Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Tokyo 2020: Team GB Aspiration Fund keeps developing sports treading water, for now

EN GARDE: Will a lack of funding keep British fencers out of Tokyo 2020?
(British Fencing)

By Steven Oldham

On the face of it, the UK Government's £3m Tokyo 2020 Aspiration Fund for non-UK Sport funded British teams can only be seen as a good thing. 

Grants of up to £500,000 should not be readily dismissed by sports currently receiving nothing from the public purse, and one off-investments of this size are astronomical for developing sports like wheelchair rugby, and the new to the Olympics karate and surfing.

However, given that almost half the current cycle is over, and the Games less than two years away, the timing of last week's announcement is a little strange. 

Most sports, predictably, have reacted positively. British Fencing, Badminton England and Skateboard England are among the governing bodies preparing bids.

British Handball however, pointed out that qualification in their sport is underway and the decision to issue this funding was made far too late with both men's and women's teams already eliminated. A lack of funding since being axed from the ruthless World Class Programme after London 2012 was also mentioned, stating it was unrealistic to expect a vast improvement in the short time between now and the Games in any case.

Airing this negativity publicly may backfire in the long run for them. They could still apply for the money for the community and health sides of their sport, and secure a decent amount to improve their teams and facilities ahead of the 2024 Games. Whether they do remains to be seen.

The cap of £3million also leads to the very real possibility of a sport/s submitting a bid and still being refused money. The five new sports joining the Games in 2020 bring the number of unfunded Olympic sports in Team GB to 19.

UK Sport's medal-hungry strategy of financing the most successful sports makes sense when looking at the results table, but at the same time leaves developing sports well behind in glory, exposure and legacy. It's a Catch-22 situation for these sports, success brings funding, but with no funding, rarely comes success.

This is why despite this money being opened up to these sports, realistically it's a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to make them regularly competitive. If a sport secures the full £500,000 backing on offer, that's still a fraction of what Team GB's modern pentathletes (£6.65m) were afforded for the Tokyo cycle, who failed to get among the medals in Rio.

Funding will be given not only on potential sporting improvement, but the impact sports can have on their communities, increasing participation and the benefits to both physical and mental health. 

These criteria are met by most sports, but particularly team games such as basketball and volleyball. Basketball has huge participation numbers anyway, especially among the younger members of society the tagline 'Inspire A Generation' was made for. 

It's no secret British Basketball have had financial issues, needing a bailout from UK Sport this year to ensure the men's team could complete World Cup qualifiers, ultimately unsuccessfully. Having the real possibility of having to disband their teams lingering over their heads cannot be conducive to good performances on court.

Decisions on funding being granted are expected in December, and I feel every one of these marginalised sports needs to apply. Regardless of their realistic hopes of making 2020, the funding could help massively improve existing facilities and attract further investment down the line. 

This can only benefit sports needing to attract new members, while also improving performance. Not applying now will presumably not be viewed kindly in the eyes of UK Sport and with five new sports vying for money, and decisions to be made following the public consultation over the 2024 cycle, now is the time they need to be proactive.

Tokyo 2020: UK government Aspiration Fund met with mixed response by unfunded sports

MEDALS: Langridge and Ellis' bronze didn't save badminton funding
(Team GB photo)

By Steven Oldham

Team GB sporting bodies reacted in a variety of ways to last week's announcement of a £3m government-funded 'Aspiration Fund' for Tokyo 2020's Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

Announced by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, the fund is open to applications from sports not currently backed by UK Sport's World Class Programme, which is heavily weighted towards teams with the most medal potential.

Perhaps the most controversial exclusion from the current funding cycle was badminton, which lost all funding despite delivering a bronze medal in the men's doubles through Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis at Rio 2016.

Badminton England Chief Executive, Adrian Christy, said: "This is fantastic news for those sports that were left unfunded following the Tokyo 2020 investment decisions." 
"It is a really strong indication that, even when funds are tight, every sport does matter and we now look forward to developing a compelling application to UK Sport to support our players, maximising our qualification chances for 2020."

