According to Labour’s former Olympics Minister Dame Tessa Jowell: “If, in 2020, we’re looking back at a team GB that has not performed at the level that it did Rio or in London then it will be fair to say that Brexit was one of the reasons.
Rio 2016 could be Team GB’s last truly great Olympic Games, as concerns mount that forthcoming political and economic upheaval as a consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will make it difficult to sustain the investment in sport necessary for British athletes to deliver the dominant performances the country has come to expect from them at Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
The former Chancellor George Osborne pledged a 29 per cent increase in exchequer funding for elite sport in what turned out to be his final Autumn Statement last November.
That spending commitment is yet to be confirmed by new Chancellor Philip Hammond, while other commitments on maintaining funding levels for EU backed subsidies and investments have been.
Mr Osborne’s commitment remains in place but Mr Hammond is expected to ‘reset’ economic policy in his first autumn statement later this year.
Privately, UK Sport, the body that chooses where to spend the roughly £450m per four-year cycle that is available for elite sport, are fearful of the consequences of a general economic downturn or even recession even before the next games.
While spending on elite sport has been maintained in the wake of the UK’s hugely successful home Olympics four years ago, with the consequences clear to see in Rio 2016, local facilities have faced severe cuts ever since 2008, a course of action that eventually, inevitably affects the top end.
“What Team GB’s triumph has shown is that investment creates results,” Ms Jowell said. “Every gold medal is a return on about £5m of investment. If we are going to go on building our domination as a nation in a way that would have been unthinkable ten years ago then we’ve got to go on investing in our athletes. The challenges of high performance intensify all the time. We’ve got to be able to fund that progress.”
During the previous recession, cutting funding to elite sport was not considered an option, with London 2012 looming on the horizon. But cuts to local facilities were made, including the increased sale of school sports pitches under the former Education minister Michael Gove.
The consequences of these decisions for elite sport were not felt in time for London 2012, but the concern is that they will be.
In recent years, all Olympic hosts have invested heavily in elite performance in advance of their own home games and seen their medal haul begin to taper off one to two contests later.