Wheelchair Rugby has taken a big hit in Great Britain after they lost their appeal to return their funding from UK Sport. The sport lost its funding late last year and made an appeal two weeks ago but on Monday UK Sport announced that Wheelchair Rugby lost all of its funding.
It wasn’t the only sport that lost all its UK Sport funding as archery, fencing, goalball, table tennis and weightlifting also lost all their funding. That has left many worrying about the future of sport in Great Britain, with funding levels from London 2012 clearly proving unsustainable.
In explaining their decisions UK Sport has flagged that this could only be the beginning of funding withdrawals to different sports. The organization saying that the impending European Union departure for the nation potentially increasing costs.
When the withdrawal of funding first occurred Wheelchair Rugby found an unlikely ally in the form of Ed Warner, the head of UK Athletics. Warner publically condemned the decision to strip wheelchair rugby’s funding, something never before seen from a chairman of another sport.
Unfortunately the appeals of every sport were unsuccessful and UK Sports chief executive, Liz Nicholl tried to explain the issues, saying to the media, “One of the big challenges we will have over this cycle is to look at whether there is an alternative funding source that we as a whole system can collectively create which will reduce our dependency on public funding, which is something that the Government wants us to do and what we are asking the sports to do as well.”
That has left Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR) frustrated, with their special need for funding given the needs of their athletes. That prompted David Pond, the GBWR CEO to speak to the Telegraph, saying “We’re saying our country cannot afford a couple of million quid to give a group of high-dependency athletes an opportunity to represent their country and it’s the only one they’re going to get. I just think it’s outrageous, actually. Any other athlete, frankly, ought to be able to go down the road and get a job, even if it’s in McDonald’s. But most of my athletes will not be in that position. The UK Sport view of ‘no compromise’, I kind of get that, but I just think we’ve got to a really ugly stage with it. If we were a sport which was kicking around in a gym and we were a whole load of no-hopers, I could have understood it. But we’re absolutely not. We’re European champions.”
What is not clear yet is what impact this will have on the future prospects of the British Wheelchair Rugby team who have been dominant in Europe lately. The British team has been improving quickly and fighting to get in to the top tier. This could now open up the door for teams like Sweden to take advantage, but the British athletes have been determined to get on with it and work without the funding but maintain their level, the world championships in Sydney next year will be the first opportunity to see how the funding cuts have affected the sport.