Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Price Olympic Gold?

The nations are riding high on the success of our Beijing cycling team. We've swum against the tide and clinched medals at the Water Cube. The media has captured the public's admiration and adulation. But success comes at a price. Should so much of the public's cash have been channelled into Olympic success and how much more will we have to cough up for London 2012?

In cycling and elsewhere, the cash comes, not from sponsorship, but from Lottery funding. That's our National Lottery cash. It's been directed into the Olympics by the government, to deliberately target the medals table, where we have a chance of striking gold.

Millions of pounds have been spent on equipment, training and facilities. But would there be a better use for the cash? And who authorised this dramatic switch of lottery funding away from grass-roots sports, community and arts projects, to target the big Olympic events in the run up to Beijing? 

Where is the like-for-like business funding, which should be a feature of big sport? 

After Beijing, all eyes will be on London 2012 and we'll have to avoid a let down there. 

So the use of lottery cash will expand even further - and then, the bog standard community playgrounds, swimming pools and sporting facilities will have to play second fiddle to the big prize. And that's already happening.

Some reckon that spending the public's cash on the Olympics is a winner.

But after all the triumph and success of Beijing dies down and London looms - it will be at the cost of the small sporting projects up and down the country. Those, and the arts and very worthy community based social projects will suffer. Maybe that's the price we are prepared to pay for Olympic gold. 

Former conservative prime minister, Sir John Major, told the BBC today he believes "all political parties should back guaranteed long-term National Lottery funding for grass-roots sports, from where the Olympic stars of the future would come."

1 comment:

Stu said...

I think you're wrong on all counts. Success in the Olympics inspires young people towards sports and help develop a strong culture of small indipendent sports clubs - look at the way our rowing has developed thanks to Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pincent, for instance.

More success breeds more private investment and sponsorship, since companies want to back the winners. I imagine the cycling team will strike some good corporate money following the success of the games, and so public money can be diverted to other areas such as gymnastics or track and field where we aren't such great contenders at the moment.

You say yourself that the Olympics have "captured the public's admiration and adulation" and this, in itself, is why the lottery money was spent in the way it was.

Oh, and lottery money is not 'our' money: if you don't want to contribute, don't buy a lottery ticket. What 'better use' would you be putting it to than showing the world the best that Britain has to offer?