The case for funding – potential is key

“Money makes the world go round” to coin a phrase, while lottery money in particular has been a cornerstone of British sporting success over the last decade. As British Swimming announced how it is distributing its share of the lottery pot for 2015, there was disappointment for some while others were rewarded for their performances this year.

Bill Furniss had made it clear that he and NPD Chris Spice would be funding results and progression when he outlined his vision for British Swimming last year. There’s no doubt that this was the basis for funding decisions affecting 15 of the pool swimmers selected to the podium funding group. They finished the 2014 long course season ranked in the world top 10, but beyond that things were not quite so clear.

Name Event World Ranking
Francesca Halsall 50 Metres Freestyle 1
Adam Peaty 100 Metres Breaststroke 1
Ross Murdoch 200 Metres Breaststroke 1
Jazz Carlin 800 Metres Freestyle 2
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor 200 Metres Individual Medley 2
Hannah Miley 400 Metres Individual Medley 3
Sophie Taylor 100 Metres Breaststroke 4
Michael Jamieson 200 Metres Breaststroke 4
Georgia Davies 100 Metres Backstroke 5
Chris Walker-Hebborn 100 Metres Backstroke 5
James Guy 400 Metres Freestyle 6
Aimee Willmott 400 Metres Individual Medley 6
Ben Proud 50 Metres Freestyle 8
Dan Wallace 400 Metres Individual Medley 8
Stephen Milne 1500 Metres Freestyle 9
Elizabeth Simmonds 200 Metres Backstroke 9
Andrew Willis 200 Metres Breaststroke 9
Liam Tancock 100 Metres Backstroke 10
Calum Jarvis 200 Metres Freestyle 11
Daniel Jervis 1500 Metres Freestyle 11
Molly Renshaw 200 Metres Breaststroke 11
Adam Barrett 100 Metres Butterfly 11
Roberto Pavoni 400 Metres Individual Medley 11
Robbie Renwick 400 Metres Freestyle 13
Lauren Quigley 100 Metres Backstroke 13
Jay Lelliott 1500 Metres Freestyle 15
Calum Tait 200 Metres Breaststroke 15

All British swimmers ranked in the world top 15 on FINA rankings (all performers, not 2 per nation) in Olympic events at the end of the 2014 season. Only best rankings are shown. Those in the podium funding group are highlighted green

The big question was whether to fund medal potential or to play a completely straight bat and fund everyone in the world top 10. Spice and Furniss have clearly taken the former option, as the case of Lizzie Simmonds illustrates. A silver medal at Europeans and a world rank of 9 in the 200m backstroke weren’t enough for her to regain the funding she lost last year. A look at the clock gives a clue here – while it was terrific to see her back on the podium in Berlin, her 2:08.91 best this year is some way from likely podium places in Rio.

A similar rationale may have done for Liam Tancock, 10th in the 100m backstroke, while Dan Wallace, Britain’s last top-10 ranked swimmer, and at 8th in the 400 medley the highest ranked swimmer not to be funded, appears to have also fallen foul of British Swimming’s seeming reluctance to fund overseas based swimmers. He is eligible to receive funding under the terms of his NCCA scholarship, however, as he was quick to remind people last year. Wallace and Roberto Pavoni, 11th in the 400IM, both need to drop another 3 or 4 seconds off their bests to be in the mix for podium places at a global level and that may have been a factor in the selectors’ minds in their cases.

Once outside of those ranked in the top 10, there’s clearly been some thought given to the potential for improvement, particularly amongst the distance men. Daniel Jervis and Jay Lelliott both picked up bronze medals over the summer and both moved into the sub 15 minute bracket along with Stephen Milne, who finished the season ranked the highest of the trio at 9th in the world in the 1500m. Based on the progression argument, all three have shown they are moving in the right direction, albeit they have some way to go before they are podium contenders. Furniss and Spice clearly think they, along with 200m Commonwealth bronze medallist Calum Jarvis, have the talent and work ethic to do that and have funded all four.

A similar case can be made for Adam Barrett based on his individual performances over the year, but it’s the emergence of the men’s medley relay team as genuine medal contenders on the world stage that has likely given his credentials a significant boost. Barrett was instrumental in the gold medals won in both Glasgow and Berlin and is a vital part of that quartet.

The final bolter into the podium group is Molly Renshaw. Her British record in the 200m breaststroke in Berlin, combined to a Silver medal and the manner of her performance suggested her move to Loughborough is starting to pay off. She finished the year ranked 11th, but evidently there is confidence she can continue the progress she made this year.

But what of those who have lost their funded status? Of the swimmers who were funded and lost out this year, their best world rankings ranged from 13th to 40th although most were in the 15-20 bracket. Regardless of medals won in Berlin and Glasgow by that group, with limited funds to distribute it is easy to understand the case for targeting that money elsewhere, however tough it is for the individuals concerned.

Objectively, then, it is possible to understand why that was the case, but that makes it no easier to see. Certainly two of that group, Dan Fogg and Roberto Pavoni were not slow to voice their disappointment on Twitter and to appeal for sponsors to help them on the road to Rio.

And that is the crux of the matter. Alongside the 21 podium swimmers, 43 were named to the podium potential group, which has been used to support up and coming juniors and a few younger seniors. But that leaves nowhere for seniors outside the top group to go, albeit they should continue to benefit from British Swimming support in other ways. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Simmonds, Tancock, Pavoni et al can make the plane to Rio but if they do it may be under their own means.

That said, a challenge has been extended by British Swimming, and the turnover in funded swimmers this year suggests that positive performances in Kazan at next year’s world championships may be rewarded with a return to the top table. There are those who would argue that a more consistent approach to funding would be preferable, giving athletes some stability and opportunity to develop over an Olympic cycle, but in this results driven world, Furniss and Spice have clearly chosen a different path. The results in Rio will be the only measure of whether it is the right one.

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