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ITCs Feel the Pinch

With a funding cut of £3.7m over the next Olympic cycle it was always the case that British Swimming would need to find economies in its operation, inevitably leading to costs being cut in parts of the high performance programme.

It had already been widely reported that the ITC network was under threat, what with each centre reportedly receiving between £200,000 and £700,000 in annual funding, with 2 or even 3 centres potentially earmarked for closure. Last week Stockport became the first victim, having its ITC status removed.

Meanwhile Swansea and Stirling were handed a stay of execution, with their contracts being renewed only until December 2013, when all options will be considered, giving the new British National Performance Director Chris Spice and head coach Bill Furniss the opportunity to implement their own ideas.

But regardless of any reduction in overall funding to the sport, the ITC model was always likely to be shaken up in the wake of the 2012 performance debrief, which concluded that ITCs provided “a truly world class daily training environment and excellent levels of access to support services” but raised questions about their cost effectiveness.

In particular the ITCs were challenged over their role in knowledge sharing down the chain to clubs and the amount of time the squads spent training offshore, given those excellent environments available in the UK. More fundamentally the review raised the significant question of whether “Britain has enough high quality swimmers to furnish all five centres” – a precursor to a decision to consolidate the network,

Not that the overall impact of the programme in performance terms is being doubted. In 2012, 19 of the Olympic team hailed from ITC programmes, while 10 of 18 individual finalists were from an ITC squad, although the network has not been so successful in medal terms on the global stage, Loughborough excepted.

  2012 Olympians 2009 Worlds Medals 2011 Worlds Medals 2012 Olympics Medals
Bath 3 0 0 1(1)
Loughborough 8 5(4) 1(0) 0
Stirling 1 0 0 0
Stockport 5 1(1) 1(1) 0
Swansea 2 0 0 0
ITC Total 19 5(5) 2(1) 1(1)
GB Totals 44 9(8) 6(5) 3(3)

How the ITCs contribute to Britain’s global success in the pool and open water. Medal figures in brackets denote those won in Olympic events.

But why Stockport? The programme has been hit hard since London by swimmer departures. David Carry retired, and his marriage to Kerri-anne Payne precipitated her departure to the Warrender Baths club in Edinburgh. Meanwhile Sophie Allen upped sticks to join the Bath ITC, saying only that Stockport was not for her, and Michael Rock opted to return to his childhood club at City of Liverpool. That left the centre with only 4 swimmers, James Goddard, Harry Needs, Russell Smith and new recruit Lauren Quiqley, who recently moved the short distance from City of Manchester. All are reported to have committed to the programme under Sean Kelly, whether as part of the ITC or in the Stockport Metro club setup.

Despite this, and while ITCs have only been in existence since 2008, when they formally opened their doors after Beijing, the Stockport programme has been one of the most successful in the UK since the establishment of select club funding, delivering three Olympic medals (one silver and two bronze), so there was surprise that it was first to go.

There are many who see this as a political move, with rumours that Stockport was not the worst performing ITC under British Swimming’s own criteria. On paper Stirling may seem to be the weakest of the five, supplying only one swimmer to the 2012 Olympic team, while Swansea, which had previously been mentioned as a potential closure target, supplied two. That both of these continue to operate at least in the short term will be seen in some quarters as a concession to the Scottish and Welsh ASA’s who would otherwise be left without an ITC.

Both Swansea and Stirling are home to swimmers who would be expected to make their respective Commonwealth Games teams for 2014, and the national ASA’s may need to step in with funding if their income from the ITC network is stopped. The current uncertainty makes budget planning from now until 2014 difficult for both governing bodies.

Certainly those in Stirling are feeling the pressure, realising that they need to impress the new management although one member of staff said they were “confident of being able to do so”, while also suggesting that their squad could do with a “marquee” or high profile swimmer, the lack of which being a potential weakness of the programme in overall British terms.

Meanwhile, and despite the fate of the ITC, Stockport Metro will continue to battle on, although funding remains a concern. “No funding at all would be a worry, but we aim to hold it together as we did before we were an ITC”, a club source said. “We won 4 individual Olympic medals prior to becoming an ITC, which I believe makes us the most successful GB programme in those terms, and we can do it again.”