Should The Government Set Olympic Targets?

Posted on: 05 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

MP Gerry Sutcliffe has demanded Team GB bring back a minimum of 41 medals from Beijing but should the Government be involved in setting targets?

The finest athletes in Great Britain are in China’s capital Beijing preparing to battle it out for one of the biggest prizes in world sport – a gold Olympic medal.

Months of preparation, sacrifices and training have gone in to make them good enough and ready for this occasion, to showcase their talents to the world and earn them a place on the prized podium.

But while Team GB’s 313 athletes settle into their new surroundings amidst the smog of China’s capital city, Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has been busy setting the athletes Olympic targets.

The main purpose of Sutcliffe’s targets are to spur Team GB on to achieve their best ever medal tally at a modern Olympic Games but beneath the spin lies the obvious reason for such objectives.

Speaking from the GB training camp in Macau, Sutcliffe, suggested that there could be financial implications if Team GB misses its targets.

At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Great Britain won 37 medals - seven more than their next best, at the most recent Olympics in Athens.

Optimism has surrounded Team GB since the final squad announcements were made in the last fortnight and ex-Olympians and pundits are already suggesting it could be an Olympics to remember for Britain, with plenty of talent and potential among the ranks.

But British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Colin Moynihan described Sutcliffe’s predictions as “unwise”.

If realised, Sutcliffe’s demands would see Britain finish fourth in the medal tally, above old rivals Australia, France and Germany and behind the United States, China and Russia.

In contrast, GB finished 10th in Athens with nine gold medals but they are openly targeting a fourth place finish at London 2012. And the BOA is refusing to set specific targets for the Games in China despite Sutcliffe’s insistence and interference.

Some predictions have forecast Britain doubling their gold tally but Moynihan was reluctant to raise expectations.

“We do have a very strong team, better financed and better resourced than ever.  I believe this will deliver the goods and we will move significantly forward from 10th,” said Moynihan at Team GB’s pre-Games launch in Beijing.

UK Sport, the body that distributes National Lottery funding to Olympic sports, has denied claiming that it has changed its target of 35 British medals at Beijing.

“The target of 35 medals and eighth place in the medal table remains the same,” a spokesman said.

“We do have a ‘stretch target’ of 41 medals that we would hope to achieve if everything goes right, and that also remains the same.”

UK Sport spoke sense when reaffirming their stance on medals. In a perfect world all predictions would be met but Sutcliffe has ignored the factors that may affect performance to all athletes in Beijing.

Pollution is the main concern but so too is the humid, continental-climate the city adopts. Memories of Paula Radcliffe struggling in the streets of Athens during her marathon in stifling conditions are still fresh in the memory, whilst injuries and mental focus can also take its toll on athletes on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

So is it fair for Government officials to intrude on UK Sport and the BOA?  Should the Government set targets for the athletes and expect them to meet the targets or face reduced funding ahead of London 2012?

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