O’Hare, GB number 1, not funded, photo by David Wearn
Laura Weightman, not funded, photo by David Wearn
In this week’s column, Paul Halford writes about the frustrations for many world class British athletes on funding by British Athletics and some of the peculiar decisions.
Winning a medal at a global championships can make or break an athlete’s career, but for British athletes the annual funding list decided by the governing body can be arguably just as crucial, by Paul Halford, for RunBlogRun
Each autumn British Athletics announces who will receive a portion of the funding from the National Lottery via UK Sport, as well as the support package that goes with it. Winning Olympic and Paralympic medals is the sole aim of the programme.
The sum involved for the top level of funding is up to Â£28,000, so being part of the programme can have a significant impact on one’s career and ability to focus on training. While this is often not the only source of income, sponsorship and prize money for all but the superstars of our sport is not huge, therefore being dropped from the plan is not too dissimilar to losing your job.
One name on last week’s new funding list raising eyebrows was that of multi-millionaire Mo Farah on the basis that he might, at the age of 37, decide to try to compete in Tokyo 2020. However, what British Athletics did not make clear is that he would be means-tested out of the financial allowance part of it.
Also causing controversy was who was missing. Laura Weightman, sixth at the World Championships having also reached the Rio final, was for a second year in succession frustrated to miss out.
Guy Learmonth, Britain’s second quickest 800m runner, was also denied, complaining that his decision to move away from the federation’s national performance centre and its paid coaches was the reason.
Marathoner Charlotte Purdue was omitted despite setting a PB this year and finishing 13th at the World Championships.
Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, a member of Britain’s World Championships-winning 4x100m squad, is among those who have submitted a formal appeal against his being dropped.
Chris O’Hare, Britain’s 1500m No.1 who made the World final this year, also missed out.
The programme is not very forgiving of athletes who have a below-par season, perhaps because of injury, as Kate Avery, Chris Baker, Meghan Beesley, Alexandra Bell, Chris Bennett, Dan Bramble, Tom Farrell, Jade Lally, Scott Lincoln and Isobel Poole all found out.
Of course, British athletes have it good compared to their counterparts from a number of countries and I doubt there is a perfect system. However, one issue a lot of track and field purists have with the British system is that it’s all about Olympic medals – as driven by the paymasters, UK Sport.
The vast majority of the public barely tuning in more than once every four years only see the medals and often perceive fourth as failure – even if the athlete performed out of their skin on the day. However, those of us in the sport judge success by looking at points tables at more than one championships and by looking even wider than that. If you pile so much investment into certain events because the nation has won medals in them in the past, the standards in the weaker disciplines are surely going to get worse.
After four of Britain’s six medals at the 2017 World Championships coming from relays, British Athletics included 30 sprinters (100m, 200m, 400m) in the 63 on the Olympic funding programme. Including the relays, that’s 30 athletes over 10 events. The other 33 athletes are spread over 37 events.
Relay medals are just as important as individuals ones – although not everyone would agree – but on the basis of the above, they’re costing at least four times as much.
Also, with Paralympic medals given equal weight, 49 of the 112 total are on the para funding programme. On the 2009 funding list, 99 of the 131 athletes funded were on the Olympic programme, meaning that non-para athletes have to be better than ever in order to be funded.
I appreciate there is only a certain amount of money to go around, but it would be better in my view to see the funding spread over a wider range of athletes. No one can predict with certainty which athletes will succeed, so the all-or-nothing approach is too hit-and-miss. Athletes have off-years and should be given time to improve. Hand over smaller amounts to a greater volume of athletes and let the ones with the talent and the drive shine through.