drew_sullivan_post_up_ville_568UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl has been forced to defend her claims that sportspeople who do not win Olympic medals are unable to serve as an inspiration for the next generation.

Nicholl, speaking in response to suggestion that a loss of funding for certain sports would damage the way in which its leading performers reach out into the community, attracted widespread criticism after MVP highlighted her statement that: “They are hardly role models if they are not winning – they become role models by winning.”

It earned a rebuke from the GB basketball captain Drew Sullivan, who claimed the agency’s definition of a role model meant “my kids shouldn’t actually be looking up to me because I’ve not won any Olympic medal.”

And Nicholl, whose credibility as the head of UK government’s sporting agency was under threat, has moved to clarify her position.

“All athletes can be great role models for the next generation through their achievements playing in their clubs, leagues and what they do in their communities,” she said. “This is an important ingredient in the development of the sporting system across the UK and UK Sport actively encourages this.

“Additionally, UK Sport’s investment in sports and athletes with medal potential help create fantastic, winning and inspiring role models – in fact since the London 2012 Games our athletes have committed over 6000 days to inspire the next generation through school and community sport.

“My point was that simply funding a GB Basketball Olympic programme, which is unlikely to win a medal before 2024 at the earliest, is in itself not critical to driving participation, as the sport has other opportunities to do so. To that end Sport England is investing £10.5m in England Basketball and the British Basketball League to deliver strategies for increasing participation and developing talent.”

A petition, launched by MVP, to ask for a government review of UK Sport’s elitist strategy, had attracted almost 1000 signatories, inside just 24 hours.

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