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Missed Home Games Aim Costs GBR £4m

Dec 18, 2012  - Craig Lord

British Swimming was the biggest casualty in a funding announcement from UK Sport for the four years leading up to Rio 2016 after swimmers claimed three medals at a home Games, two shy of the minimum target of five medals that had been set with money in mind. Britain won three medals in the pool and three in open water at Beijing 2008.

While British Swimming's budget was cut by £4 million to $21 million, athletics, cycling, rowing, boxing and gymnastics were among sports that gained in a record handout of £347 million from UK Sport.

It remains to be seen what the cut will mean at the coal face: closure of an intensive training centre would be an extreme, while a sprint centre of excellence planned for the London 2012 pool may now be at risk. Job cuts will happen, David Sparkes, British Swimming CEO, noted.

A British Swimming statement, noting a cut from around £25m to £21.3m, said the federation is "committed to implementing a streamlined Swimming World Class Programme with minimal impact on the Rio 2016 Olympic cycle following today’s UK Sport funding announcement.

Sparkes said: "While disappointed with the award for swimming, we recognise we need to rebuild confidence that we can deliver medals at Olympic level consistently before we can demand more investment.

"We had a disappointing Olympics in swimming and we now need to focus our energies on driving the cultural change needed moving forward and this will be built around a no compromise approach underpinned by performance management and strong effective leadership."

The reference to cultural change is what that needs to be reflected at Board level if changes at the performance level are to be meaningful. 

As director Bill Sweetenham brought to Britain turned a sinking ship into a nation that had record results at all levels barring the Olympic Games from 2001 to 2007. The Australian left for "personal reasons" but it was no secret that he and Sparkes did not see eye to eye, particularly after the CEO felt the need to call an independent inquiry into "bullying" accusations that, after much time, money and wasted energy, concluded what the majority of the national team had already said: no case to answer.

Then came Dennis Pursley, who was, as one American put it "here allowed to be Dennis Pursley … what's the point in hiring someone like that if they are not allowed to be themselves in every respect".

Michael Scott resigned as director last month after British Swimming wished to change the terms of a contract signed shortly before London 2012. 

Sparkes and other board members have been there throughout all eras from 1996 when Britain's lottery funding kicked in and the first performance director, Deryk Snelling, was appointed - and have stayed in place. A review into why British swimmers fell shy opt their season best on 40 out of 49 occasions at a home Games reported this month. Bob Bowman, mentor to Michael Phelps and a member of the the British review panel, met British Swimming board members during the world s/c championships in Istanbul to discuss how best to implement the changes recommended.

John Atkinson, Sweetenham's former right-hand man, has been backed by coaches for the performance job, while Bill Furniss, coach to Rebecca Adlington, and Chris Nesbit, former coach to Britain's first-ever women's long-course world champion, Katy Sexton, back in 2003, have been tipped for the head coach job.

“The Debrief has highlighted where resources need to be targeted going forward. It told us, quite clearly, the system we have in place is the right one and we now need to focus resources where they can achieve the biggest impact, said Sparkes.

“We are undertaking a review of our Intensive Training Centre network, in terms of value for money, and going forward there will be changes," he added. "Reductions in staffing are also inevitable but we won’t rush into making changes. These need to be done in a systematic and objective way that will not cause disruption to our athletes as they prepare for Rio.”

Many of those at the coal face who will now wait nervously to see where the axe will fall have good reason to wonder whether those holding the blade may turn it on themselves at some point, given that they have been there at the heart of decision makiing and culture throughout results good and bad.

Meanwhile, England's federation, the ASA, of which Sparkes is also the boss, must show an increase in participation in swimming in 2013 to be eligible for a further £10.5 of funding between 2014 and 2017, targeted at the mass market.