With just 100 days to go until the start of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Britain’s leading sportsmen and women have said that UK Sport’s National Lottery-backed World Class Performance Programme has made a vital difference in helping them to train and compete more effectively.
93% of athletes – the majority of whom will be competing at this summer’s Olympic or Paralympic Games – said that the programme has made a positive difference to their preparations.
But the survey – conducted by LIRC on behalf of UK Sport – also confirmed the fact that the Lottery hasn’t made athletes self-sufficient, with 60% contributing on average up to an additional £5,000 of their own money per year (with 33% spending even more), to support their careers as elite athletes.
"Whilst it is pleasing that World Class Performance is having a very positive effect on preparations for Athens, the research has highlighted the fact that we only make a contribution to the needs of our elite athletes – albeit a very significant one", said Liz Nicholl, UK Sport’s Acting Chief Executive.
"Since the advent of World Class Performance back in 1997, an increasing number of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes now consider themselves to be full-time, which reflects their commitment to sporting success. Even so, the survey results indicate that nearly half of them are still in some form of employment - either because they need a balance to the demands of their sport, or because they are wisely planning for their future careers, or because of financial necessity.
"This demonstrates how important the back-up provided by the Performance Lifestyle programme – coordinated by UK Sport – is in ensuring that the best possible advice is available to athletes and that these issues do not have an adverse affect on performance."
Commenting to UK Sport on the impact of Lottery funding for athletes, Athens swimming prospect Stephen Parry said: "It’s been a fantastic injection of money. It’s not made anyone rich, but it’s allowed people to do the thing they love doing for longer and in turn bring lots of medals home for their country."
Elsewhere, the survey results showed that not only were the facilities which have been developed across the UK as part of the sports institute network well received, but they also meant that athletes have to spend less time travelling to and from training.
Encouragingly, athletes also think that the quality of the support they receive is getting better, with sport science, sport medicine and coaching being singled out as showing the biggest improvements.
"Whilst there is much good news to be had from the results of this survey, perhaps the single most important findings are those relating to coaching," Nicholl adds.
"This is the area of greatest importance to the athletes who – particularly those who have been part of the World Class Performance Programme the longest – are telling us that they are seeing an improvement in the level of coaching they receive, which is good news for the future."
The survey was conducted last winter, with responses from just under half of the 600 athletes on the World Class Performance Programme. UK Sport aims to produce a summary of the full survey which will be made publicly available this summer.