Opinion

Paul McNamee: Row back on bad decisions

UK Sport appear to have mixed up elite-level sport with sport for the elites

I blame the London Olympics.

Remember Super Saturday. Everybody won. Mo was amazing. Greg Rutherford jumped to glory. Jessica Ennis-Hill was incredible. More, more, more we roared. They’re all brilliant!

Medals kept being collected. Team GB won 65 in total in 2012. But we got greedy. Bring more! In Rio last summer they won 67 medals. 67!

Much of the success was put down to canny money placement by UK Sport. That money comes from the Exchequer and the National Lottery. Millions of it. For the next funding cycle ahead of the 2020 Olympics there is £345, 279, 427.

And this is where the problem lies. Last autumn, UK Sport announced there was less money than before so there would be some cuts. Wheelchair rugby was to receive exactly zero. Zip. Nothing at all. Badminton got the same amount. Rowing will receive £32, 111, 157.

It is judged that the small amount of money that was helping to improve the lives of people immeasurably AND win medals AND inspire other people wasn’t worth it

Wheelchair Rugby appealed against the decision. They lost. So last week they set about raising money themselves.

I listened to British Wheelchair Rugby vice captain Gavin Walker explain why the funding was important. It wasn’t just about pursuit of excellence, there were mobility aids that helped the members in their day-to-day lives. There was also a sense of providing something to look forward to, almost intangible but vital. Gavin was a fireman until a freak accident (he slipped on some decking at a family party) left him paralysed from the chest down. Part of his move to be in the world again and get over the tragedy was to play wheelchair rugby.

And yet it is judged that the small amount of money that was helping to improve the lives of people immeasurably AND win medals AND inspire other people who may have suffered like Gavin Walker wasn’t worth it. UK Sport insisted they followed criteria and looked for sports that would deliver success at an elite level. There were also mutterings that this was a play to make British rugby support wheelchair rugby more.

This is outrageous. So what if the criteria were followed? If so, the criteria need to be reset. It’s wrong. There can be no excuse. The positive impact of a small amount of funding is huge.

And if it was designed to nudge British rugby, stop pussy-footing around. Just ask them! Don’t play games with the futures of others like this.

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UK Sport also appear to have mixed up elite-level sport with sport for the elites. Rowing, to reiterate, gets £32,111,157. The argument, again, is that this money is well spent as the very best people in the sport get the very best facilities and can achieve greatness.

Nonsense. How do they know they have the very best people? Are the rowing authorities heading into Castlemilk or the Kingsmead Estate or Rathcoole to spend some of that £32,111,157 to truly discover untapped talent and allow them a route to greatness? They draw from a small pool and help them achieve.

The argument for wheelchair rugby equally holds with badminton. Anybody can pick up a racket. Anybody can feel exhilarated and move up and beyond.

The funding model is broken. Built on money from lottery tickets, it is increasingly allowing a closed elite to surge ahead at the expense of others.

Stop the focus on medals. That excitement in victory lasts a few minutes for the majority of people as they look on during the event. Look at the bigger picture.

Opportunity and better life chances are much more important.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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