Can money buy Olympic success?

UK Sport hails the impact of lottery funding on Team GB’s success at the Rio Olympics, as Britain celebrates its most successful Games ever on foreign soil.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (AUGUST 17, 2016) (REUTERS) – With 56 medals already, Team GB’s Olympic athletes have been enjoying their most successful ever Games on foreign soil.

While some have expressed surprise, the architects of the success say it has been in the planning for a long time, pointing to the importance of lottery funding as well as the athletes’ hard work.

“The National Lottery plays an absolutely tremendous role in British success. And has done since we’ve been able to allocate resources to athletes and sports to support medal potential since 1997. But it’s had a growing impact. About two thirds of our strategic investment comes from the National Lottery. And thanks to the National Lottery players in the UK who are buying tickets every week, they’ve contributed to this medal success we’ve seen here in Rio”, UK Sport’s Chief Executive Liz Nicholl said.

Funnelling money into sport from the National Lottery began after Britain’s dismal performance in 1996 Games in Atlanta.

The team received only £20 million in government funding and won just 15 medals, only one of which was gold, to finish 36th in the medal table.

But as the funding increased, so did the success. At Sydney 2000, £58.9 million of lottery money was given in funding, resulting in 28 medals, including 11 golds, and a 10th place finish.

Funding was increased slightly to £71 million for Athens 2004, where Britain again finished 10th, this time with 30 medals.

But by Beijing 2008, the funding had increased to £235 million and it paid off, with Team GB winning 48 medals to finish fourth.

They went one better at London 2012, where 65 medals were won on the back of a £264 million investment, and the extra £10 million spent on Rio has helped the team challenge for second.

But Nicholl says it’s not just money that buys success.

“Well it’s strategic investment of the resources that are available. and it’s the way those resource are used by the sport. It’s a people business, so if you put together the talented athlete, the technical expertise the resources enable to sport to employ, and the resource. then you’ve got those three ingredients which are supporting success here”, Nicholl said.

Potential medal prospects are identified up to eight years in advance of a Games, with UK Sport working with each sport’s governing body to identify talent.

The funding covers everything from coaching and compassion costs to kit, equipment and any medical costs.

“It does help an incredible amount because we can just focus on our sport. We can focus on the thing we love most and we don’t have to worry about doing a job or anything like that. It is one of the best things about having funding. You know, you just have no worries, other than you just come in, do your job, and you go home”, said Gaius Thompson, a gymnast who has been identified as a potential medal prospect for Tokyo 2020.

Gymnastics has been one of the success stories of UK Sport’s funding model.

The sport won four medals at London 2012, which saw its funding increase from £10.7 million to £14.6 million for Rio, where they have now won six medals.

Conversely, though, a sport can have its funding cut if it fails to meet expectations – a fate suffered by basketball after a 9th place finish in London.

“The challenge for basketball is that the possibility of reaching medal potential is probably three Olympic cycles away. That’s a huge potential cost to an investor. And It’s just unaffordable. If we put say 30 million pounds into basketball over the next three cycles, then there would be a significant number of sports and athletes that are capable, and have delivered medals here, that wouldn’t be able to be supported”, said Nicholl.

As it stands, each medal in Rio has cost Britain just under £5 million.

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