Ed Warner, the UK Athletics chairman, has called for UK Sport to be scrapped amid an organised revolt against how the Olympic and Paralympic funding agency operates.
Warner claimed UK Sport should be disbanded after 11 national governing bodies left without lottery and exchequer funding for the four-year cycle to Tokyo 2020 amid claims they had been “thrown off a cliff” by the organisation.
“If you put everything on the table, why don’t you tear up UK Sport and embrace the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association as the deliverers of the high-performance funding?” Warner said.
“Why would it need to exist if you had a BOA and a BPA that were structured in the right way? You might be able to get rid of loads of overhead costs.”
The model of national Olympic committees allocating the bulk of funding to athletes is already followed by the US and Germany. Warner’s suggestion was one of several alternatives put forward when he met Adrian Christy, chief executive of Badminton England, Sarah Sutcliffe, CEO of Table Tennis England and David Pond, CEO of wheelchair rugby, in London.
Under the banner Every Sport Matters they are leading the rebellion against UK Sport and calling for an immediate strategy review. Christy is due to meet Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport, on Monday and the newly appointed chair of UK Sport, Dame Katherine Grainger, in the coming weeks but pleaded for emergency funding until a thorough review can be completed.
“We want [Grainger] to open her mind, eyes and ears, to see and hear what is happening around the system and take this as a matter of priority,” Christy said. “Systems will break. I’ve made 33 redundancies in total, we’ve gone from 24 athletes to 12, five coaches to three and no sports science, we’re buying that in piecemeal. Our development pathway is eight to 12 years, so if we lose the Tokyo cycle, we’ve lost 2024, too, and will have to rebuild.”
UK Sport allocated £345m – from a total budget of £550m for 2017 to 2021 – to 16 Olympic and Paralympic sports in December with badminton missing out completely despite the men’s doubles pairing of Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge winning a bronze medal. Christy said he felt they had been “thrown off a cliff” by the UK Sport chief executive, Liz Nicholl, with no smaller pot of money offered as a parachute payment.
While the ruthless funding model arguably led to Great Britain finishing second in the medal table at the Rio Olympic Games, the backdrop has been a growing sense of disenfranchisement among minority sports and a lengthening roll call of sports investigating athlete welfare problems.
Christy insisted he did not want sports already allocated funding to have that money cut but that extra money be found from “the fat in the system” of the £200m or so UK Sport spends elsewhere.
Pond pointed to the personal stories of wheelchair rugby athletes as evidence that inspiration can be found away from the cold, hard metal of the medal table.
“Stuart Robinson was blown up and lost both legs in Afghanistan, Chris Ryan was a golf pro then broke his back. I don’t buy this argument that the public only want medals. They have a broader view. They don’t want a ‘them and us’ situation. Look at what is happening elsewhere in this country. Culturally people don’t want that and they pay for this programme: it’s money from the lottery and tax.”
The wheelchair rugby team won their match against Denmark at the European Championship in Germany yesterday but budget restraints mean they are unlikely to be able to afford to travel to next year’s world championship in Australia to take up the place they have earned.
“I’m meeting all my athletes on Monday to crudely means-test them,” Pond said. “I need to see who I can help so they can keep playing rugby. For at least six of them I know their only income will be disability benefit. So our system will almost certainly fold.”
While Grainger was sympathetic towards the plight of the 11 sports, she warned against diluting the “no compromise” model. “I really feel for the sports and athletes who have not been funded for the Tokyo cycle, particularly those that were funded in the Rio cycle as they are closer than others to having the potential to be there in Tokyo, which is every athlete’s dream,” she said.
“I will, of course, listen to these sports’ concerns and UK Sport will go out to consultation again on its investment strategy for the 2024 cycle, but as things currently stand, as ever with finite investment, we simply cannot reach the sports who are furthest away from medal success.”