Saturday, March 25, 2006

World Champ Slams Athlete Welfare Dependency

We've blogged many times about the appalling cost of the 2012 London Olympics (eg see here). And as Gordo confirmed in the Budget, part of the cost will be to put our 2012 "super-heroes" onto the public payroll.

So it's interesting to hear what a real Olympic hero thinks of that. Michael Johnson, the US 200m and 400m sprint legend, was commenting on the attitude of British sprint "stars", and their dire performances at the Commonwealth Games. As you will know, that including crashing out of the 4x100m relay heats by actually dropping the baton. Johnson says the UK development system "rewards mediocrity":

"They (British sprinters) have lost the hunger and it is the system which causes them to lose the hunger. The system rewards mediocrity. It rewards Great Britain's best, not the world's best. These athletes have it before they have done anything at all. They have celebrity and sponsorship and things we work hard for in the US."

"As American athletes we were often envious of the support you get in Britain but at the same time it can hurt you because these athletes have the celebrity status and the sponsorship and all the things we have to work so hard for in America."

In other words, Britain's system of public funding for athletes has already killed that all-important "hunger". Like any other form of welfare dependency it has sapped the will to succeed. And how much worse is it going to be when all of Gordo's extra zillions have plumped up the cushions to hitherto undreamed of plumptiousness?

Of course, that's not what the Department of Culture Media and Sport says. But really. Who are we going to believe? Five times Olympic gold medallist and nine times world champion Michael Johnson? Or a bunch of couch-potato athletics "experts" from the darkest bureaucratic recesses of the DCMS?

Hmm. Tricky one.

PS The success of our swimmers at the Games is testimony to the focused direct training methods of national performance director Bill Sweetenham. Sweetenham is the Aussie who controversially brought Aussie Rules training methods to the genteel world of British swimming. So controversially in fact that some of his charges complained of bullying, and there was a steward's inquiry. He didn't realise that a country where politicians have pretty well banned competitive sports in state schools was not entirely ready for him. Post-inquiry he says he'll have to tone down his methods: "I have been burned by the investigation. I won't be able to fast-track, I'll have to be genteel. It's not the ideal approach if you want success." Indeed it isn't, but as results in Melbourne show, if you truly madly deeply want success in the ultra-competitive world of international sport, there's no alternative to gritting a few teeth. £500m more public money on cushions ain't going to do it.

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