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.