Rio 2016: Flying high thanks to Lottery funding

Saddleworth Independent’s sports editor Tony Bugby is reporting from his seventh Olympic Games and here he gives a unique insight into how Rio de Janeiro is coping with the greatest show on earth.

rio_olympics_2016_logo_a_pJoe Public has played a key part in Great Britain’s most successful Olympic Games on foreign soil.

By purchasing tickets for The National Lottery they have contributed towards Team GB’s efforts in Rio de Janeiro.

So each time an athlete stands proudly on the podium at a victory ceremony, the public should also take a bow knowing they have provided a helping hand.

Lottery funding in recent times has played a massive part in Britain becoming a major force in so many sports.

We have a cycling programme the envy of the world and our rowers and sailors have also dominated their fields.

At Rio swimming has enjoyed its most successful Games since 1984 while medals have been collected in sports like gymnastics, something inconceivable not long ago when eastern European nations ruled supreme.

And there is no doubt that without Lottery funding, Great Britain would not have enjoyed such successes.

It is also noticeable how appreciative the athletes are to have this funding, something which they often refer to unprompted at press conferences. They know the difference it makes to their dreams of glory, not only at the Olympics, but in sport as a whole.

Great Britain’s Olympic successes in London and Rio are a sharp contrast to the pre-Lottery days when medals were scarce.

The changes in the sporting landscape have been enormous and forgive me for harking back to Atlanta in 1996 when British sports was conceivably at its lowest ebb.

We returned home with one solitary gold – rower Steve Redgrave – and picked up only 15 medals overall.

The National Lottery was only launched in 1994 and it took time for funds to drip feed into sport.

But once it did, the results in the 20 years since Atlanta have been staggering.

Funding has helped athletes become full time whereas before they usually had to juggle work with training.

They were at a distinct disadvantage compared to athletes from Eastern Bloc countries who were powerhouses in the Olympics in the 1970s and 80s when they were considered amateurs, but only in name.

It wasn’t until 1992 in Barcelona that United States were permitted to field professional basketball players, the Dream Team that contained the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Byrd, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley.

Before then, the US fielded teams of college basketball players to uphold the ideals of amateur sport.

Yet in those days, the playing field was uneven. Athletes from the communist eastern European nations claimed to be amateur, but they were effectively full-time as they invariably were attached to the military and trained full-time.

East Germany, renowned for the sprinters it produced, is no longer a state, Romania and Russia monopolised gymnastics and it was similar in so many other sports.

Sporting success was massively important for these countries as governments used it as propaganda to prop up their regimes.

But once the Iron Curtain disappeared and these nations escaped from the clutches of communism, their dominance dwindled as resources were diverted elsewhere.

Today the nations that once were in the eastern bloc are only a shadow of the sporting powerhouses they once were.

And while they are no longer forces, the like of Great Britain have emerged from the sporting wilderness.

In each of the five Olympics since Atlanta, there has been a marked improvement in the medal tally for Great Britain.

From a paltry 15 in Atlanta – one gold, eight silver and six bronze – we went to 65 in London, comprising 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze.

And in Rio, Great Britain could well match the 65 medals from London, an amazing achievement because nations invariably experience a dip after hosting Games.

Hosts usually invest heavily in the build up to their event and usually excel. However, afterwards funding tends to be cut and results and performances suffer.

In the case of Great Britain, Lottery funding and the continued feel-good factor after London 2012 has helped sustain the sporting success.

And having been at Atlanta and experienced a notable lack of success, it makes you appreciate and savour the successes of recent Games.

Sport is often cyclical so it is unlikely it will be sustained – though it could be if Lottery funding continues at its current rate.

We are certainly riding the crest of a sporting wave at the moment so my message would be enjoy these magical exploits as they may not last for ever.

 

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