Funding will be capped at £500,000 for team sports and £275,000 for individual events, with the possibility of applying sports still missing out. 

Badminton, and Great Britain's archers, earnt a partial reprieve in March with the announcement of UK Sport's 'Medal Support Programme' which saw some athletes provided with funding. 

However, not all reaction is positive. Despite acknowledging any extra funding is welcome, the timing of the announcement has come too late for some sports. 

British Handball Chairman Paul Bray said: “While we welcome any new money for unfunded sports, as far as handball is concerned this announcement comes much too late. We will continue to lobby UK Sport to take a fairer long-term approach to funding and look forward to the outcome of the recent consultation”

British Handball also pointed to the timing of the announcement with qualification for Tokyo already underway, and the lack of funding they have received since being cut adrift after the London 2012 cycle. 

As well as a plan to improve sporting prowess, sports must demonstrate their ability to inspire greater participation and benefit local communities.

This bodes well for basketball, which despite high participation numbers, particularly among the young generation, receives no funding. British Basketball received a one-off £195,000 payment earlier this year from UK Sport; in order for them to fulfil World Cup qualifying fixtures amid ongoing concerns about the squad's financial viability. 

Other likely applicants include wheelchair rugby, fencing and weightlifting. The sports making their Olympic debut in Tokyo - including skateboarding, climbing and surfing - are also eligible to apply.

More reading: 

Olympics: Five cult heroes from Rio 2016

Tokyo 2020: UK Sport axe badminton funding despite first Olympic medal in 12 years

Olympics: How will Agenda 2020 change the future of the Games?

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Europa League: Borussia Monchengladbach look for second victory over Schalke in a week

WINNER: Gladbach top scorer Lars Stindl helps his team to victory
 By Steven Oldham

German heavyweights Schalke 04 and Borussia Monchengladbach meet tonight in the Europa League round of 16.

Both sides are having under-par seasons in the Bundesliga but still have to be considered major threats in knockout competition.

Gladbach travel to Schalke on the back of a mini revival in domestic terms - with four wins in their last five - including a 4-2 victory over tonight's opposition last weekend.

Manager Dieter Hecking - in charge since January and overseeing consistent improvement in his team's fortunes - will be without the suspended Christoph Kramer.  

Having again being drawn into a tough Champion's League group, Monchengladbach improved on last season and avoided finishing last to qualify for the final 32 of this competition, where they knocked out Fiorentina despite losing the first leg at home 1-0.

Top scorer Lars Stindl scored an impressive hat trick in that second leg victory, and almost half of his tally so far this season have come since the winter break. 

The hosts meanwhile have only won one in the same time frame and while they have quality, they remain only four points above the relegation playoff places.

S04 made light work of their Europa League group, picking up 15 points from 18, only losing their last game against Red Bull Salzburg having already long qualified. They then eliminated PAOK of Greece in the first knockout round.

Their performances in Europe have been the highlight of a poor season to date, littered with inconsistency that shouldn't afflict a team including Benedikt Howedes, Coke and Matija Nastasic. Creditable results (victory over Herta Berlin, an away draw at Bayern Munich) are often followed by defeat.

With teams like Roma, Lyon, Manchester United and Besiktas still involved, both these German giants know tough challenges still await the winner in the next round. 

LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENT: Schalke captain Benedikt Howedes

Europa League: Lyon vs Roma - battle of the big scoring marksmen Lacazette and Dzeko

KEY MAN: Olympique Lyonnais's leading scorer Alexandre Lacazette

By Steven Oldham 


This eye-catching fixture in the round of 16 sees Lyon take on Roma with the French team looking to add some much-needed consistency to their season.

They are well off the title pace in Ligue 1, 18 points behind leaders Monaco having played only one game less.  

When on form not many teams can live with them - handing Metz a 5-0 thrashing, outclassing Nancy 4-0 and crushing AZ in this competition 11-2 on aggregate, all since the start of the year. 

