The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (the Department) and UK Sport have responsibility for elite sport in the United Kingdom. They have set goals for the Great Britain teams to finish fourth in the Olympic medal table and second in the Paralympic medal table at the London 2012 Games. Achieving the goal set for the Olympic team in particular will require a step change in performance, with British athletes needing to win almost twice as many gold medals as they won at Athens in 2004.
To support these goals for London 2012, the government has agreed a package of funding in the seven years up to March 2013 of over £700 million, almost doubling the direct funding UK Sport provides to sports and elite athletes. This will be sourced mainly from the Exchequer and the National Lottery, while the Department is required to raise £100 million from the private sector.
This Report follows up recommendations in our previous Report on supporting elite athletes published in July 2006. We found then that many funded sports had not met their medal targets at the Athens Games in 2004 and concluded that UK Sport should look to achieve a better return from its expenditure in future. In particular, we raised concerns about the way UK Sport measured and reported its own performance and highlighted the need for greater clarity about the level of performance required from individual sports in order to secure future funding. We recommended improvements in how UK Sport demonstrated best use of the increased funding that would be available in the run-up to the London 2012 Games.
Following the Athens 2004 Games, UK Sport adopted a 'no compromise' approach to funding Olympic and Paralympic sports, concentrating its spending on those sports most likely to win medals. Subsequently, with the 2012 Games to be hosted in London, UK Sport moved to funding all Olympic and Paralympic sports, even those not expected to win medals. UK Sport continues to plan on the basis that it will receive all of its funding up to 2012. However, there remains a risk that the £100 million from the private sector will not all be raised. Failure to raise it could harm Great Britain's medal prospects at London 2012 and its plans to deliver a wider sporting legacy from the Games.
In 2006-07 and 2007-08, UK Sport comfortably met its targets for achievement at elite sporting events. Its targets were set at just 75% of the targets that UK Sport had agreed with individual sports for medals and top eight finishes. In order to drive continuous improvement towards the Olympic and Paralympic goals, UK Sport's targets for the years between Games should be significantly more demanding. UK Sport currently describes its medal table ambitions for the London 2012 Games as 'ultimate goals', which it will convert to firm targets following a review of each sport's performance at Beijing in 2008.
A wider government objective for the 2012 Games is to increase levels of sports participation in the UK. There is a risk that, unless the activities of a wide range of public,
private and voluntary bodies are properly co-ordinated, the focus on winning medals could distract the Department's attention from encouraging ordinary people to participate. There is no clear evidence that elite sporting achievement influences people to take up sport in the long term, and Olympic medallists in certain sports such as rowing and equestrianism do not represent the make-up of the wider population, with a disproportionate number coming from privileged backgrounds.
On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Department and UK Sport on their funding strategy for medal success at London 2012; their setting of targets and monitoring of progress towards the Games; and their approach to securing wider and long term benefits from elite sporting success.