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Elite Athletes

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Government and UK Sport are working with sports governing bodies to identify and develop elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes through our world-class performance programme. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way in which elite sport is resourced—from £63 million of lottery funding for Sydney to £265 million of lottery and Exchequer funding for Beijing, building to a significant package of lottery, Exchequer and private funds for London 2012.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating the Sunderland boxer Tony Jeffries on the bronze medal that he won in Beijing. However, the Secretary of State may not be aware of the problems that Tony Jeffries encountered trying to secure funding for his pre-Olympic training. My friend and neighbouring MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), thanks to some good work, managed to secure some funding on Tony Jeffries’ behalf. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the same problems will not be encountered by north-east athletes or indeed athletes from anywhere in the UK in the run-up to 2012?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who gives me a useful prompt to say that I am sure that the whole House wishes to join me in congratulating our Olympians and Paralympians on their outstanding success at the Beijing Olympics in the summer. They truly inspired and lifted the entire nation, and we all pay tribute to them; it was the best ever performance by Great Britain on foreign soil in an Olympic games. I saw Tony Jeffries fighting while I was in Beijing, and I am sure that we would want to congratulate him, too, on his bronze medal. I know that he faced particular challenges leading up to Beijing, although he did benefit from some world-class performance funding. What this says to me is that as we move forward, we need to put in place a package of support that really lets our young people focus on sport. That is the real benefit of world-class performance funding—giving them some certainty, so that they can focus on what they do best. We can all learn the lessons of the run-up to Beijing, and try to do even better as we come into the London Olympics.

In a similar vein to that of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson), I wonder whether the Secretary of State will join me in wishing the very best of luck to Jake Arkell and Callum Frowen, from my constituency, who this weekend will be participating in the world drugs-free powerlifting championships in Antwerp. They trained at the Forest fitness centre in Cinderford, which trains people across my constituency. I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in wishing them the very best of luck.

I certainly will. I am sure that everybody wishes to see British sporting success continue and the momentum that we established in Beijing go on and on, so they have my very best wishes.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind if we do not run through all the medallists that we have in Loughborough; we would probably be here for some time, and I think that we came 34th in the medal table at Beijing this time round. However, he will know that there is still the substantial shortfall of £100 million of funding—it has probably reduced a little now, to £69 million—leading up to 2012. Unless there is a significant change in the Government’s position in the immediate future, the cuts to the programme could put at risk all the success that we achieved by coming fourth in the Olympic and Paralympic tables in Beijing. Will my right hon. Friend as a matter of urgency make sure that this thing is sorted out by the time of UK Sport’s December board meeting?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we do not wish to lose any momentum that we have gained on the Olympic games. It is also important to say that the public support available now to our elite Olympians and Paralympians is obviously unprecedented, but we always said that wished to supplement it with funds raised from private sponsorship in the private sector, so we have come to a package of support for elite athletes that is essentially a mixed economy of lottery and Exchequer funds and funds from the private sector. In the long term, that will be the best way to sustain elite sport. We will soon announce a new scheme called “medal hopes”, which will provide opportunities for businesses up and down the country to be associated with the world-class performance programme, and I am very confident that we will raise the money needed to ensure that we get even more success in London 2012.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the National Rifle Association at Bisley has done a tremendous amount of work in the past few years in encouraging young people to develop their skills and their participation in the Olympic sport of target shooting? Wonderful work has been done. Can the Government say anything to encourage that improvement among young people that the NRA has started? Can he say a word or two about Bisley’s future as far as the Olympics are concerned?

I would not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman said; the NRA does extremely good work. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has visited Bisley, and we remain in close discussion with the NRA and the Home Office, which has an interest in these matters. We shall continue to take forward those discussions, and I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman said.

May I associate myself entirely with the Minister’s remarks about our Olympians and Paralympians?

I wish to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed). Over the past month, I have met every sports organisation involved with sourcing this missing £100 million—UK Sport, the British Olympic Association, the governing bodies of the individual sports or even Fast Track—and not one of them believes that the full amount is deliverable from the private sector, simply because so many other organisations are in the market looking for private funding. The Secretary of State must be aware that that uncertainty is having an extremely damaging effect on preparations for London 2012. Have any of those key organisations given him the same warning that they have given me?

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but first I wish to put some facts on the table. Some £265 million of public money was made available to support our Olympians and Paralympians in preparing for the games in Beijing. Let us cast our minds back. Practically nothing was available in the run-up to the Atlanta Olympics and Britain came 36th in the medals table. [Interruption.] Opposition Members say, “Before the lottery”. It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s attention that some Exchequer funding was put into the effort to support the team for Beijing.

The hon. Gentleman talks about a missing £100 million. It has always been our plan to put in place at least the same amount of support that we had for the Beijing games and then to supplement that with contributions from the private sector. We are working out the details of that scheme. Before the end of this year we will make a detailed set of announcements that give sport certainty going into this Olympic period—a unique period when the world spotlight will be upon us. I am proud of what we have done so far to support elite sport, and I am confident that we will build on the momentum and success that we achieved in Beijing.