In the first blog about the after effects of the Sochi Games, we came to the conclusion that Jenny Jones’ bronze medal individually ‘cost’ £41,608, while the costs of the entire Team GB Park and Pipe programme ran to £600,000.
These figures lead to another obvious question, something which was really the point of Sean Ingle’s Guardian piece and which we’ll try and examine here. Is spending taxpayers’ cash in this way ‘worth’ it?
It all depends on how you define success. Column inches? Awareness? Medals? Participation? Any answer to this question in the case of snowboarding must first be placed in the context of the wider debate about sports funding in the UK.
It is a debate that has been rumbling on for the last 16 years, after Great Britain posted our lowest ever medal haul at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The old approach (roughly: let’s meet the minimum qualification standard and if anyone flukes a medal and gets national sainthood status in the process, it’s a bonus) was gone forever.
In its place, financed by the National Lottery, came a professional, analytical approach that led to the adoption of one key metric as a means of measuring success: medals. Governing bodies now had to prove their programmes offered athletes a legitimate chance of a medal over an agreed cycle (usually two Olympic Games, or eight years) or expect to have it cut, sharpish. Succeed, and you could expect your funding to go up.
This ‘no compromise’ approach has transformed sport in this country in many ways. Firstly and most obviously, we’ve started winning medals. Secondly, sports that have enthusiastically embraced the approach such as cycling and swimming have undergone complete transformations from the grassroots up.
When the model works, it can work incredibly well, and the Sochi Games marked the first time the approach was used on winter sports. It meant that each different discipline had different budgets and targets (another reason Ingle’s piece, which conflated all British winter Olympic sports, was wide of the mark), making it a truly crucial event for the future of pro snowboarding and skiing in this country.
British Ski and Snowboarding are the governing body that get the cash from UK Sport. So how did they do? Do UK Sport feel like they got value for money?
UK Sport’s target for the team was between one and two medals, something achieved almost immediately with Jenny’s bronze medal. That alone would have been enough to justify the programme and funding in the eyes of UK Sport, but the encouraging results of other riders like Billy Morgan, James Woods and Jamie Nicholls mean that our sports can probably expect an increase in funding in the build up to the 2018 Games in PyeongChang in South Korea.
Liz Nicholls, Chief Executive of UK Sport, certainly suggested as much in a recent statement:
"Sochi has been an historic Winter Olympics for sport in Great Britain. These games will be remembered as a step change in the way we can compete against the rest of the world in targeted winter disciplines…following so many outstanding performances in Sochi I anticipate that there will be an increase in our investment in to winter sports”.
Not that British Ski and Snowboard Performance Director Paddy Mortimer, the man responsible for the alpine, park, pipe, cross country, skiercross, snowboard cross, aerial skiing, moguls and ski jumping programmes, is breaking out the champagne and cigars just yet.
“It’s great that UK Sport are pleased with what we’ve done. They believe that the addition of Park and Pipe to the British Olympic programme has been revolutionary. Myself, I think the next two years are key. If you look at some other sports, they’ve done really well and then nothing has happened afterwards. Now, the hard work begins. The Sochi Games is a stepping stone to demonstrate that Britain has got talent and the ability to compete at the top table. The best accolade for the organisation will be when we win other medals in other disciplines”.
Whether this hard-line medal-winning metric is the ‘right’ way to measure success is another debate entirely. There are undoubted drawbacks to the system and we’re already seeing the results of this in other sports, something we’ll look at in a future blog. But the fact remains that, in the current UK Sport environment, our team exceeded their targets and justified their funding.
For Mortimer, the success of the ‘others sports’ he mentions that have taken advantage of the system offer a potential road map for further growth - cultural differences notwithstanding. In cycling’s case, early success in the form of Chris Boardman’s gold at the Barcelona Games led to more funding, more medals and more participation. So it went, until in twenty years the culture of cycling in this country had completely changed, with the sport moving from the margins to the mainstream - Sir Bradley Wiggins anyone?
Will Team GB’s performance mean more potential young Olympians taking up snowboarding?
So is the UK snowboarding industry, for example, about to ‘do a cycling’ off the back of Jenny’s success? Will a’Sochi bounce’ filter down to the shops, Snowdomes, brands and and mean more snowboarders buying more kit?
To answer that, in the next blog we’ll try and see if there’s any evidence that this success is trickling down to the grassroots level in the form of increased participation and sales.