You will by now all have heard the disappointing news that the UK Sport board considered all of the factors we presented in our representation but concluded that we still did not merit being placed in Band 3 and as such the original decision not to fund wheelchair rugby remains. We felt we had presented a strong performance based case and with continued funding believe we had a high chance of medalling in Tokyo. For much of today I have been dealing with questions from the media and partner organisations. Without exception all seem to be as stunned as we are by this decision. Public dismay has also been very vocal and even the UK Sport CEO has admitted to the BBC that there is a general feeling in the public that resources should be spread more widely. An interesting point because if that is the public’s view, and as the public through their taxes and spending on the lottery provide the funds in the first place, perhaps our politicians and UK Sport should be taking note!
I am still of the view that the decision not to fund us on resource grounds is a ‘red herring’. There is plenty of resource, the issue is where the board has decided to distribute it. For example I am disappointed that UK Sport is unable to find £3m for us but that it is able to allocate the EIS £62m, an increase of £10m for this cycle, remembering of course that individual sports still have to pay for the EIS services they use. Moreover some of this money is to fund new highly paid posts.
But we must now move on. We have a huge amount going for us – our sport is attractive and is mixed gender, our athletes have interesting backgrounds and are inspirational figures in their own communities, we have strong partners and we are part of the wider rugby family – we need to believe in ourselves and see this as a setback rather than a disaster. We have done all we can to fight the decision, we have lost our case and so the priority now is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and find other sources of funding. I don’t know anyone in our sport who is not a fighter – so let’s work together and we can get through this. This starts with the launch of our national crowdfunding campaign next week. Keep your eyes open for this and get everyone – and I mean everyone you know – to sign up. They can do so early by registering on our website now and that way they will get early notification of the start of the campaign. We all know that lots of people talk a good game but then fail to help when the going gets tough – we now need words to turn into action – actions to turn into cash – we need people to sign up and support us.
Since the first unsettling news at Christmas when we heard that we had lost all of our funding for the GB team, I have tried to impress that as a sport we are much more than just our national squad. It has always been important that we do not allow a funding decision to define us, we have always said that wheelchair rugby is ‘more than a game’ and if you are a player, official, volunteer or supporter you know exactly what I mean by that. The opportunities we are now providing for people are breath-taking compared with what was on offer a few years ago, and the quality of rugby and competition has increased beyond all recognition. If you need proof of that statement then look no further than last weekend’s Super Series results where the Pool B positions on Saturday ended with a 3 way tie for top place and goal difference being used to separate the teams! Throughout the weekend there were some very close games – Tigers claimed victory over Bulls by 1 point, Warriors over Storm by the same and Crash over Tigers by 2 points – this makes for great competition and there is still all to play for as the teams go into Super Series 3 with Gaelic Warriors currently out in front. Just as exciting was to see some of our newest teams in action in Division 3. Bob O’Shea’s Maulers currently head this league which includes Brighton Buccaneers, the latest club to join the Super Series.
Coach Tutors Paul Jenkins and Rob Tarr have just delivered a second 1st4Sport Level 2 coaching course at the University of Gloucester. The really encouraging thing about it is that we are now attracting coaches from outside wheelchair rugby who are keen to get the qualification and hopefully this will mean a further growth in the sport as these coaches go back into their own communities and introduce the game.
So we have lots to be positive about, and we should have confidence in ourselves and our ability to overcome the truly ugly decision that UK Sport has taken. Our sport can and must continue to thrive in the same way as many of you have overcome huge personal challenges which have only made you stronger.