The goals of Alexandre Lacazette have been crucial in what has been good about Lyon's game this season - the marksman has 27 already this campaign - and he could be the difference between Lyon's season ending as a damp squib or a success.

However, out-of-sync defeats to Caen and Lille in the same timeframe, coupled with five defeats in their first ten league matches, leave them somewhere short of where they want to be.  

Victory in this competition is now pretty much their only way into the Champion's League next season barring a miracle run. 

Roma meanwhile, continue to perform strongly. Despite a narrow defeat to Napoli at the weekend, they have eight wins in ten and continue to chase Juventus at the top of Serie A.

The return of Luciano Spalletti just over a year ago to the dugout has reinvigorated Roma's fortunes despite some of his decisions not being universally accepted. The results though - a 64% win rate in 14 months - can not be argued with. 

Edin Dzeko is enjoying a purple patch this season  - the ex-Manchester City man has 29 for the season including eight in this competition - including a hat trick against Villareal in the last round. 

The mercurial form of Radja Nainggolan since the start of 2017 has been a big part of their success - he's scored six times in six games over two months - and the midfielder will surely be a key player in this fixture.

Centre back Antonio Rudiger misses out through suspension.

Both teams are not short of goals so regardless of the winner, it should be an entertaining pair of fixtures. Roma will head into the game as favourites but a lot depends on whether Lyon show up - if they do, they can cause real problems.

PURPLE PATCH: Roma striker Edin Dzeko is in lethal form

Europa League early kick-offs: Manchester United pitch winning credentials in Russia as FC Rostov await

AVAILABLE: Manchester United's Ibrahimovic can play despite ban
 By Steven Oldham

Manchester United's away clash at Russian Premier League runners-up FC Rostov leads the early kick-offs in tonight's Europa League round of 16 first leg games. 

Jose Mourinho's side will look to return to winning ways after Saturday's fiery draw with Bournemouth at Old Trafford, which saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic pick up a retrospective three-match ban after accepting violent conduct charges for his clashes with Tyrone Mings.

The state of Rostov's threadbare pitch is a more pressing concern for United with Mourinho critical of the playing surface- described by UEFA as 'not perfect, but playable'.

He said: "It's hard for me to believe we are going to play on that field - if you can call it a field. I don't know which team to play." 

United will definitely be without Eric Bailly with the Frenchman suspended after a red card in the last round against Saint-Etienne, while Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw have not made the trip. 

The returning Henrikh Mkhitaryan may now not be risked due to the pitch conditions. The Armeninan midfielder has been missing with a hamstring injury in recent fixtures. 

United should still have enough to overcome Rostov but need to be wary of complacency against a team that handed Bayern Munich a shock 3-2 defeat in the Champion's League group stages. 

The Russians performed solidly in their debut Champion's League campaign, picking up five points, finishing above seasoned European campaigners PSV Eindhoven to secure a place in this competition. They knocked Sparta Prague out 5-1 on aggregate in the previous round, winning the home leg 4-0. 

BARE: The under-fire pitch at Rostov's Olimp-2 stadium

Reigning national champions FC Copenhagen head into this fixture on the back of an unbeaten season so far in the Danish Superliga, twelve points clear of nearest challengers Brondby ahead of the league split next month. A crushing 5-0 defeat of Horsens at the weekend extended this run to 24 games. 

The Danes narrowly missed out on qualification for the last 16 of the Champion's League and were unbeaten at home in the group stage without conceding a goal.  They eliminated Bulgarian side Ludogorets in the last round.

Ajax, meanwhile, are on a nine-match unbeaten run of their own in the Eredivisie, but their momentum suffered a slight blow at the weekend, only drawing 1-1 with mid-table Groningen. 

After comfortably winning their group ahead of fellow round of 16 qualifiers Celta Vigo, the Dutch team narrowly came through the last round, defeating Legia Warsaw 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Nick Viergever's home goal in the second leg. Defenders Joel Veltman and Davinson Sanchez both miss out through suspension. 
SUSPENDED: Ajax defender Joel Veltman is banned for the first leg


Cypriot champions APOEL continue to punch above their weight in European competition, knocking out Spanish giants Athletic Bilbao in the previous round 4-3 on aggregate.

