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Expert Comment: Britain's Winter Olympics performance

0171 Dr Liam O'Callaghan Wednesday 26 February 2014

Lecturer in Health Dr Liam O'Callaghan looks at Team GB's performance at the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi have been hailed as a triumph for Britain by the country’s main elite sport funding body, UK Sport. Four medals, including one gold in skeleton, equalled Great Britain’s previous best total which was achieved at the inaugural Winter Olympics at Chamonix in 1924.

The last fortnight’s successes have earned Winter sports the promise of funding increases for future events. Team GB’s main accomplishments came in sports that could scarcely be more different than each other. Curling is an intriguing sport combining dexterity, skill, patience and a mastery of seemingly endless tactical permutations. By contrast, Skeleton demands power at the take-off but little else. Moreover, it is a sport where technological advantages in sled and helmet design can be decisive.

The contrasts do not end there. Curling is British in origin, dating back to the early modern period and the Royal Caledonian Curling Club is one of the world’s oldest extant sport governing bodies. It is a sport that has cultural resonance on this island and is an organic outgrowth of the Scottish landscape. Skeleton, by contrast, occupies no significant cultural or historical position in Britain and this country’s recent success at the event owe much to the ruthlessly rationalised talent identification schemes used by UK Sport.

All of this calls into question funding priorities in sport. Skeleton bobsled is an obscure sport with no broader community role yet it received £3.5 million in National Lottery funds for its Sochi 2014 programme. All this has occurred in an era when community sporting facilities have had to absorb severe cuts. Such a blatantly regressive use of what is, ultimately, public money shows that the relentless pursuit of the medal table remains a scandalously over-emphasised goal in sport policy.

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