UK Sport public consultation on future funding of elite sport

Of interest to – all members, particularly those involved with sports organisations

UK Sport has announced a public consultation on its future funding strategy, which will take effect in April 2021. ICSA will be making a submission and members are invited to consider the consultation document and to contact the policy team with their comments and observations. 

Scope of the consultation

UK Sport, the high-performance agency with responsibility for allocating public funds, is seeking to identify which aspects of its investment policy are viewed as the most important in shaping success, how ‘success’ is to be defined and how these factors can be measured in future.

UK Sport’s recent strategic position has been that the most impactful way of delivering on its mission, set out in its Royal Charter to use government and National Lottery funding for the ‘achievement of excellence’ by teams and athletes representing the UK, is to invest in Olympic and Paralympic sports, with a priority of supporting athletes to deliver medal success at the respective Games. 

This priority is focused on the teams and individuals competing in Olympic and Paralympic disciplines, representing the most credible and realistic medal prospects at future Games.

The consultation seeks the opinions of stakeholders, including the public, as to whether this funding strategy is appropriate and to identify priorities in terms of allocation of funds.

What inspires?

UK Sport’s current vision is of a nation inspired by Olympic and Paralympic success. The consultation seeks input on what has inspired respondents in terms of international sport, individual athletes, teams or events and the wider impact this has had.

The questionnaire lists 15 suggestions to be rated for their inspirational value, some of which are encapsulated by the current strategic objectives, such as:

  • Team GB/Paralympics GB achieving or beating their medal target at the Olympic/Paralympic Games
  • Team GB/Paralympics GB maintaining a top three position in the medal table at the Olympic/Paralympic Games
  • Individual sports achieving or beating their specific medal target at the Olympic/Paralympic Games.
Other suggestions would require a broadening of UK Sport’s focus:

  • Lesser-known sports achieving success
  • The number and variety of sports being funded to compete internationally
  • Diversity across British athletes competing internationally
  • British team sports being able to compete internationally, but not necessarily winning medals
  • British athletes succeeding in sports that a large number of people play or follow.

One of the criticisms levelled at the current funding mechanism is it is too focused on a narrow field of disciplines adjudged to offer the highest likelihood of success, irrespective of whether those disciplines attract the greatest participation or public interest.

Respondents are also asked what they believe to be the most likely outcomes for the nation when inspired by British sporting success. Options include: pride in the athletes’ achievements and in the country generally; greater social cohesion; increased participation in sport; enhancing the UK’s status on the world stage; and boosting the national and local economies.

What is success?

The questionnaire invites respondents to rate each of the same suggested criteria in terms of how well they represent a good measure of success for the investment policy. This again speaks to a view among certain stakeholders that ‘success’ in terms of sport investment in the UK is too narrowly defined, and public funds invested in high-performance sport ought to be employed towards goals beyond medal performance at two tournaments every four years.

There is an acknowledgement that ‘success’ may share all, some or none of the attributes of outcomes deemed to be ‘inspirational’ in the previous section.

Respondents are asked to provide examples of an international sport, athlete or event that has been successful and to indicate the impact or wider effect it had. In addition to the list provided, they are also invited to offer alternative measures of success.

Funding strategy

Although UK Sport’s current funding allocations are based on a number of factors, the most critical is the potential for athletes or teams to win medals at future Paralympic and Olympic Games. The consultation offers the opportunity to indicate whether this model has a positive or negative effect in terms of the two areas of consideration: inspiration and success. Stakeholders are given the opportunity to provide input on the question of the degree to which this should continue to be the primary focus for UK Sport investment. 

The consultation document states that the sums available for investment are fixed. In fact, they are likely to come down as the government and the funding bodies seek to reduce the percentage of funded organisations’ income which comes from the public purse and increase the proportion from non-public investment.

In either case, changes to the investment policy could have direct consequences, such as proportionately fewer funds being available to particular sports, with a reduced potential for medal success in those currently well-funded. On the other hand, these changes  might increase resources available to those sports which do not attract UK Sport investment but which are played by greater numbers of countries and participants, and consequently present greater challenges for medal prospects. An expanded scope may also include funding non-Olympic/Paralympic disciplines. 

In the final substantive question in the consultation, stakeholders are presented with statements pertaining to how sports should be prioritised with regard to funding, and are invited to indicate their level of agreement. Factors include:

  • Prospect of medal success 
  • Team sports vs individual athletes
  • Sports with greater public appeal versus lower profile disciplines
  • Local and national socioeconomic impact
  • The degree of professionalisation and commercialisation of different sports.
The consultation document can be found in full on the ICSA website.

ICSA will be holding a roundtable discussion for members to contribute their views on the consultation on 30 July 2018. Formal CPD is available for attendees. Places are limited and members wishing to attend can contact Craig Beeston, ICSA policy officer, by 20 July. Members who would like to submit written contributions to ICSA’s response can send them directly to Craig before 30 July.

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