An impressive all-round performance saw them narrowly lose the first leg 3-2 before turning their opponents over at home, with Giannis Gianniotas scoring in both fixtures including the decisive penalty that took them through.

A morale-boosting 2-0 victory over Omonia in the Nicosia derby at the weekend will leave head coach Thomas Christiansen quietly confident ahead of this evening's game. 

Anderlecht, meanwhile, failed to live up to top billing in their group, finishing as runners-up to Saint-Etienne, but recovered to eliminate Zenit St Petersburg in the last round (albeit on away goals).

Domestically, they are joint top with Club Brugge but lost their most recent fixture 3-2 at Mechelen - their first league defeat since November. 

Anderlecht have no fewer than seven players one yellow card away from missing the return leg, so the likes of top scorer Youri Tielemans and double goalscorer from the Zenit victory Frank Acheampong need to be careful tonight.

IN FORM: Anderlecht's top scorer Youri Tielemans

Friday, 9 December 2016

Tokyo 2020: UK Sport axe badminton funding despite first Olympic medal in 12 years

Bronze winnners Chris Langridge & Marcus Ellis (The Telegraph)

 By Steven Oldham 

A first Olympic medal in 12 years in Rio wasn't sufficient enough for Team GB's elite badminton players as UK Sport today surprisingly withdrew all financial support for the Tokyo 2020 cycle.

The controversial decision to cut badminton's comparatively modest £5.7m funding (in contrast, GB's rowers gained £32.6m towards Rio) leaves the team's top players looking at uncertain futures leading to the next Olympiad. 

Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis became the country's first badminton players to secure an Olympic medal in over a decade by winning bronze in the men's doubles in Rio. 

UK Sport had only set the team a target of 0-1 medals at this Games, and their statement today gave no reason as to why badminton funding was removed regardless of Langridge and Ellis' success. 

Archery, fencing, weightlifting and wheelchair rugby also became victims of UK Sport's successful but ruthless policy which rewards sports with 'podium potential' only.  

The policy definitely gets results, but at what cost?  The much-discussed legacy of London 2012 in Great Britain will again be debated as the list of non-funded sports grows ever longer. 

Team sports including handball, basketball and synchronised swimming were jettisoned as soon as London was over. The 'Inspire a Generation' tagline will be a failure if children see no progression to the top in these sports.  Basketball is one of the country's most popular sports by participation but the national team will only go so far without solid financial backing.

In contrast, 42% of UK Sport funding now goes to just 4 sports - rowing, athletics, sailing and cycling.

Any potential funding for the new sports to the Olympic programme - including karate, surfing and sports climbing - will be decided at a later date. 


Rowing continues to be the best funded Olympic sport, at £32.1m over the next four years. This is down roughly £500,000 on the Rio cycle. Many sports take a small hit as overall funding is reduced by £9m to £265m. 

Britain's shooters are the big winners in this round of funding, with their figures bucking the trend, leaping to £7m from £3.9m. Two bronze medals in Rio could be considered a lesser haul than Peter Wilson's solitary gold medal from London 2012. 

Hockey and gymnastics both receive an extra £2m, with the gold-medal winning exploits of the women's hockey team and double-champion Max Whitlock.

British Cycling, however, has lost over £4m despite dominating once again in Rio, a Games in which Laura Kenny became the most successful British female Olympian of all time.

In the Paralympics, the loss of wheelchair rugby funding is compounded by rises for the majority of other disability sports, including an eye-catching 342% increase in wheelchair fencing funding to £668,000. Para-athletics takes over from swimming as the most funded sport with £11.8m to swimming's £11m.


