The role of UK Sport in Olympic success

The majority of A-level P.E. students gain their knowledge of sport from either participating (or officiating/coaching) in a particular activity, or through the media.  The problem with the media is that it is dominated by just a few sports.  Simply asking A-level P.E. students to name elite female performers or elite swimmers/athletes who did not win gold medals will provide evidence of how sparse student knowledge can be.  They think all elite performers’ are millionaires and do not appreciate that they only ever hear about the successful performers and know little about those who are striving to achieve.


Team GB’s success at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics was greeted with the acclaim it deserved.  While millions of people cheered on day after day of British triumphs, it is easy to forget how it was achieved.


Sir Chris Hoy said “The bottom line is without UK Sport, the support I received through lottery funding and the World Class Performance Programme, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  I would still be in the sport I’m sure, but there is no chance I’d have achieved these goals.  It’s simply not possible at this level and in this day and age.”


Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic performers are given, quite simply, the best support in the world.  It is the job of UK Sport to make sure that our athletes have the best resources available to maximise their chances at the highest level of international competition.

At the heart of this support is UK Sport’s philosophy of No Compromise – a commitment to channel the resources needed towards athletes and sports with the greatest chance of succeeding on the world stage, both in the immediate future and in the longer term.  No Compromise demands that UK Sport reinforces excellence, supports talent, challenges under-performance and rejects mediocrity.  Put simply, UK Sport strives to invest the right resources, in the right athletes, for the right reasons.

This approach, along with record levels of investment from the National Lottery, Exchequer and Team 2012 helped Great Britain achieve 65 Olympic medals and 120 Paralympic medals at London 2012.


UK Sport receives and invests around £100m a year in about 1,200 athletes.  The money comes from the National Lottery, the Exchequer (Government/taxes) and a private sponsorship scheme “Team 2012”.


This money was used to fund:


  • • Mission 2012 – a performance monitoring process which measured the progress of each sport against three dimensions: athlete performance, system and climate in the sport
  • • Coaching – programmes dedicated to supporting our best athletes and producing the next generation of home grown high performance coaches
  • • Talent ID – helping sports unearth athletes not just for London but Sochi, Rio and beyond
  • • Research and Innovation – working with industry and Universities to develop cutting edge competition and training technologies that can make the difference between gold and silver
  • • Sports Science and Medicine services delivered through a dedicated Institute network


So UK Sport provides the best athletes with the best coaches, the newest technology and the best support (help) available.


UK Sport is also responsible for investing £3.5m a year in co-ordinating the bidding and staging of major international sporting events in the UK.


Athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery backed World Class Performance Programme received support for their Olympic or Paralympic campaign in two ways.  Firstly, UK Sport funds their governing body to provide a range of support services, without which the UK’s top athletes would find it difficult to be competitive on the world stage.  Each sport’s Performance Programme is overseen by a ‘Performance Director’, whose job it is to coordinate all the back-up that athletes require to deliver on their potential, which could include any (or all) of the following:

  • • World Class Coaches
  • • Sports science and medicine support
  • • Warm weather training and acclimatisation
  • • International competition schedule
  • • Athlete development programmes
  • • Access to appropriate training facilities


The second means of support was through a personal award, known as an Athlete Personal Award or APA. This award, which is paid directly to the athletes, serves to contribute to the athlete’s ordinary living costs and to contribute towards their personal sporting costs.


How much a performer receives is determined by a number of criteria, the main one being the level at which an athlete is capable of performing. There are three performance categories for ‘Podium’ level athletes:


  • Band A – Medallist at Olympic or World Championship level – maximum award – £27,737
  • Band B – Top 8 finish at Olympic or World level competition – maximum award – £20,804
  • Band C – Likely to be major championship performers – maximum award – £13,869


These amounts are reduced if the performer has their own income sources (sponsorship, appearance money, prize money, etc).


The average APA payment to athletes on the Podium programme is currently around £18,500. The average figure for Development level athletes is closer to £7,500.  How does that compare to an elite footballer, rugby player or cricketer???


Those Olympians and Paralympians are not in it for the money!  Their success is not due to their being able to train regularly because they are paid to do so.  The success is because they have the best support programme in the world.  UK Sport has trained and/or employed the very best coaches.  They have used the very best scientific minds to develop the very best technology to help performance. They work on trying to make every aspect of an athletes performance slightly better.


An idea of how simple some of this ‘best technology’ can be is found at


Here, Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s performance director explains that, one way of making the Team GB better was realising that training time was lost if the cyclist was ill.  They found out that the main cause of illness was not washing your hands properly, and so they found from surgeons how to wash your hands properly, which meant less chance of illness and less chance of missing training.  So British Cycling’s 7 Gold medals at London 2012 was because the performers washed their hands properly!  Money well-spent!

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