Steele hails watershed year for UK Sport

From UK Sport
Anyone writing off 2006 as a poor sporting year would be wrong to do so, according to John Steele, chief executive of UK Sport. Despite England’s failure to progress beyond the quarter-finals of the football World Cup, and the difficult times endured by the rugby union and cricket teams, 2006 was a landmark year for sport in the UK.

Steele said:

“Whilst most media and public attention is focused on the major spectator sports and their ups and downs, we must not lose sight of the fact that 2006 has actually been an excellent year for performances across the majority of our Olympic and Paralympic sports.

“Recent award ceremonies have done much to acknowledge the achievements of Zara Phillips, Beth Tweddle and Nicole Cook, but it didn’t end there, with badminton, cycling, rowing, sailing and triathlon all producing world champions this year. It was also another golden year for our paralympic athletes who continue to punch above their weight on the world stage.”

Although delighted by the sporting action on the pitch, Steele thought that perhaps the most significant development came away from it:

“I think that in six years’ time, when the dust has settled after London has hosted the best ever Olympic and Paralympic Games, we will look back and regard 2006 as the watershed year which transformed the nation’s sporting system forever. Let’s not forget that this was the year in which the Government both streamlined the high performance sporting system and responded to UK Sport’s case for additional funding by providing a massive £200m of new money to support our Olympic and Paralympic ambitions, with a further £100 million to come from private sources.”

As a result of UK Sport’s forward planning, an initial three years’ worth of this money was allocated across 24 of the Olympic sports – including “new” sports such as handball and volleyball – in just 14 days. The remainder will be awarded in the aftermath of the Beijing Games, when more is known about the relative competitiveness of all Olympic and Paralympic sports.

“We have entered a new phase where sports will no longer be wondering where the next penny will come from. Our summer sports are now resourced to do the job and our emphasis is now firmly on ensuring that world class operation will become the rule rather than the exception and that best practice throughout our system is shared wherever possible.

“We are also beginning to feel the effects of 2012 elsewhere, with next year proving to be on of the busiest years on record as the UK plays host to some 13 world class events from athletics and cycling to taekwondo. The spotlight is already shining on the UK and we’re still 18 months or so away from the Beijing Games.”

Whilst reflecting on the events of 2006, Steele was also keen to cast his eye back a little further. The start of 2007 sees another landmark which demonstrates just how far the landscape has changed for sport in recent times.

“UK Sport as an organisation will be 10 years old on January 1, 2007, and an awful lot has happened in that time. If you cast your mind back to the end of 1996, Great Britain had just returned from the Olympic Games with a solitary gold medal to show for its efforts and we finished fourth in the paralympic medal table as the paralympic movement was beginning to find its feet. There was, at that time, no significant investment across Olympic or Paralympic sports here in the UK and no real high-performance system to speak of.

“Ten years later we are in a position to invest nearly £100m a year in those sports, we’re on the verge of becoming a fixture in the top 10 Olympic and top 2 Paralympic nations. There is a sports institute network throughout the country and all our athletes know what they have to do to continue to enjoy funding support. Elsewhere we are working to make the best athlete support staff even better and are concentrating on developing the best coaches in the world.

“We are also looking at every opportunity to use innovation and technology to bring even the smallest performance improvements that might make the difference between winning medals and being amongst the also-rans. But, critically, we are doing so within the rules of the game – our achievements will mean nothing unless they are achieved within a sound ethical framework. We want to win, but not at all costs. So our anti-doping function remains critical to our success as an organisation, and as a nation.”

Steele concluded: “It has taken 10 years for the UK to develop a high-performance system that can live alongside the best in the world, but with other nations having had them in place for a number more years, the UK will still have its work cut out to make the impact everyone craves in London in 2012. But the resources are in place and everyone involved knows the part they must play if there is to be a successful outcome – something to be pleased, but most certainly not complacent, about as another year beckons.”