So the moaning starts. We Brits are rarely happy. It appears we’ve been too successful at the Olympics. Instead of finishing as chipper, chirpy also-rans, we bagged a bumper haul of medals to better all of our past Olympic successes. Start the wailing and gnashing. We don’t like success. Especially when it costs.
But the long and short of these things, is that success does cost. You can’t build successful programmes without procuring decent services, top to bottom. Stadia. Facilities. Equipment. Coaching. Dieticians. Sports Scientists. Physiotherapists. Pyschology. Technical wear. Transport. Entry fees. It all rather adds up.
In cycling’s case, you witness this at each stage. Bristling with confidence and courtesy of funding, BC now has a relentless marketing machine pushing its message. Club administered Go-ride programmes encourage adults and kids to ride. Extremely professional coaching and development programmes have matured nicely. Support given to grass roots sport. Recently I completed the first stage of becoming a cyclo-cross commissaire – a 1 hour online module ahead of attending the full course. I was very impressed with its professionalism (the coaching materials and support have all been similarly excellent). It’s a long way from my memories of sports as a kid; grubby rugby changing rooms, ancient coaching staff puffing on woodbines, fourth hand kit etc. Granted all this enabling stuff costs money. But is it worth it?
I’d argue ‘yes’, for these reasons:
(i) Interest in sport encourages participation. Participation improves health, wellbeing and socialisation.
(ii) We have a growing obesity problem that will cost future generations far more money, time and pain than the sums spent on developing sport.
(iii) Sporting success is likely to have direct economic benefit (from rises in stocks and shares to booming health industries).
(iv) In the case of cycling, I am also convinced that sporting success has been an enabler for getting more people to ride. The urban cycling landscape has changed since 2012, both in terms of modal share and debate/action on infrastructure (and of course we’d like it change much, much more).
(v) Olympic success undeniably gives the nation a boost. We are fed a media diet of fear, terror and pain on a relentless 24 hour basis (not to mention Brexit and financial gloom). The Olympics gave us a welcome respite. For 2 weeks at least, we could enjoy some uplifting scenes.
For me, the only question that surrounds lottery funded investment is accessibility. Cycling is moderately easy to get involved with (BMX in particular), but does require initial outlays and ongoing travel/investment, while at the most extreme end of the spectrum, Equestrian and modern Pentathlon are different stories entirely (I very much doubt the next Olympic dressage champ will come from Brixton or Moss Side). But I don’t want to nit pick. Overall, the huge investment and commitment from UK government via lottery funding would appear to be worth it.