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UK Sports: Funding

Volume 778: debated on Monday 6 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have assessed the funding allocations to individual sports from 2017 onwards announced by UK Sport following the Rio Olympics in 2016.

My Lords, decisions on elite funding allocations are for UK Sport. Its no-compromise approach has delivered our greatest Olympic performance in a century. However, it is crucial that funding is invested strategically in the right sports, the right athletes and the right support programmes. Team GB’s historic medal haul in Rio was an amazing achievement and our athletes made the country very proud. I hope that this success will continue through to Tokyo 2020.

My Lords, badminton is enjoyed by over half a million people regularly in this country because it is one of the most accessible and affordable competitive sports. Those half a million people cheered when Team GB’s badminton team won the medal that they had targeted in Rio last summer. Yet all their funding—all of it—has been dismissed by UK Sport for the period up to the Tokyo Olympic Games, while sports that won no medals have received millions of pounds. This is surely wrong, and while I recognise and support the view that government should not routinely intervene in the decisions of UK Sport, there is surely a case, on this issue, for Ministers to haul in UK Sport, ask it what is going on and make sure that it makes the right decisions in the public interest for sport in this country in the future.

I start by acknowledging that Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis did a fantastic job in winning a medal at the Olympics, and deserve a lot of credit. The problem is, first, that this is a matter for UK Sport; and, secondly, that it is not right that Ministers should be involved when the appeals process is still going on. The next stage of the appeals process is going on today and there is yet another stage that badminton can go on to. One reason that those athletes did so well was the potential for winning medals in badminton: since it has been an Olympic sport, Britain has won three medals, China has won 41 and Korea and Indonesia 19 each. So UK Sport took this very difficult decision on that basis purely of the ability and likelihood of winning medals.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether UK Sport is obliged to give reasons for its decisions, and how the appeals process works?

My Lords, first, UK Sport deals with the national governing body of the sport before the decisions are made—so there is a lot of consultation with the individual sport. These decisions, therefore, do not come as a surprise—or at least they should not. With regard to the appeals process, the sport can make a presentation to the board of UK Sport; that is taking place for several sports—eight, I believe—today and tomorrow. If that does not go the way that the sport wants, it can go to a three-man independent board of Sport Resolutions.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the funding of sport is crucially linked to the lottery? What steps will the Government take to ensure that the National Lottery retains its pre-eminent position? The first step might be a statement that the other competitors have to pay out at least as much to good causes as it does.

The noble Lord is right that funding for sport is crucially dependent on the lottery. The other problem that UK Sport has is that it has to make its allocations four years in advance for the Olympic cycle. That is why DCMS has underwritten the potential lack of funding from the lottery so that it can produce a plan for the athletes for 2020.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise a tension between the desirable objectives of engaging as many people as possible in health-giving and character-building sport, and of getting as many gold medals as possible? If so, which has priority in the minds of both the sporting executive and the Government?

There is of course a tension. UK Sport’s no-compromise approach is purely about delivering the maximum number of medals. That is not necessarily what is good for public health, for example, but the two are interrelated. I think everyone realised at London and Rio that when Team GB did well, there was a great incentive to get out and participate in sport. Sport England, which has roughly four times the funding, has a new strategy encouraging people to get active. That may or may not include sport—the main thing is to get out of the front door and take some exercise.

UK Sport has the role of making sure that we have excellence internationally. But what the Government are thinking about, because some of their decisions surely have to be about increasing the number of participants, particularly young people? Given that that is the case, what is the Government’s view of the fact that there is no allocation to team sports, which are what schools provide? Surely it is time that we looked now at having more participation by young people in team sports in schools.

I completely agree with the noble Baroness. That is why the Government’s sports strategy included allocating responsibility to Sport England for those aged from 14-plus down to five-plus. The stress, as I said, is not only on sports but on activity. At the moment, just under 40% of the over-16 population are either inactive or insufficiently active.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, after the fantastic performance of Britain in the Rio Olympics, there was, as I heard, a shortfall of £3 million or £4 million for our athletes to go to the Commonwealth Games in Australia? Can he assure us that this shortfall no longer exists and that our athletes will be fully funded to go to the Commonwealth Games?

I was not aware of the shortfall but I will find out from my department and write to the noble Lord.