Using Bath University as one example of an institution catering for excellence, critically analyse the opportunities for elite sports competitors in the UK.

 Nick Sherriff

As the curtain fell on the 1996 Olympic games Great Britain had won only fifteen medals of which one was gold.(The Telegraph.1996.Issue 443.) Arguably, this could be considered the catalyst for a change amongst the sporting fraternity.  


Bath University has recently been accredited with becoming a centre within the network that is the United Kingdom Sports Institute. However, it must be noted that Bath already consider themselves a centre of excellence for many sports such as athletics and swimming.(University of Bath Sport.1999.)  Bath University will be the hub of the sports consortium for the South West, harnessing all the services available in the region.   This new arrangement will allow Bath to bid for projects in excess of £10 million.  ‘Excellence’ is a standard which must be met in order to compete at a high level of competition.   However, excellence needs to be considered in conjunction with the opportunities that are available to support the athletes. It is the quality of these ‘opportunities’ in terms of funding, facilities, coaching, medicine, sports science and athlete welfare that needs to reach the standard of excellence for the elite performer to be able to compete at such a level.


Sport England (1998)(1) segregates these opportunities into two categories, indirect and direct support, the latter pertaining to the athletes welfare. (i.e. subsistence or living costs.)   Providers of these ‘opportunities’ will be examined in terms of provision and in many cases their motives considered. The term ‘elite sport competitors’ is specifically used only to incorporate those teams and individuals who are, or have the ability to compete at, the world class level, be that Olympic or World Championship.   Within the scope of this essay, consideration will not be given to those athletes who are developing into elite performers. The main focus will be on Bath University drawing further information from associated agencies such as The National Coaching Foundation (NCF), Sport England (SE), National Sports Medicine Institute (NSMI), National Governing Bodies (NGB), British Association of Sport and Exercise Science (BASES) and The Department of Culture, Media and Sport.


On the 1st of March 1999 Chris Smith announced the government’s support for United Kingdom Sports Institute (UKSI).   This organisation comprises of a network of 10 centres around England with the headquarters in Sheffield.   The government has promised in principle, via Sport England, to commit up to £100 million of Lottery funds which it hopes will achieve success in terms of gold medals for the future.(House of Commons.1999)(1)   This amount of money will greatly aid competitors as it filters through the various systems.  To ensure the money is spent correctly, SE will hope to have more control over this via the UKSI network.   In committing such a sum the government does expect an equal commitment by sport.


“...Therefore the Sports Councils will expect the commitment to the network by the governing bodies of sport to be linked to the lottery funding they receive through the World Class Performance plans they produce.”


C,Smith.(1999).House of Commons.(1)


This could suggest that NGBs not using the UKSI network may be penalised by not receiving as generous a grant.   It is therefore imperative that all the facilities that are used by the NGBs become part of the regional consortiums before they bid for grant aid.  


Arguably, the most important opportunity for elite athletes is that of funding, the more funds the greater access there is to facilities and services.   Developing an existing site such as Bath does make good financial sense which can only benefit the athletes in the longer term.  In 1997 a £6 million Sports Training Village was built encompassing some excellent facilities such as a 50m pool, four indoor tennis courts, an outdoor running track and multi-purpose astro pitches.     Being part of the UKSI will allow the University to submit plans for upwards of £10 million to further the athlete’s potential to win medals.   Future plans already include an indoor running track, a new sportshall, improved swimming pool facilities, sport science and weight training areas.   This construction work is hoped to be finalised by the year 2000, in time for Olympics and World Championships.   The increased funding for World Class facilities may well allow for World Class stadia, where UK athletes could compete with the advantage of ‘home soil’ which could possibly increase their chances of victory.


Recent financial and facility incentives available at Bath will no doubt encourage many more NGBs to join Bath’s rank and file.   NGBs have a major part to play in terms of funding, they must submit what is called a World Class Plan for their sport.   This is a National Lottery Scheme whereby money is distributed by The Dept of Culture, Media and Sport to the ‘good causes,’ of which sport is one.   Individuals apply to their NGB who collate applications as sports and then go about producing a World Class Plan.   The Plan must be submitted to Sport England who will give the final go ahead for the release of funds.   The idea that standards must be met in order to receive funding may suggest that some NGBs are seen as less able to organise and administrate their sports.   It must also be remembered that many of the NGBs are run by voluntary and part-time staff who give up their time to help sport.  Sport England has gone some way in understanding this and does provide exclusive advice  in conjunction with lottery representatives to help with the formulating of plans.(Sport England.1998)(1)  NGBs are asked to; provide individual facility and science development, to look at other successful countries and their methodology and to provide realistic goals for their sports.  NGBs can also apply for funding for similar schemes as with the World Class Start and the World Class Potential so that continuity is not lost en route to elite level.   If all these criteria are met, then specifically tailored support will be provided.


