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Fears remain over 2012 cash cuts

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Despite a late 29m boost from Government, many potential members of Team GB at London 2012 remain vulnerable to budget cuts

By Matt Slater

Officials from developing Olympic sports have warned cuts to Team GB's budget for London 2012 would have a "disastrous" impact on them.

The four-year spending plans for 2012 are announced on Wednesday but, with a 50m hole still present in the budget, cuts for some sports are inevitable.

Table tennis is widely believed to be one of those vulnerable sports.

"I'm very worried but I think we deserve the right decision," said performance manager Steen Kyst Hansen.

"I think we deserve at least the same amount as we were given last time. A cut would be a disaster.

If we lost funding we might not even make it to 2012

Paul Drinkhall
British table tennis number one
"You have to remember the human aspect. We have four coaches on full-time contracts and in the present financial climate it would be very difficult to go out and find a big bag of money to pay them. So people will lose their jobs, perhaps even me.

"It takes 10 years to produce a top international table tennis player. I think we have proved we are on the right track.

"But if the cut comes, and it is deep, it could be the end of international table tennis in Britain."

The British Table Tennis Federation has only received backing from UK Sport, the agency that funds Olympic and Paralympic sport in this country, since 2006. That money, a total of 2.5m (out of an overall 2005-2009 Team GB budget of 265m), has enabled the sport to make sweeping changes.

Britain's squad of elite players has moved to superb facilities at the English Institute of Sport (EIS) in Sheffield, where they are able to train twice a day against world-class practice partners - mainly Chinese players on short-term contracts - under the critical gaze of leading foreign coaches.

They also have access to the EIS's sports science experts and follow a competition programme designed to prepare them for London 2012.

Paul Drinkhall
Drinkhall goes to the world junior championships as a genuine contender
These measures have made a dramatic impact. Team GB's juniors, particularly on the boys' side, have dominated European table tennis in recent years. British number one Paul Drinkhall is ranked third in the world in his age group and goes to next week's world junior championships in Madrid as one of the favourites.

Hansen, who competed for his native Denmark before coaching the Danish and Spanish national sides, is convinced the squad he is developing is capable of great things in 2012 and beyond.

"We said right from the start that we wanted to compete with China. It's a big task but we want to dream big," he said.

"I think on the men's side, with Paul (Drinkhall) especially, we have a chance if we get the funding we deserve.

"If we don't get the funding, I will have to tell Paul to move abroad and make his own way to the top. But it will be almost impossible."

The 18-year-old Drinkhall, who narrowly failed to qualify for Beijing and become the first Briton to compete in the Olympic table tennis tournament since 2000, is in a better position than his team-mates as he has personal sponsorship deals, but he also fears the worst if UK Sport makes swingeing cuts.

"If we lost funding for (the Sheffield centre) and we were all at home training individually, we might not even make it to 2012," said Drinkhall.

"A lot of the players would have to get jobs, which would mean they'd be training less and possibly not even playing table tennis when they could be at the Olympics fighting for medals. The talent is there. This team could win a lot of medals."

Whatever happens, there will be a GB volleyball team in London - we'll make it work

Andrew Benson
Great Britain volleyball team
But such sentiments are not the sole preserve of Britain's table tennis players. There are five other sports - basketball, handball, volleyball, water polo and wrestling - Team GB failed to compete in at Beijing that UK Sport has been funding since 2006. That was when Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced extra money for elite sport in his final budget as Chancellor.

His 600m package for the six years up to 2012 was based on a split of 300m from the lottery, 200m from the Exchequer and 100m of private-sector money. It is the last component of that package which has proved problematic and left UK Sport with the unenviable task of looking for savings.

Extra lottery revenue and last-minute lobbying has reduced that shortfall to 50m but that still represents 14% of the annual budget and UK Sport admits "difficult calls" will need to be made.

Volleyball is one place it has been suggested it might look for those savings, although how much can be trimmed from such a streamlined programme is debatable.

An initial investment of 4.1m over two years has been used to attract top coaches, establish full-time men's and women's squads in Sheffield and pay for a beach volleyball set-up in Bath.

British volleyball's hard-working support staff have been able to maintain a bigger pool of players by using personal contacts to get our better players contracts abroad, bringing them back to join the developing players ahead of key competitions.

British beach volleyball player Denise Johns
GB beach volleyballer Denise Johns wants to return to Whitehall in 2012
A total of 49 athletes are now part of volleyball's 2012 plans, with the majority getting by on the 6,000 annual grants they get from UK Sport.

Women's squad member Rachel Laybourne's story is typical. The 26-year-old returned to her native Sheffield when the British team started to take shape.

"Most of the team have made huge sacrifices to be here," Laybourne said.

"I was in a full-time job with a good salary in London, but I've given that up. Others have moved degree courses and houses to be here."

Andrew Benson, who spent a season in the Dutch leagues with the British team is convinced a medal in London is not beyond them, providing UK Sport does not pull the plug on Wednesday.

"If the finance is taken away it would be a massive blow. Everything we've set up here - the athletes, the coaches, the equipment - costs money," said Benson.

"But whatever happens, there will be a GB volleyball team in London. We'll make it work so I'm not too worried, but a cut would just make things a hell of lot more difficult."

It would also be a huge waste of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to showcase new sports and boost participation in a variety of sports across the country.

Team GB's bosses still have over 300m to spend on our London 2012 hopefuls: that should be more than enough to fuel the proven medal-winners of cycling, rowing and sailing, and back the potential of those sports that are eager to join them on the podium.

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see also
Funding reprieve for 2012 sports
02 Dec 08 |  Olympics
Smith calls for gymnastics cash
21 Nov 08 |  Olympics
GB athletes hit by funding cuts
05 Nov 08 |  Athletics
GB handball issues Olympic plea
24 Oct 08 |  Olympics
Cash boost for 2012 medal hopes
06 Oct 08 |  Olympics
Olympic Dreams - Paul Drinkhall
11 Jul 08 |  London 2012
Drinkhall targets Olympic glory
08 Mar 07 |  Table Tennis
GB name beach volleyball coaches
18 Dec 06 |  Volleyball
British volleyball team for 2012
24 Oct 06 |  Volleyball
Brown reveals 2012 funding boost
22 Mar 06 |  Olympics 2012


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