By Alastair Balmain
Saturday, 25 August 2012
Discussing the legacy of the London Games
Despite a hefty dose of global cynicism, London delivered. The organisers of the Olympics had 16 days to inspire a generation and the consensus is that, in the past fortnight, they achieved their aim. But the question in the rosy afterglow of success has to be asked: how do we harness the energy of London 2012 to ensure our sport benefits?
Already Team GB’s phenomenal showing has had an impact. The Prime Minister confirmed on Sunday that UK Sport will receive £125million per year, matching funding given in the run-up to London 2012. We should not let anyone forget that Team GB’s success included a spectacular gold medal for shooting and, thanks largely to the BBC’s coverage of Peter Wilson’s Double-Trap final and his subsequent high-profile and eloquent interviews, that task is made far less onerous. The country has seen that shooters put in the same commitment and dedication in the pursuit of gold as any other athlete. We must ensure that dedication and potential for success is acknowledged and fairly treated.
Our chances of receiving appropriate future funding are enhanced by success at this Games — the Catch-22 of UK Sport’s funding is that medal success in a given field leads to greater investment, as can be seen with rowing, sailing and cycling. After Beijing in 2008, from which Team GB came home with no shooting medals, our sport’s pot was cut from £5.1million to just £2.5million for our London 2012 effort — no-one rewards failure in this arena. Tellingly, in the UK, in common with archery, shooting was the lowest-funded of any Olympic discipline going in to the London 2012 Games. To put those sums into context, cycling received funding of £26million in the run-up to London. Our cyclists achieved an impressive 12 medals, including eight golds. With the benefit of immediate hindsight, badminton, with £9.6million of funding in the run-up to the Games and no ensuing medal success, seems very well funded. The sport only has five medal events in contrast to shooting’s 15. Team GB fielded 11 shooters at the London Games, so we had double the potential number of medal winners than badminton, yet roughly a third of the funding. Thanks to Peter Wilson’s gold (and the intervention of Dubai’s Sheikh Ahmed Al-Maktoum) that makes our sport’s single gold look very good value.
Breaking the “elite” myth
During the games, much was made in the press of Team GB’s success in “elite” sports, including sailing, rowing, shooting and equestrian disciplines. In this context, the word was simply a euphemism for those whose agenda disparages sports perceived to be the preserve of the well-heeled. While anyone reading this knows that shooting is a sport enjoyed by people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, from a public perspective, shooting’s image as an accessible and affordable activity is critical to its continued success. Representative bodies do a tremendous job with initiatives such as National Shooting Week having a real impact, but there is more we can do for ourselves.
There can be few in the UK who do not now know that Peter Wilson is a farmer’s son. It makes for a great line in a news story, but it also illustrates his route into the world of competitive target shooting. In common with others such as Richard Faulds and George Digweed who have achieved on the international stage, he grew up in a shooting family. Live game is as familiar to them as clayshooting. Last week, Peter Wilson stated his path to success quite plainly: “Six years ago, I googled ‘clayshooting near you’. Now I’m Olympic champion. You can do it too.”
Funding without the talent to promote is meaningless, but we have that talent in the shape of the 480,000 or so live quarry shooters in the UK. We all of us have seen youngsters in the field who possess unreasonable amounts of natural ability. A prime example is Charlotte Kerwood. It took her three years to go from being a novice aged 12 to a Commonwealth gold medallist at 15. We have plenty of young stalkers, airgunners and pigeon shooters whom we casually describe as handy or natural Shots — are we missing a trick? Our sport has come out of the Olympics well. The mantra of “more medals in more sports” that rocketed Team GB up the rankings proved that as a nation we have strength in a wide range of arenas. That includes shooting, which has been given a mainstream profile. Our task is to capitalise on that.
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