Sports agency merger has "risks" says Campbell
Source: Sports Journalist Association (England)
Monday's Government announcement of the merger of sports funding agencies UK Sport and Sport England, has received a mixed welcome from sports administrators, many of whom look to UK Sport’s record of delivering sporting success in the past decade.
Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sports confirmed that he will go ahead with the plans outlined in the Conservative manifesto.(Read the statement here)
The announcement comes just as London Olympic organisers are about to mark two years to go to the start of the 2012 Games.
Baroness Campbell, chair of UK Sport, issued this statement:
“The news that the Department is planning to merge UK Sport with Sport England goes further than we had previously expected.
“What is crucial now is that all sides engaged in this decision understand not only the issues but also the risks involved in such a move. We will as always play our part in seeking the best solution for sport and seeking to make the delivery system as efficient as possible.
“But equally we are very aware not only of the existing effectiveness of our operation but the incredible strides we have taken in high performance sport over the past decade, and the significant progress made in developing a system that is not only delivering results like those seen in Beijing but also making the UK the envy of the sporting world.
“With London 2012 on the horizon, it is vital that we continue to build on this and don’t distract preparations for home nation success in two year’s time.”
Read BBC's Matt Slater's take on the merger:
As dull but worthy stories go it is hard to top a tale about the merger of two non-departmental public bodies.
But trust me, Monday's announcement that Sport England and UK Sport are to become a single agency (they hate the word quango) is less boring and more important than it sounds.
Before I explain why, however, I should probably tell you what they do.
Sport England funds grassroots projects and is responsible for boosting participation in sport and protecting the country's playing fields.
UK Sport bankrolls Team GB's Olympic and Paralympic Preparations. It is all about elite activity and sits at the top of British sport's participation pyramid.
Clearly, there is some crossover in what they do but the two areas of expertise and responsibility are pretty separate.
Between them, they spend about £200m of public money a year at the moment, with much of this coming from the National Lottery.
Recent Evidence suggests the current funding model is producing golden results for British sport
The problem, of course, is that the country is skint. If we cannot afford to build hospitals and schools, Sport England and UK Sport will just have to get used to the idea of hot-desks and sharing the photocopiers.
The Coalition Government argues it has a cast-iron commitment to funding elite athletes and believes this new merged body could actually lead to more investment in sport with increased contributions from the lottery and the private sector.
There is a certain logic to Sports Minister Hugh Robertson's assertion that it cannot be the most effective use of public money to have two separate bodies in separate London offices but I still question the timing and reasoning behind this decision.
Let me explain why:
First, we have spent decades bumbling along at the elite level, achieving the occasional success despite the "system", only to get our acts together in the last decade and properly invest time and money in our best sportsmen and women.
The results have been incredible, with Team GB moving from 36th in the Olympic medal table in Atlanta in 1996, to 10th in Sydney and Athens, to fourth in Beijing.
UK Sport is held up around the globe as an example of how you run elite sport. Having borrowed ideas and people from abroad, the world is now copying us.
Second, Sport England has been constantly interfered with over the last decade as ministers have changed strategies and targets. The last couple of years, however, have seen the latest "trust the sports" approach start to work.
Duplication of effort has been trimmed and participation levels are rising, albeit slowly.
Three, as you may have noticed, the Olympics are now just two years away. This is both the biggest piece of work and greatest opportunity British sport will get in most of our lifetimes.
Is this really the best time for the government to be asking the two most important agencies in this area to be worrying about a merger?
Four, grassroots sport in the UK is a devolved issue. Sport England has counterparts in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. UK Sport, however, works across the nations.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has to make cuts to his department's budget
Any marriage of convenience will have to accommodate this complexity. Will a merged English one-stop shop work any better with the Celtic fringe than the current grassroots/elite split?
Yes, I know we have spent the last month bleating about the World Cup, Wimbledon and any other sporting event we shamefully failed to win, but we consistently fail to see sport as a solution to some of our most glaring problems: childhood obesity, diabetes, social exclusion, teenage crime and so on.
These are serious issues and they require serious, joined-up solutions.