UK Sport has been urged to listen to calls to axe its focus on landing Olympic and Paralympic medals.

And that, former British Basketball chair Ed Warner says, would create the wiggle room to give more sports the funds to push for success on the international stage.

A public consultation on the agency’s investment strategy closed earlier this week with 4,923 responses received via an online portal, in addition to opinions gathered through discussions with other stakeholders, including from government and from athletes themselves.

The findings will be presented to UK Sport’s board in the autumn before a decision is made early next year on the financing of elite performance leading up to the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“As an investor of significant public funds in elite sport, it is right that UK Sport should check in with the general public to ask whether you want us to continue aiming to inspire the nation through medal success and whether we should change our focus in any way,” said its chief executive Liz Nicholl.

“All the responses will be analysed by independent consultants and our board will use this evidence alongside other commissioned research, to develop our future strategy.”

However Warner, one of the agency’s most vocal critics, has insisted the time has come to put the £472 million pot currently available over four years to wider use by spreading the wealth around more sports while considering the impact of international achievement on nurturing the grassroots – with basketball among those who have been vehement in calling for a new approach.

“UK Sport has concentrated its financial firepower on sports which have a chance of winning medals and if you do that, your funding is secure for the next four years,” he said, speaking at the launch of his book, Sport Inc., at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

“If you think about that, you get a circle of money going to a small number of sports deemed to have medal potential. So, cycling, rowing, sailing. But let’s say cycling wins eleven medals. The 12th medal won by someone in a crash helmet going around a velodrome matters a lot less than the first medal won in judo or badminton or taekwondo. Particularly if that’s a sport where the average kid can participate in.

“Badminton has two million players. A medal there is worth a lot. But UK Sport doesn’t believe that. They say where Britain ranks in the medal table is the most important thing.”

Much of the decision-making responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the retired rower, Katherine Grainger, who has chaired UK Sport since last year. And although she has not declared a personal hand, she has lent a sympathetic ear to a campaign by some of those excluded from funding to press for a change of tack.

“I sense Katherine is much more open-minded to change that her predecessors and government is slightly embarrassed about the noise that’s been made,” Warner added. “The system has been phenomenally successful. You can’t argue with ending up second in the medal table in Rio. That’s fantastic.

“But I think the no-compromise approach has had its time. Things do have a shelf life. So let’s take the best bits of it and then parlay it into something different.”

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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