Adam Peaty, the British Olympic gold medal swimmer, has said he believes there is “not enough funding, not at all, and not in any sport” and called on government to do more to support grassroots activity in the UK.
Addressing MPs at a session of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee on Tuesday, Peaty joined the Paralympians Lauren Rowles and Ellie Robinson in speaking bluntly about stresses across every level of sport, and the consequences for individuals and society that result.
“I just think there needs to be more support as a whole,” Peaty said. “There’s not enough funding for the grassroots, not at all, not in any sport. It’s seen as people doing it for fun. [Grassroots] should have a greater share of the pie, especially around the teenage years.”
Asked by MPs where he thought increased funding should come from, Peaty gave an amused response. “Government, like everything. The investment [in sport compared to] other areas from government is minuscule. I think you can find the money, you always do.
“It comes down to money and giving it to the right places. Giving it to the leisure centres that are closing at an alarming rate. [If not] it’s going to cost you so much more in the long run because sport gives you such health benefits, such mental health benefits.”
In Peaty’s and Robinson’s sport of swimming, as many as 40% of English pools are set to close by the end of the decade according to research by Swim England. Those that remain are often ageing and inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Robinson endorsed Peaty’s observation but said: “Making leisure centres affordable is really important too. If you create shiny new facilities but the price of going for a swim is extortionately high then you’re excluding a lot of the population. We need to be able to make sport accessible for all incomes.”
Called to the committee as part of an investigation into the future of the national lottery, the athletes were also asked about the funding they receive through the lottery-supported Athlete Performance Award [APA]. Rowles, a rower who has won gold at the past two Paralympic Games, argued there is extreme instability even at the elite level.
“The APA is granted by UK Sport and is completely based on your performance as an athlete”, she said. “You get your funding granted for a year essentially, but if you retire or are pulled up on a disciplinary issue you will come off the funding. You [also] have to continue to perform. If you are gold medallists you receive the top level of funding but … if I don’t do as well in a year or get injured my funding significantly drops.”
Rowles argued that the APA system leaves governing bodies, and UK sport, with no accountability regarding the welfare of their athletes. “We’re not classed as employees”, she said. “We’re contractors … they will dispose of you when they need to and they will invest in you when they need to. It very much feels like that. We are not employees, it is not a relationship, we are temporary things.”
Robinson said a reliance on the APA was especially pronounced for para-athletes. “National lottery makes up 60% of funding”, she said. “It’s very important for para athletes because our sport is young and we don’t attract the same level of sponsorship. We can’t make a living from swimming so we also need the money to support our next step.”