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UK Sport: Elite Sport Funding

Volume 779: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of recent decisions taken by UK Sport, whether they will consider a review into how the criteria for elite level sport funding are set.

My Lords, decisions on elite funding allocations are for UK Sport to make, not the Government. That funding must be invested strategically in the right sports, athletes and support programmes to deliver medal success. UK Sport’s no-compromise approach delivered our greatest Olympic performance in a century at Rio 2016, making the country very proud. I hope that Team GB’s amazing success in Rio will be repeated at Tokyo 2020.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he not consider that we should expand our base of elite, medal-winning sports and not simply the number of medals? For instance, if we have a sporting culture where we dominate one or two sports, we are in danger of stopping the encouragement of grass-roots participation across a much wider range of sports in which to win medals.

Of course, that is exactly what the Government are doing. By spending about four times as much on Sport England, they aim to encourage activity and sporting achievement, which will lead to elite sport level. However, the remit for UK Sport is to win medals at the Olympics, and it has achieved that in spectacular fashion.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am chair of ukactive, but I was also a lottery-funded athlete so I understand the complexities between UK Sport and Sport England. For us, as a small nation, to win medals is amazing, but medals do not increase participation and inactivity costs our nation £20 billion a year. Wheelchair rugby came fifth at the Paralympics last year—an amazing achievement, but with no funding there is little chance of the team making the Paralympics again, which will destroy participation. Is it not time to look at a funding model that guarantees an opportunity to participate but goes beyond just winning medals? Does our nation not deserve more than that?

My Lords, that is a very valid question for debate. In fact, my noble friend Lord Elton raised exactly that subject when we discussed this about two weeks ago. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Baroness that winning medals does not encourage participation. After each Olympics when we do well, there is a great resurgence in interest in sport. However, there is a genuine debate on whether we should concentrate on medals or broaden the appeal. Medals are not the only thing that matters, but they matter a lot to a lot of people. For the next Olympic cycle we have given UK Sport a remit to win medals, as it has in the past, but I accept that in future we may want to change that.

My Lords, following on from the last question, do not all elite athletes have to start at the grass roots? What does the Minister think about the fact that any coach taking children has to pay £200 out of their own pocket to do the courses required?

I agree that every elite athlete has to start at the grass roots. That is why the Government, using National Lottery funding as well, spend about four times as much on grass-roots sport as they do on elite sport, as I said. As a result, 340,000 more people play sport once a week than did so a year ago.

My Lords, UK Sport, which funds our chase for medals, is funded by the National Lottery. Does the Minister know—perhaps he could write to me—what other national lotteries, such as the health lottery, contribute? They compete with the National Lottery. Do they send an equivalent amount of money to the courses that they purport to represent?

First, it is not true to say that the National Lottery is the only thing that funds elite sport. The Exchequer funds it as well and increased its funding by about 29% in the 2015 spending review. As for the potential problems for the National Lottery from the health lottery, it is very important that people should be able to spend their own money on the good causes that they want to, be it health lotteries or sport. To put this in perspective, the health lottery had sales of £81 million in 2015 and, in the same period, the National Lottery had sales of £7.2 billion.

My Lords, the Minister will recall the report from the committee looking into the legacy of the London Olympics, which emphasised the key role played in schools. In the present period of economic cut-backs, can he ensure that sporting facilities in schools are safeguarded?

I think that is a matter for the Department for Education, but I will certainly take it on board. As we have said in the Government’s sports strategy, which is under my department, through Sport England we are emphasising the importance of younger people getting involved. We have therefore extended the range of Sport England’s responsibility for grass-roots sports, from the age of 14-plus down to five.

My Lords, we have had two series of decisions by UK Sport concerning Paralympic and Olympic sport—they have done superbly well and the number of medals is extraordinary for the size of our country. But the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, makes a very good point. In the first round of that decision-making process, we lost seven sports, mainly those engaging women and also team sports. In the current round we have lost other sports, two of which were Paralympic sports and one of which may disappear altogether. It is time for a review, and I hope the Government can confirm that they will do that.

As I said, the remit that was given to UK Sport applies to this Olympic cycle up to Tokyo. There is no guarantee that it will be same for the subsequent Olympic cycle. There is a genuine debate on this, as I have acknowledged.