All that Olympic gold doesn’t come cheap

The London Olympics have just entered their second week, and still the gold for Team GB keeps on coming.  The tally is now eighteen gold medals, with Scottish sporting talent winning a remarkable six of them.

Already, thoughts are turning to legacy.  Lord Moynihan, Chair of the British Olympic Association – a former Tory sports Minister, ironically – was first out of the blocks.  On Sunday morning, he called on the UK Government to increase investment in children’s sporting opportunities and facilities, and especially ensure more sport is available at school.  He claimed that we’ve been treading water in terms of funding, his remarks directed primarily at the UK Government.

Actually, it’s worse than that.  In the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced an overall cut of £1.3 billion to the overall budget for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.  This included merging UK Sport and sportengland (conveniently ignoring the fact that UK Sport serves the whole of these islands and a merger which has been put on the backburner by both bodies until after the Olympics), as well as 30 per cent cuts in budget to each body.  That’s a cumulative 60% across both.  The generous-minded Chancellor limited the cut to Whole Sport – England’s approach to increasing attainment in return for funds invested in sports’ governing bodies – to 15%.

So, over the period of this UK Government, the sums invested in sport – at all levels – are being cut.  In very real terms.

But what of Scotland?  How is the financial outlook for sport here?

According to sportscotland’s annual review for 2010-11 – the latest one available on the national sporting body’s website – its total income amounted to just over £63.7 million, with £42.6 million coming from the Scottish Government and £21.1 million from the National Lottery.

In terms of spending, £13.5 million went on the active schools programme, the key way of fostering and nurturing interest and activity in sport in our schools.  Community sport received £1.2 million, and while £14.6 million was spent on “quality facilities”, only £2.2 million was spent on coaching and volunteering.

In total, these are not insignificant sums, but when divvied up across the country and across sporting discipline, it means small amounts spread pretty thin.

Given the dependence on government funding, what is worrying that the Scottish Government’s forecast investment in sport is largely standstill (although much better than the savage cuts being imposed south of the border).  The budget for sport this year (2012-13) was set at less than the amount spent in 2011 -12 – £36.3 million compared to £39.2 million.  The budget is forecast to fall again in 2013-14 to £35.3 million before rising to £38.3 million in 2014-15.  By this stage, investment for Glasgow 2014 will have reached £169.4 million.  Not a direct transfer from the sport budget but it is clear that our putting on a great show will cost us dear.

Unless the lottery comes to the rescue, real terms spending on sport in Scotland will fall and sportscotland will be facing some tough choices in what to invest in.  Talk of creating a new generation of sporting stars might remain just that.  However, it is hard to see what the options are, given the constraints on public expenditure.  You cannot spend what you don’t have and what might we be prepared to cut in order to invest more in sport?

Nonetheless, as everyone milks the moment, it is worth pointing out that achieving Olympic gold doesn’t come cheap, with the main funding stream for world class performances coming from UK sport (though sportscotland continues to invest in its own talent programme through the Scottish Institute for Sport).

Let’s look at the top performers, cycling and rowing.  Between 2009 and 2013, UK Sport has invested over £26 million in the World Class Performance Programme for cycling, supporting 85 athletes with a target of between six and ten medals in the London Olympics.  Job done then.

Rowing has received £27.3 million and had a target of six medals too.  Again, the target has been met.

Other sports like gymnastics have more than punched above their weight: £10.8 million supporting 62 athletes with a target of one to two medals.  The silver and two bronzes means the target was surpassed.

Other sports have not kept their side of the bargain.  Swimming received over £25 million with a target of between five and seven medals.  Hmmm.  Diving was another sport which under-performed in these Olympics.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  Money invested + talent nurtured does not necessarily equate automatically to success.  Injury, conditions, and not least, the talent of others can all get in the way of the best laid plans.

But tough decisions are on the way, for elite performance and grassroots funding alike.  Current levels of investment cannot be sustained on allocated budgets, north and south of the border.  Will cuts apply across all the areas of demand?  How will cash-strapped national sports bodies continue to nurture current talent while investing in future generations?

At the moment, everyone is talking the talk.  Until now, with big sporting extravaganzas on our doorsteps, both reserved and devolved governments have been prepared to put their money where their mouths are.  But when the crowds have gone home, will they fail to walk the walk and invest in the next generation of gold medal winners?


6 thoughts on “All that Olympic gold doesn’t come cheap

  1. In terms of lottery funding, there are already some (admittedly small) grants being made available. Big Lottery funding has launched a ‘2014 Communities’ programme which aims to promote a sporting legacy across Scotland. Currently has a budget of £1 million per year, and has been open for applications since 2008;

  2. My worry is that the focus on medals leads to a loss of support to everyone except the elite. Surely we’d be better as a nation (leaving aside how you draw it for now) with a broader based mass participation in true amateur sport, even if it comes at a cost of fewer medals.

    And to be frank, sports where you don’t have to spend a large amount of money to get into it in the first place would be better supported; it’s no co-incidence that 25%+ of the TeamGB were privately educated. Where’s the local fencing, shooting, rowing, sailing or showjumping clubs your average kid can join for a few quid a week?

  3. “That’s a cumulative 60% across both”.

    Sorry. It’s not. 30% each from two budgets that are subsequently combined remains a 30% cut.

    Good article though.

    • It’s 60% of funding being taken out of both sporting bodies in total, rather than cumulative….

      • Nope. You can’t add percentages in that way. Imagine that there were 4 bodies being combined – each with a 30% cut. Would you be arguing that there was a cumulative 120% cut – ie that these bodies had to hand 20% back to the UK Government? (Not that Osborne might not try that 🙂 )

  4. Pingback: All that Olympic gold doesn’t come cheap | Culture Scotland |

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