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UK Sport: Supporting elite athletes

Elite athletes competing in Olympic and Paralympic sports have been provided with major benefits as a result of lottery funding distributed by UK Sport. However, according to head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn, while UK Sport met its Olympic performance targets in Athens, performance in medal terms has been mixed and there is scope for UK Sport to improve its management of the funding programme. To build on the achievement in Athens, UK Sport should be prepared to take tough decisions based on performance about which sports merit funding and on what scale.

Between April 2001 and March 2005, UK Sport awarded £83.5 million under its World Class Performance Programme in support of Summer Olympic and Paralympic sports. The funding has enabled national governing bodies of sport to provide a comprehensive package of support services, such as coaching and sports medicine. According to the athletes interviewed by the National Audit Office, there have been dramatic improvements in the services, equipment and training opportunities now available to them. Athletes also receive personal awards which have made a significant difference to their ability to train and compete.

The funding is focused on achieving results at major international championships – primarily the Olympic and Paralympic Games. UK Sport met its performance target for the Athens Olympics in 2004, with Great Britain finishing 10th in the medal table against a target of 8th to 10th. In the Paralympics, Great Britain was second in the medal table, against UK Sport’s target of first.

However, although the overall medal target was met, half of the Olympic sports funded by UK Sport did not meet their individual medal targets. As a result the cost per Olympic medal to UK Sport was pushed up to £2.4 million compared with £1.7 million had the targets been achieved. Similarly, most Paralympic sports did not meet their medal targets, increasing the cost per medal to £0.2 million from £0.1 million had the targets been achieved.

UK Sport awards funding on the basis of sports’ medal winning record and potential and a range of other factors. In the main, resources are focused on those sports which deliver the majority of the medals won. But six Olympic and four Paralympic sports funded by UK Sport won no medals in Athens. UK Sport has been reviewing its investment strategy for the next four years up to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics with a view to securing a better return on its investment.

"Supported by lottery money, British athletes delivered some outstanding performances at the Olympics and Paralympics in Athens last summer. Looking ahead to Beijing in 2008, UK Sport needs to take action now to strengthen its management of its World Class Performance Programme so that it gets the most from its money in what are expected to the most competitive Games ever. "In particular, UK Sport should identify the factors that helped certain sports perform well in Athens and the barriers to success in others that did less well, so that the lessons can be acted upon promptly. After the Athens Games, it is in a position to review which of its funded sports have delivered, and remain capable of delivering, world class performance."

Sir John Bourn

Notes for Editors

  1. UK Sport uses National Lottery money to support elite athletes competing at the highest levels of sport for the United Kingdom or Great Britain. UK Sport is a non-departmental public body, working within a framework laid down by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its long term aim is for the United Kingdom to be one of the world’s top five sporting nations by 2012, measured by athlete performances at world championships, and Olympic and Paralympic Games.
  2. Under its World Class Performance Programme, UK Sport provides funding to national governing bodies of sport to provide a supporting infrastructure of coaching and other services for elite athletes who meet agreed performance criteria; and to individual athletes to contribute towards their living and sporting costs. The National Audit Office’s report focuses on the £83.5 million awarded by UK Sport between April 2001 and March 2005 in support of athletes competing in Summer Olympic and Paralympic sports.
  3. Of UK Sport’s funding for Olympic sports, 55 per cent was awarded to the top four priority sports - athletics, cycling, rowing and sailing - which delivered 61 per cent of the medals won (including 8 of the 9 golds). Six funded sports (gymnastics, judo, triathlon, shooting, taekwondo and weightlifting) delivered no Olympic medals.
  4. Of UK Sport’s funding for Paralympic sports, just over half went to two sports - swimming and athletics – which delivered 55 per cent of the medals won (including 22 of the 35 golds). Four funded sports (wheelchair rugby, sailing, boccia and wheelchair fencing) delivered no Paralympic medals.
  5. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  6. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 08/05