THE BLOG

UK Sport Missing Lessons of Recent History

27/02/2014 10:45 GMT | Updated 28/04/2014 10:59 BST

UK Sport's 'No Compromise' approach has come under a lot of flak in the last year with many "niche" or emerging sports being left without the elite level funding that can give young athletes something to aspire to and can help the sports to grow. UK Sport's focus is very much on those immediate medal winning sports which leaves no room for those not felt to have a chance come Rio 2016 or Tokyo 2020.

Yet if UK Sport need an example of how a "niche" or emerging sport can develop into World and Olympic medal winners then they need look no further than the most impressive performers from Team GB at the last two Summer Olympics, the British Track Cycling Team.

Britain's track cyclists have had some amazing success in the last fifteen years including 28 Olympics medals but let's not forget that until the advent of Lottery funding GB's track cyclists were really a non-entity on the international stage and for a long time were the poor relation to road cycling in the UK.

The outstanding success we saw in London and Beijing was the culmination of years of hard work and development all possible with funding from UK Sport and helped by the fact that the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton were all beginning to emerge in the late 90's and early 2000's ensuring that these potential World and Olympics champions had all the support they needed.

Success breeds success and if you're a new track cyclist coming through the GB set-up you can look across to a Jason Kenny or Laura Trott and realise that maybe your moment of glory is not so far away. Of course there's a lot more that goes into success at Olympic level but all the sport science, technological advances, world-class coaching, leadership and everything else in between is only possible with the funding to support it.

Success can also inspire participation and British Cycling can certainly point to the fact that more people have taken up the sport in recent years which has been helped by the mountain of Olympic medals won on the track and around the necks of charismatic and photogenic champions.

All of this needs to be remembered especially in light of the recent decision by UK Sport to completely cut GB Basketball's funding in the lead-up to Rio 2016 after a stay of execution last year (only after an appeal by the National Governing Body mind you).

GB Basketball have improved internationally in the last five years with five appearances for the Men and Women's teams in European championship finals after only two appearances in the previous 50 years. Britain is also a pretty impressive hub of talent with 55 young players from GB now competing in the USA's NCAA Division 1.

Basketball also benefits from being a sport with a diverse and strong base of participation within the UK already with 70 percent of participants being under-25 and 50 percent coming from black or minority communities.

Yet GB Basketball can have all this talent available but without the funding at the elite level how can they really expect to match the best teams in the world and how many young players could you lose from the sport disillusioned at the thought that there is nothing for them to aim for?

There was, and probably still is, real potential for GB at international level and any success would have filtered down to grassroots level and driven up participation. Increased participation would have increased the talent pool and the realisation that success at the top level is tangible would have made competition within the sport stronger and this would have filtered back up to international level.

Obviously it would have taken time to really create success at the top level and this is not to say that GB Basketball would have become the new British Cycling but UK Sport, by narrowing their focus on short-term success, seemed to have missed the lessons that recent history and success could have taught them.