Volleyball bounced out of UK sport funding
LONDON - Try telling Britain's volleyball, basketball and handball players that London 2012 was a watershed moment in their bid for recognition on the world stage and you will get a curt response following funding cuts announced by UK Sport on Tuesday.
Britain fielded a men's Olympic basketball team for the first time since the previous London Games in 1948 while its male and female indoor volleyball and handballers were Olympic debutants, performing admirably if without much success.
It might be a long wait before they get another chance, however, after UK Sport, which finances elite sport in Britain, pulled the plug on their funding despite an 11 percent overall rise in investment for the 2016 Rio Games compared to London.
Staying loyal to its "no compromise" policy, UK Sport revealed a four-year funding programme for 42 sports it says will help the British team surpass the 65 Olympic and 120 Paralympic medals they harvested in London.
In essence, money will be poured into the sports that Britain already excels at, cycling and rowing being the biggest beneficiaries with in excess of 30 million pounds each, while others with little realistic chance of medals in Brazil will be left to their own devices.
Sports such as swimming, which failed to deliver in London with only three medals and no golds, have effectively been put on report. Swimming had four million pounds chopped from its Olympic programme and has a year to prove it is worthy of the 21 million pounds it has been allocated.
British Boxing, whose athletes won three golds in London, was also warned to sort out its organisational issues if it is to receive its increased 13 million pounds windfall.
The real losers, though, were the team sports in which Britain has little international heritage but, with great fanfare, were awarded host-nation places at the London Olympics.
"I'm still trying to absorb it really," British Volleyball president Richard Callicott told Reuters.
"What I can say is that I'm shocked and stunned.
"To all intents and purposes this decision shows that despite how well we have done, UK Sport cannot see the significant progress we have made from a standing start.
"I dispute their argument that we don't have the talent to win medals, what we don't have is the programme and how are we supposed to put that in place without any funding," added Callicott, who said he would appeal against the decision.
Britain's female indoor team enjoyed a victory against Algeria at the Olympics while the men "closed a huge gap", according to Callicott, despite being beaten in all their matches at Earls Court which attracted the third-largest crowds of any sport at London 2012.
"We had 40,000 people in Earls Court every day and they will be asking where is the British team," Callicott said.
British Basketball's performance chairman Roger Moreland also reacted angrily to its funding being pulled despite the men's team heading for its third consecutive European Championship Finals in 2013.
"We knew the criteria that UK Sport were applying for Rio, but having been funded to the tune of 8.5m in the lead-up to the London Olympics because of the sport's medal potential for the future, this is a devastating decision and is a waste of that investment," he said in a statement.
Despite accusations of undermining the well-worn London 2012 mantra of "inspiring a generation", UK Sport was firmly backing its policy.
"Our job here at UK Sport is to take those with medal potential to the podium," chair Baroness Sue Campbell told reporters.
"It's not about abandoning them it's about saying they are not ready for that investment yet."
Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson said the record investment for Britain's elite sportsmen and women in the four-year cycle to Rio was about keeping the momentum going.
He defended UK Sport's decision not to fund certain sports, saying priority had to be given to real medal contenders, even the seven million pounds earmarked for modern pentathlon, a vastly expensive sport out of the reach of most Britons.
"People understand that when you host an Olympics you have to put teams out in every sport to drive ticket sales," he told Reuters.
"I think when they look at the funding for Rio they know its done on a performance basis and not a lot of point funding teams that will not qualify for the Olympics.
"Would you fund basketball teams that are expensive and have no chance of a medal in Rio and take funding away from a cyclist or rower who has a good chance of a medal?"
Robertson said he was confident the 347 million pounds ($564 million) invested in 42 Olympic and Paralympic sports leading up to Rio in 2016 would pay dividends.
"I think its realistic," he said of the target of at least 66 Olympic medals. "If you cast your mind back to pre-London everybody thought it would be extraordinary if we did better than Beijing and that worked out very well.
"There are quite a few sports where we could do better in Rio than we did here."
UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl acknowledged that surpassing London 2012 was "ambitious" and said it was necessary for some sports to suffer to maximise the potential of others.
"Our no compromise approach is investing in the best and emerging talent. It's good news for a very significant number of sports and athletes but some will be disappointed," she said.
"It's painful for some but they haven't met our investment criteria."
Table tennis and wrestling were the other British Olympic sports to have their UK Sport funding axed.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)