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Page last updated at 18:53 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Cash cuts 'threaten' 2012 legacy


Report - GB waterpolo waits on funding

By Matt Slater

London 2012's potential to boost sport across the UK is at risk because of a failure to properly invest in Team GB, a senior Olympic official has warned.

The 12 sports that missed out on full 2012 funding in December will learn their reduced budgets on Thursday.

David Sparkes, British Swimming's chief executive, has told BBC Sport he will be forced to cut the men's water polo team if the news is as bad as expected.

"Aren't the Olympics supposed to be about the athletes?" said Sparkes.

"We should be funding them as a priority. How can we find 9.3bn for the infrastructure, which is a huge amount, but then be 50m short for the athletes?"

We'll probably only end up with enough money to prepare one team, and not very well, for the Games

British Swimming's David Sparkes
Water polo is one of eight Olympic and four Paralympic sports that saw their 2012 plans thrown into doubt when government plans to raise 100m in sponsorship from the private sector failed to raise a single penny.

That sum was halved to 50m by additional raids on the National Lottery and Treasury, but the shortfall was still too great for UK Sport, the agency that distributes public funding, to meet its promises of "optimal" support for all in the run-up to London.

With over 292m of the revised budget already allocated, the 12 sports in limbo have only 11.2m to share between them.

This represents a significant cut on what they had to spend in the build-up to Beijing: between them, those sports were given 25.6m for their 2008 preparations.

Three of these sports - handball, volleyball and water polo - are believed to be looking at allocations of 1.5m each for the next four years, half what they were given for Beijing and less than a third of what they hoping for to be truly competitive in London.

Water polo, however, believes that will not be enough to get two teams, men's and women's, into the pool in 2012 and has said it will choose between them if their budget is anything less than 2m.

"We will have to make some hard choices," said Sparkes, whose organisation runs the diving, swimming, synchronised swimming and water polo programmes.

Olympic water polo action from Beijing
GB won its fourth water polo gold in 1920 but has not taken part since 1956
"We'll probably only end up with enough money to prepare one team, and not very well, for the Games, which means either the men or the women will not be in London in 2012.

"That means the British public will not be able to come along to the Olympics and watch Great Britain competing in a sport we invented.

"It will also be a disappointment to (London 2012 organisers) Locog, because at the end of the day, they depend on ticket sales for their income."

A decision to cut one of the teams - and it is the men who are most at risk, whilst the women's outside chances of a medal are also now in jeopardy - would come as a huge blow to the athletes themselves and the sport in general.

Water polo in this country has only received serious backing for the last three years. Elite and development squads were assembled, coaches and support staff were hired and the programme was centralised in Manchester. This meant major upheaval in terms of jobs, houses and university courses for all involved.

But UK Sport's backing enabled the squad to become something approaching full-time athletes - although nearly all of them juggle their training with part-time work or study - and progress on the international stage, particularly for the women's team, has been rapid.

All of that now, however, is under threat, and for Sparkes this is both a broken promise and a wasted opportunity.

Nick Hume, GB water polo's performance director, agrees and says it will be a "disaster" for a sport that has been neglected for 50 years to not take part in a home Olympics.

"If you look at team sports in this country we have a systematic failure in getting youngsters to come through," Hume added.

"Compare our system to Europe, where they have a healthy club structure in sports like handball, volleyball and water polo.

If you bid for an Olympics surely you go in there thinking you are going to back every sport

Fran Leighton
GB women's water polo captain
"The London Olympics were supposed to help us do the same. If we don't make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we will have failed."

It is a point the British Olympic Association has been making for some time and news that its ambition to field a full team in 2012 is under threat will cause considerable alarm.

A statement from the BOA to BBC Sport reiterated the desire to compete in every event - as the majority of host nations do - but said it did not want to pre-empt UK Sport's announcement.

It added, however, it would continue to work with UK Sport to help raise funds for sport in the build-up to 2012, particularly for those "whose funding is uncertain in the months and years ahead".

UK Sport, for its part, remains confident it can make a dent in that 50m deficit, and has said all along that its funding decisions are open to review and will be comprehensively looked at again in 2010. Whether that will be soon enough for the likes of water polo is another question.

Fran Leighton gave up the offer of a well-paid job in London to pursue her Olympic dream with the water polo team in Manchester. She has spent most of the last year on the poolside with a shoulder injury and is set to start training again on Friday, the day after UK Sport confirms water polo's budget.

"This week could be the best or the worst of my life," the 26-year-old admitted.

"I can't help thinking that if you bid for an Olympics surely you go in there thinking you are going to back every sport and compete in every event. That's how you lift all sports throughout the country."

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see also
Sports handed London 2012 budgets
03 Dec 08 |  Olympics
2012 funding sport-by-sport
03 Dec 08 |  Olympics
Olympic funding reaction
03 Dec 08 |  Olympics
Hungary retain water polo title
24 Aug 08 |  Swimming
Dutch stun US for water polo gold
21 Aug 08 |  Swimming
Polo king Carpenter targets 2012
09 Jun 08 |  Swimming
GB appoint 2012 water polo coach
10 Dec 07 |  Swimming
Brown reveals 2012 funding boost
22 Mar 06 |  Olympics 2012

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