UK moves into top five sporting nations

Published 1 January 2001

AS THE last sporting year drew to a close and pundits were analysing the progress made by our various sporting teams during 2000, news came that the UK can lay claim to being among the top five most successful nations in world sport.

That is the encouraging finding from the ground-breaking "World Sporting Index" launched by UK Sport at the end of a year in which Great Britain produced its best Olympic performance for 80 years and achieved its best Paralympic results since the Paralympic Games took their current form.

"The UK’s sports system is frequently criticised for failing to deliver success", said UK Sport’s Chairman, Sir Rodney Walker. "There is no doubt that some of our higher profile national teams have under-performed in major competitions in recent times. But what this result shows is that UK sport has tremendous strength in its breadth. We are actually very good at an extraordinary range of sports."

UK Sport developed the new ranking system partly in response to the way in which press and public react to sporting triumph and adversity.

"There was a national inquest when Britain lost to Ecuador in the Davis Cup (tennis) last summer" recalled Sir Rodney. "Then, the next moment, the England cricket team was beating the West Indies for the first time in 31 years, Olympic fever gripped the nation, and suddenly everyone was euphoric.

"It’s a mark of the important part sport plays in people’s lives that victories and defeats mean so much. But we also tend to have rather short memories. What UK Sport is trying to do is to take a more balanced, longer-term view of the ups and downs of our national sporting fortunes."

IN ESSENCE, the World Sporting Index is a means of assessing the UK’s overall performance in world sport and of monitoring how that performance changes over time. The model calculates each country’s share of medal success, or top 3 placings, in world-level competition over the last four-year cycle, in more than 60 sports.

Sir Rodney explained: "If we treat all sports as being of equal value, then the UK comes out in fifth place with a 7.4% share of medal success. The USA is well ahead with a 12.1% share but we are well within range of Australia (an 8.8% share), Germany (7.9%) and Russia (7.7%)."

The model can also weight results according to the UK public’s view of the significance of different sports.

Gavin Stewart, Chairman of UK Sport’s Awards Panel said: "UK Sport’s public opinion research shows, for example, that people are more interested in our national football teams being successful than teams and athletes in any other sport. If we weight sports according to their public profile, then France, the current men’s football world champions, not surprisingly, overtakes the UK. But we are still in the top five – and, with well over 100 countries competing for the top prizes, that is certainly the place to be."

THE MODEL can also be examined in terms of population size and the economy. Stewart believes, for example, that there is a relationship between a nation’s sporting prowess and its economic wealth.

"The UK has the seventh largest economy in the world. Only the USA, China, Japan, India, Germany and France have a bigger Gross National Product," he said. "In relative sporting terms, we consistently outstrip the top four, while it’s nip and tuck between ourselves, France and Germany. We will be publishing updated versions of the Index on a regular basis, and I hope to see us pulling clear of our European neighbours over the next few years as Lottery funding really takes effect."

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