National Governing Bodies Must Develop ‘Independent Resilience’ And Try Not To Rely On State Support
October 15, 2020
I’ve often been a highly vocal critic of the two major funding agencies, Sport England and UK Sport, but new leadership in both has brought a more collaborative approach in recent times and both have responded swiftly and effectively to the pandemic.
Wheelchair rugby is a very small sport – thankfully – by virtue of the severe nature of the impairments required to play the Paralympic discipline of the sport. But it punches above its weight. Our ‘Murderball’ epithet helps. As, ironically, did a controversial UKS funding cut (I’ve always thought it heartless) after the GB team finished 5th in Rio 2016.
At GB Wheelchair Rugby we are very reliant on Sport England for our grassroots delivery of sporting activity for a cohort of the population with very specific needs. Being without elite UKS funding has forced us to find ways to survive and then thrive in the commercial and philanthropic worlds. If the GB team wins a medal in Tokyo it will be in spite of, not because of, the lottery funding system.
Getting and keeping the nation active must surely be a long term priority for government. As are nurturing a sense of community, and tackling inequality and disadvantage.
So what of COVID? It may seem as though there are currently unlimited government resources to deal with the crisis given the almost daily announcements from No. 10 and No. 11, but we have to assume they are finite.
Getting and keeping the nation active must surely be a long term priority for government. As are nurturing a sense of community, and tackling inequality and disadvantage – including disability – so it seems reasonable to assume Sport England will be funded accordingly.
Ours is an indoor sport, a contact sport, played by individuals often with high support needs. Returning to play is a delicate process, currently assisted by an exemption for disability sport indoors under government guidelines. But the availability of venues given the crisis in the leisure sector is proving a real challenge, and we fully endorse the calls for government support to keep leisure centres open.
The more luxuriously funded sports will likely suffer a second whammy of funding being spread more widely than in the past as the focus shifts away from medals.
Given this context, how important are elite medals now – especially as their value was already subject to considerable doubt, as well as the manner in which medals have been won in a number of sports?
It is possible to conceive of Tokyo giving the nation a big mental fillip next year – if the Games actually take place that is. And UK Sport funding is already secured to get Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes to Japan in good shape to succeed. But Paris and Los Angeles are different matters entirely.
Governing bodies would do well to support UK Sport’s Katherine Grainger and Sally Munday in their lobbying DCMS and the Treasury for Paris 2024 funding, while working on the cautious assumption that success may consist of the pair limiting the extent to which the pot shrinks. And the more luxuriously funded sports will likely suffer a second whammy of funding being spread more widely than in the past as the focus shifts away from medals as the be-all-and-end-all for UKS.
At GBWR we are working through our submission to UK Sport for Paris funding in the hope that it will be successful – after all the GB team is now ranked 4th in the world – while working to ensure that we can deliver an effective elite programme regardless of the outcome of UKS’s negotiations with DCMS. A number of individuals and commercial organisations have rallied to our cause in recent years. We don’t pretend it will be easy in the current financial climate, but we are confident that they and others would once again respond positively to the truly inspirational nature of our Paralympic athletes in extremis.
It is an irony not lost on many governing bodies that those who have reduced their reliance on lottery funding by growing their commercial activities have been most impacted by COVID.
It is an irony not lost on many governing bodies that those who have reduced their reliance on lottery funding by growing their commercial activities have been most impacted by COVID – especially those who have developed profitable spectator events. It would be understandable if the pandemic led them to withdraw from such activities. But to me, that would be a huge mistake, as it would leave their elite programmes almost entirely reliant on lottery funding that could disappear in an instant – either through a governmental decision, or by falling the wrong side of a UKS decision.
GB Wheelchair Rugby’s experience over the past four years indicates that a successful existence outside the UKS bubble is possible. It is now incumbent on all parties to encourage governing bodies to develop such independent resilience, if necessary by tying emergency financial support to the protection of commercial activities that are temporarily curtailed by the pandemic.
If Britain comes out of this crisis with its key NGBs much more reliant on state support and their commercial activities withered, the nation’s sporting prospects at grassroots and elite levels will be bleak indeed.
Ed Warner is Chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby