UK Sport’s explanation of medal success (and “super-elite athletes”)

Organised sport in the UK has been heavily criticized in recent months, and with good reason. The issues gaining most media attention include:

  • Shocking historical and recent sexual abuse in football
  • Accusations of bullying in British cycling and British swimming
  • Distrubing player management policies in elite rugby
  • Two children being killed after participating in boxing and kickboxing matches

I am sure most sport in the UK is organised well and respectful of participants. These events did remind me though of UK Sport’s explanation of how they try to win medals. At a talk last year a representative from UK Sport (the govt funder of high performance sport) put up these slides to show how they perceive medal attainment. It is somewhat discomforting to know that they have done research in “super-elite athletes” and discovered they had often “experienced childhood trauma”.

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If that is the recipe for winning gold medals, I think the fewer super-elite athletes there are, the better!

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Of course, one might argue that this is an opportunity to turn negative experiences into positive ones, but it is still very problematic. As is encouraging people to focus on the “mundane”. No wonder many athletes retire from their sport with few transferable skills, other than “dedication”.

We need to develop a kinder approach to athlete management, by moving away from “No compromise” policies, and towards an approach that values both short term and long term well-being of participants.

Joe Piggin

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