Due to the vast number of applications expected, which far out ways the funds available, SE have devised ‘access criteria.’(Sport England.1998)(1)   Three areas are considered here, ‘the status of a sport’s primary competition, the degree of success likely to be achieved and the public significance of the sport.’(Sport England 1998)(1)   The latter does seem a little unfair, however it must be remembered that this is public money that is being spent and as such the public should have some input as to where it is spent.   As with all democratic societies the majority vote wins.   In this case the majority are the  sports with a large following in terms of participation or spectators.   However, the really big money earners such as Association Football are being left to their own devices.   This rationale poses a problem for elite minority sports such as Fly Fishing.   Great Britain are the world champions but due to the insignificance of the sport the UK Sports Council will not be bidding to host the World Championships in 2000. (House of Commons.1998)(2)  It is this rationale that could lead to an elitism of sports, as a result of  their popularity within society.



One of the most valuable assets available to the athlete is the coach.   The NCF runs a programme called High Performance Coaching (1999)(3), this is an information service providing coaches with the latest in coaching techniques and practises.   The information comprises of a Workshop Series discussing topics such as Nutritional Ergogenic Sports Aids for performers, an Applied Research series on topics like overtraining and presentations or conferences given by experts within the chosen field.(National Coaching Foundation.1999.)(3)    To constantly update and improve  this service, High Performance Team (National Coaching Foundation.1999)(2)was formed to identify the needs of coaches within the High Performance programme. From this the Elite Coach Education Programme(National Coaching Foundation.1999)(1) has been formed which is a joint venture between the NCF and the British Olympic Association.    

John Stevens, Chief Executive of the NCF said:

“One of the commitments by which the NCF wants to be judged is interdependent working in order to promote not just added value, but best value for coaches and their work. This agreement is an excellent example of the approach. It will evolve in the light of experience, grow with the support of the UKSC and ultimately be delivered as a United Kingdom Sports Institute service.


National Coaching Foundation.(1999.)(4)


Up until recently this service was at a cost to the coach but now under the new initiative fifty of the top coaches will have exclusive access to the latest state of the art coaching techniques and information.    The NCF website(1999)(4) suggests e-mail, chat rooms and even video conferencing which it admits will require IT training for many coaches.   Although in its’ infancy this new approach should speed up the passage of information.   It could also cut down cost in the longer term as travel and getting coaches together from various parts of the world will be less necessary.   This could be considered part of a wider thinking within British sport to give the coach and athlete more input into  developing their individual sports.   For instance, the centre at Bath has a coaches panel that meets to discuss the future developments and requirements for their athletes.  


Many of the ground breaking opportunities for elite performers are found in sports science which comes in two distinct forms.   Physiological which deals with the athletes body and  technological which deals with the athletes clothing and equipment.  BASES will form the sports science support for the UKSI and will be available too athletes training at the network centres such as Bath.   It is proposed that BASES will relocate to the UKSI in Sheffield.   The importance of state of the art sport science is paramount in shaving hundredths of seconds off timings or adding extra distance.   This was highlighted during Atlanta 1996 when the GB Swimming team were given permission to wear the new Aquablade suits.   These suits came into use after research from the British Journal of Sport and Medicine who proved that triathletes who swam with wetsuits not only stayed warmer but swam faster due to less drag, further credence was given to the suits by the popularity of them with Australian Swimming Squad.   It was not only swimmers who benefited from the research, the team sponsors Adidas, spent three years designing the costumes for the British athletes.   With a temperature that reached the thirties (centigrade), the kit was sparse but many like Du’aine Ladejo were impressed, ‘It is most comfortable, especially as it takes up the sweat.’(Powell,D.The Times,15 July 1996.)(2)   It is the minute details that often make the difference and keeping the athlete in the right frame of mind, knowing that they are using the best equipment is paramount.