Badminton's Olympic legacy boosted by creation of NBL

Olympics: Five cult heroes from Rio 2016 

"Legacy? What legacy?" ask British basketballers, weightlifters and water polo players as UK Sport funding withdrawn

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Olympics: Five cult heroes from Rio 2016

By Steven Oldham
Rio 2016 saw existing legends cement their place in sporting history; Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Mo Farah and so on. New stars such as Simone Biles and Nafissatou Thiam took centre stage and will look to build on their Brazilian success in four years time at Tokyo 2020.

But what about those lesser known athletes whose achievements might be overshadowed by the megastars? Here's five cult heroes from Rio.

Mónica Puig (Costa Rica)
Gold (Tennis, women's singles)

Puerto Rico's Monica Puig celebrates her gold-winning performance

22-year-old Puig upset the formbook by capturing the women's singles by defeating world number two Angelique Kerber in three sets, winning her country's first ever Olympic gold medal in the process. Unseeded Puig richly deserved her gold medal, defeating the much fancied Garbine Muguruza of Spain in straight sets ahead of eliminating double Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova in the semi finals. There were murmurs that Puig benefitted from the shock early exit of reigning champion Serena Williams but given her form, the result would be far from guaranteed. Never beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam, more eyes than ever will focus on her progress in next week's US Open.

Nick Skelton (Great Britain)
Gold (Equestrian, individual showjumping)

Nick Skelton & Big Star on their way to gold in the individual jumping
A veteran of seven Olympic Games, Nick Skelton is living proof that it's never too late to achieve your dreams. He took his first individual Olympic gold on Big Star this month at the age of 58; having recovered from a broken neck in 2000, he retired briefly back in 2001 before returning to the sport a year later. A team gold winner in London four years ago, his run to glory in Rio wasn't trouble free, and was way down the leaderboard in the third round. In the final however, with the scores reset, he and Big Star - who he recognises as the best horse he's worked with - produced three flawless runs and took gold in the six-rider jump-off ahead of Sweden's Peder Fredricson.

Joseph Schooling (Singapore)
Gold (Swimming, men's butterfly)

Singapore's first Olympic champion, swimmer Joseph Schooling

Even the great Michael Phelps was left in the wake of Singapore's first ever gold medal winner. Schooling - at 22 with more surely still to come - became Olympic champion and broke his hero Phelps' Games record and beat the American into second place all in one race. His success was no fluke - he topped the timesheet in the heats ahead of Phelps and other better known swimmers including the reigning 200m champion in the same event, South Africa's Chad le Clos. A photo of the young Schooling meeting Phelps at the Beijing 2008 Games spread quickly across the internet following his success His attention will now settle on translating Olympic glory into World Championship gold next summer in Hungary.

Osea Kolinisau (Fiji)
Gold (Rugby sevens, men's competition)

Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau celebrates leading his team to victory
Rugby sevens proved to be a great addition to the Games and it's future on the Olympic programme should be secure past Tokyo 2020 given the positive reception from fans. The men's competition was dominated by World Series champions Fiji. Captain Osea Kolinisau led from the front, laying in with four tries and nine conversions, ending the tournament as his country's top points scorer. His opening minute try in the final vs Great Britain set the tone for a masterclass in sevens rugby, and, more crucially, helped secure his country's first ever Olympic medal of any colour.

Katie Ledecky (USA)
Gold x 4 (Swimming, freestyle. 200m, 400m, 800m, 4x200m relay)

Five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky of the USA
If Katie Ledecky was any other nationality than American, her achievements would be even bigger news than they are. If it's possible to be a victim of Phelpsmania, then Katie was it. Her four gold medals, adding to her success at London 2012, takes her to five gold medals at the age of 19. She destroyed the competition in Rio, finishing her 800m some 12 seconds ahead of her nearest rival. She set new world records in both the 400 and 800m - replacing herself as the fastest woman over these distances. She is already sixth on the all time list of female Olympic medal winning swimmers and it's surely only a matter of time - four years perhaps - when she overtakes compatriot Jenny Thompson who has eight gold medals.

In a Games packed with great stories, whose was your favourite story? One of my featured athletes? Someone else? Let me know in the comments.

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