Sports that fail to live up to expectations in Tokyo will not face the threat of funding cuts for future Olympic cycles, according to UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger.
Grainger intimated that Britain’s elite sports funding body is unlikely to set rigid medal targets for next month’s Games due to the lack of data arising from the wholesale cancellation of international competitions during the crisis.
The 12-month delay in the Tokyo Games put UK Sport in the unprecedented position of announcing its funding programme for the subsequent Games in Paris 2024 last December, and the PA news agency understands those rewards are essentially ring-fenced.
Grainger said: “The big discussion is what we do around the targets because we have always based them in the past on the performances in the lead up to the Games. These Games we have seen some qualification events but most have been cancelled.
“We are discussing it with the sports and the sports themselves have targets in mind. But how far we go to publishing them, we are still in discussion. Because it might be an unhealthy distraction to a lot of the sports at this point.”
The announcement of £352million of funding for the Paris Olympics and Paralympics represented a marginal increase on the sum given to Tokyo, and also saw the range of sports increased from 32 to 43.
The funding body has been increasingly keen to distance itself from a perceived ‘win at all costs’ mentality, especially in light of a succession of abuse allegations across a number of sports.
Last year, UK Sport’s chief operating officer Simon Morton signalled what he described as a “more progressive” approach post-Tokyo, with funding cycles extended to 12 years and incorporating more athlete support, particularly in the area of mental health.
Grainger denied, however, that neither the reluctance to set hard targets for Tokyo, nor such longer-term objectives, represented any desire to deflect from the pursuit of podium places.
She added: “In sports I have been in contact with, there is still an ambition there. It is not a sense of not wanting to set targets, or dampening down expectations.
“There is still a huge amount of ambition. It is the lack of information that means we cannot set numbers right now.”
Earlier this week, British Gymnastics performance director James Thomas confirmed a target of around four medals for his sport – three down on the haul from Rio, but still a number it appears highly unlikely to be in a position to achieve.
For Team GB as a whole, eclipsing the 67 medals won in Rio seems an equally long shot, but Team GB Chef de Mission Mark England echoed Grainger’s sentiments and stressed his expectation that British athletes will rise to the challenge.
“We haven’t put a medal target on it and we won’t, to be honest,” said England. “I don’t think UK Sport will, either.
“It has been very obvious that any competition data in terms of where we stand against our main competitors across the world really isn’t there.
“We are taking a highly competitive and performance-based team. You will see a top team represent Great Britain. We are excited to see what they can do.”