Even World Class athletes encounter physiological problems especially when competing abroad in heat or at altitude.  At the Atlanta Grand Prix  British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards took only three of his six jumps because of cramps brought on by the heat and absence of shelter. (Powell,D.The Times, 15 July 1996)(1)    It is for this very reason that sport science plays a large part in training with many athletes required to run and train at altitude.   Elite performers require state of the art technology and equipment in order to compete at the highest level.   Moving BASES to the UKSI headquarters could provide the focus and continuity that may have been lacking in the past.   However, they should not loose sight of the many individual research centres such as the John Moores University (JMU)at Liverpool who are working with individual NGBs. JMU is working closely with the Football Association Coaches Association on the Umbro project.(Liverpool John Moores.1999)   Sport has become very diverse and may be too fragmented for one sports science organisation to handle successfully.



The inception of the UKSI will greatly effect the opportunities for elite performers.  Whether this will turnout to be an improvement is a question that can only be answered over time.   One would hope that this institution has been formed as a long term future investment.   However, what if Great Britain fails to live up to expectations during the Sydney Olympics in 2000.   What cannot be allowed to happen is the almost typical ‘knee jerk reaction’ or ‘saga’ of attributing blame.   Instead the UKSI must stick to its’ principles and be able to carry on its’ work.   No doubt government will have a time frame in mind in order to see a return for its’ investment. Acknowledgement has been made by many such as Ian Turner the Director of Coaching for GB Swimming, that we are some ten years behind the likes of Australia and that is with present funding. Let us hope that the present and future governments appreciate this.   It is for this very reason that there needs to be an element of self-sufficiency with all the new facilities As governments change so do their policies and the funds can be stopped quicker than they were started.   For the first time it does appear that elite sport is less fragmented with the UKSI providing a focus for all concerned agencies.






British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. No date.  Proposed role within the UKSI Corporation Structure. [online]. Available from: http// [Accessed 08 March 1999].



Sport England


(1)       English Sports Council. 1998.  More Medals.

            [online]. CCTA. Available from:       http// [Accessed 08 March             1999].



(2)       English Sports Council. 1998. UK Sports Institute. [online]. CCTA.       Available from: http// [Accessed 08 March 1999].


NB - The English Sports Council have recently changed their name to Sport England, however their website still trades under the previous name.



House of Commons


(1)       House of Commons. 1999. Hansard written answers for 01 March 1999         Chris Smith. [online]. CCTA. Available from: http//www.parliament.the- [Accessed   03 March 1999].



(2)       House of Commons.1998. Culture, Media and Sport - Minutes of       Evidence.[online]. CCTA. Available from: http//www.parliament.the-             [Accessed 03 March 1999].



John Moores University.1999Spotlight on Research. [online]. Available from: http// [Accessed 08 March 1999].



National Coaching Foundation


(1)       National Coaching Foundation. 1999. UK Sports Institute. [online]. UK            Web Ltd. Available from: http//             [Accessed 07 March 1999].



(2)       National Coaching Foundation. 1999. High Performance Team. [online].       UK  Web LtdAvailable from: http//           [Accessed 07 March 1999].



(3)       National Coaching Foundation. 1999. High Performance Coaching.   [online]. UK Web Ltd. Available from: http//              [Accessed 07 March 1999].


(4)       National Coaching Foundation. 1999. Best Value. [online]. UK Web Ltd.         Available from: http//  [Accessed 15 March      1999].



University of Bath. 1999. National Network Centre for Sport. [online]. []. Available from: http// [Accessed 07 March 1999].



The Times


(1)       Powell,D.1996.Olympics: Getting set for the Gadget Games.    [online].Available from: http//www.sunday- [Accessed            10 March 1999].


(2)       The Times.1996.Olympics: Material gains for swimmers.          [online].Available from: http//www.sunday- [Accessed            10 March 1999].



The Telegraph.1996.Final Olympic Medals Table.[online]. Available from:http// [Acccessed 15 March 1999].

























John Moores University. 1999. F.A. Coaches Association.

[online]. Available from: http// [Accessed 08 March 1999].


National Sports Medicine Institute.1999. About the NSMI.

[online]. Available from: http// [Accessed 19 February 1999].


Women’s Sport Foundation. 1999. Young Elite Sportswomen. [online]. Watson,R. Available from: http// [Accessed 08 March 1999].

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