Three national governing bodies came together to discuss medal hopes and the health of their respective sports ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 .
At an invitation-only business breakfast held by three national governing bodies and supported by Sport Industry Group, British Swimming’s National Performance Director, Chris Spice and UK Athletics Chair Chris Clark sat alongside British Gymnastics CEO Jane Allen, who unveiled an upcoming UK-wide investment of £7.5m into gymnastics facilities around the country.
The investment is set to be announced in January, with pilot programmes to benefit first, before clubs around the country will be able to avail of low interest loans to invest in their gyms and facilities. The national governing body says that it has attracted 100,000 new members since the 2012 Olympics, and is now aiming to increase its capacity to add even more new participants to its clubs.
Allen said: “We know that the clubs get inundated, and [the Olympic Games] is a real draw card into the clubs. It inspires our staff, the clubs, and it’s a real injection into the sport and we’ve been trying to capitalising on that since 2012.
“Every club has a waiting list, we have a million children waiting to get into clubs throughout the UK. Sport England has invested over £800,000 in the facility in Lilleshall and the whole gym is being refurbed and will open in January. The athletes won’t believe what they see.”
British Gymnastics itself says it is investing £2m of its own money, with the rest coming from investors and stakeholders, and will set up a new company, British Gymnastics Investment Limited to oversee the initiative.
Ahead of Tokyo 2020 and beyond, British Swimming faces similar challenges to its gymnastics counterpart, owing to the nature of both sports. Both see medal hopes coming from young, teenage talent, and creating the infrastructure to nurture that talent at such an early age is high on the agenda.
Spice said: “In swimming, athletics, gymnastics particularly, the competition is massive in these sports. In rugby when it comes to the World Cup only three or four nations can win, but we have twice as many nations who can win medals. It doesn’t make the challenge harder or easier - just different. But in a sport like swimming you can be a World Champion at 17, so we need to find the talent earlier. That’s the major challenge: to find the conveyor belt, find the talent, and put a world class training programme around that talent.”
The question of inspiring the next generation is often a theme in the build-up to any Olympic Games, with all three sports looking to do that ahead of 2020. With the IAAF World Championships having just taken place in Doha, and with Eliud Kipchoge becoming the first man to run a marathon in under two hours, British Athletics Chair Chris Clark said this was a chance to inspire more people and to capitalise on the fact the sport is in the spotlight.
“Every now and then you get a superhuman and that’s just awe inspiring,” said Clark. “They come along once in a blue moon and put the light onto your sport and you have to use that. Using it as a beacon is the right thing to do, and those superhumans inspire the public, too.”
Three British athletes, each medal hopes at the 2020 Games, also spoke of their own hopes for the Games, as well as their roles in inspiring the public. World Champion swimmer James Guy spoke of the ‘Olympic Shift’ that’s taking place in his own mentality in the build-up to the Games, while Ellie Downie spoke of her desire to take her training one day at a time, with a focus on working on her weaknesses more than winning a medal.
Two-time Paralympic silver-medallist and IPC World Champion Stef Reid, meanwhile, opened up on the accident which saw her lose her right foot at the age of 16, and how her own experience has ensured she won’t miss the chance to become a role model for others and have an impact on people’s lives.
“Shortly after my accident, a man came by and he was a Para athlete,” she said. “To be honest, at that moment it wasn’t the right time for me: he pulled me out of school, and I sat sullenly across from him for a few hours when he was sharing his life. But I look back on that and I think the fact someone took the time to come out and notice me and my situation, you realise that we all have incredible opportunities on a daily basis to impact people’s lives, and it’s a big deal. And if you have the opportunity to do that on whatever scale, you should take it and you should do the best that you can with it.”