Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
22 Mar 2014
11:00 am

Has winning Olympic medals gone too far?

Sean Van Staden

As a young boy you watched and followed your favourite team from season to season.

Sean van Staden

The success, the failures and the rivalry between teams shapes your perception and the acknowledgment that one day you will be that star that plays for your team and ultimately for your country.

Time warps by and that day becomes a reality. Your passion, love and dedication to training and learning has shaped the player you are today. You have achieved incredible milestones and continue to push towards a world stage where you can get to showcase your talents.

What happens when your government decides to stop millions and millions of pounds in funding at elite level because some “pencil-pushers” believe that your national team doesn’t have the ability to win any medals in the 2016 Olympics in Rio or in four years later in Tokyo?

This is exactly the reality facing British basketball and six other sports after UK Sport’s annual Olympic and Paralympic investment review.

Is Great Britain at fault for taking money away from sports that in “their eyes” don’t show potential for medals?

The answer lies in how Britain won so many medals when they hosted the last Olympic Games in 2012. The goal was simple for them: identify potential medal contenders and hire the best coaches, scientists and support staff money can buy.

Scientists had single-focus jobs and had to calculate through reverse engineering what it would take to win gold with the current world records .

A typical day at the office would include analysing many steps, stride length or correct movement patterns it would take to beat the current scores.

By studying Britain’s current medal contenders and how they move, scientists were able to pinpoint what areas needed most attention to close the gap between a silver and a gold medal.

Through reverse engineering, Britain managed to improve their gold medal counts from nine gold medals and a collective medal count of 30 in 2004, to an astonishing 29 gold medals and a total medal count of 65 in the 2012 Olympics.

Britain has set a target to beat their medal count and by doing so needs more funding and more expertise. It cost Britain close to £4.6 million, or R82.8 million per gold medal.

In a sport like basketball, where you can only win one medal but have to carry the cost of an entire 15-man squad plus coaches, means that is not viable for the UK committee to invest so much money into a sport that needs vast resources, or sports that are under performing, such as British wrestling and synchronised swimming, to name a few.

I can fully understand the frustration teams have when their potential Olympic dreams are shattered by having sponsorship chopped. Worst of all, what will be the repercussions for youth development of the next decade through lack of government funding? Could this send basketball and other sports into talent remission?

From a business executive standpoint, it all boils down to the bottom line. It is more economical to fund 15 new potential athletes who can each bring back a medal than an entire team who can only bring back one.

At the end of the day, if a country does not produce sufficient medals, heads will role and, in the end, no one will be getting any – or very little – government development sponsorship.