“How come they’re doing so well?”
It’s the question on everybody’s lips (including those at home) following Team GB’s leap to 2nd place in the medal tables thanks to a raft of successes on Super Sunday saw them win 8 medals. That success has continued this week, with Britain maintaining its place behind the US in the medal table, though China remains hot on our heels. But with Great Britain being only a fraction of the size of many of the Olympic heavyweights it has overtaken in the medal table, the world has been asking how Team GB manages to punch so far above its weight.
Most seem to agree that a significant part of the answer is funding. Thus John Major has become an unlikely Olympic hero. It was Major who, following a disappointing performance at the 1996 Atlanta games (with only one gold medal delivered by the indomitable Redgrave and Pinsent), championed the investment of National Lottery funds into Sport. Under UK Sport’s model, funds are invested most heavily into the sports most likely to win medals (with each medal at Rio costing an average of £5.5 million). Whilst this hasn’t always been a universally popular strategy, complaints often fade whilst the medals are raining in.
Unfortunately the current climate surrounding doping and corruption has led to conflict amongst athletes, including a few ‘raised eyebrows’ at Team GB’s success. In such a climate, where serious questions are being asked across the globe and across numerous sports, and where significant amounts of public funding are at stake, this begs the question of what an integrity crisis means for the funding of sport in the UK. In line with the global focus on these issues, UK Sport recently unveiled a Charter for Sports Governance in the UK and, later this year, will release a new governance code, which is expected to prescribe new standards of transparency, diversity, integrity, and financial probity for sports governing bodies. This will raise plenty of questions for governing bodies in receipt of funding throughout the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Games.