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  • Q&A with UK Sport CEO John Steele


    UK Sport CEO John Steele says there are plans to host 64 major sporting events in the 1,000 days leading up to the Games. (UK Sport)
    (ATR) In the 1,000 days leading up the 2012 Olympics, UK Sport will hold 64 major sporting events.

    In an interview with Around the Rings , UK Sport CEO John Steele discusses those events, support for weaker sports, finances of UK Sport and the legacy of the London 2012 Games. The former rugby player is pleased rugby made it onto the program, but that golf still has some questions ahead.

    ATR: What does 1,000 days to London 2012 mean to UK Sport?
    JS: I think for UK sports the thousand-day mark is actually extremely significant. For the last year, reflection has taken place in reviewing Beijing— looking at what works , what needs to change— but I think the thousand day mark really marks the difference between that reflection and the delivery phase, which is what is all about now. It is very significant.
    It has been a great year in terms of performance in world championships and world cups. Mission accomplished moving into the last 1,000 days and there is still a lot to do.

    : UK Sport is going to be hosting a long series of events. Can you provide some details?
    JS: Our plans are pretty ambitious on that front. We are looking for 64 major events between now and 2012. That will be unprecedented and be more than any other host city running up to the Games.
    I am looking to do that for a number of reasons. First of all, the home advantage in bringing athletes and coaches in getting used to competing in a world level on home soil but also the volunteers and officials. It is ambitious but if we can keep doing that then it is a huge plus.

    : Are these sports that UK Sport will organize or are these events that you will expect national governing bodies or national federations to put together? How will that work?
    JS: We do it in partnership. UK Sports bids for major sporting events in partnership with major national governing bodies for sports. We also work with other partners— regional agencies and other partners involved in events – to put together a financial package not only for the bid, but that also would help support the bid when it goes home soil. Thirty million plus (pounds) ($48.9 million) would be put into this fund, and about a third of that would be UK Sport funding.

    : As you look ahead to 2012 and making the most of your efforts, what are the sports that UK Sport has got its eye closest on? What ones are you targeting for maximum development?
    JS:I think the sports at the moment to watch are some that were behind the higher profile sports in Beijing. Of course, we need the rowing, cycling and the sailing to perform, but actually the real gains that we picked as targets for London will come from sports like judo, badminton, (and) triathlon that weren’t getting medals in Beijing in order for us to win more medals in London. I think we are making good progress there.

    : How you would you evaluate your resources to accomplish what you need to do in sport to 2012? Are you in good shape?
    JS: We got an unprecedented amount in lottery and public funding. Never before has this much been spent on elite sport. Having said that there is big step in terms of performance level and Beijing was a testament
    to that. We are looking to step up from Beijing -- that does not come cheap. We have good levels of funding and we are having to spend it wisely to ensure that we drive value. We have the money that we need to hit our targets. It is certainly not going to be easy and we got to go out and do that.

    : What about sports in which UK is weak?
    JS: We’ve got sports that people would have previously assumed as not doing well, really stepping up to the mark. We have successes in women's handball, gymnastics and fencing over this season, which are unprecedented. Some of the sports that have previously looked like they are lagging behind are not now. That is really positive moving forward. It gives us challenges in making sure that funds and resources are matched, but I think that is a good problem to have.

    : What can you says about UK Sport helping to deliver the legacy that was talked about during the bid for the London Olympics? That is, increasing the activity of young people while yours is about the elite level? What is your mission to increase efforts in the grassroots level?
    JS: People
    "It will be the pinnacle of any Rugby Sevens player to stand on an Olympic podium," says Steele on rugby joining the Olympic Movement. (UK Sport)
    want to emulate those role models. They go out and get on their bike. They participate. They are active. Not all will go on to be Olympians or Olympic medalists, but in most instances it gets them to engage in sport and hopefully they will stay with it for life. In conjunction with that is the international work that we do – the international inspiration and the development on the back of the Singapore pledge, which I think is having a huge impact globally. We are already in five countries. We are looking at 20 countries, four million children, to connect them to the power of sport. I think the legacy piece is alive and well, and building all the time.

    : Do you think it is easier to interest a generation of young people about Olympic sport or is it to train and provide resources for elite athletes to perform well at that Olympics?
    JS: They both must compliment each other. Without an engaged youth then there is going to be a gap in talent in years to come, and similarly to engage the youth, you need Olympians who are role models both on and off playing field in track. If we can do both, then that virtual circle will perpetuate elite success and participation for youth.

    : How do you feel about rugby joining the Olympic program?
    JS: I think it is great. I think a lot of people underestimate that Rugby Sevens has huge global coverage. All over Asia and in some European countries where 15-a-side isn't as big, you get sevens. It is a very mobile sport, very spectator-friendly and I think it will be the pinnacle of any Rugby Sevens player to stand on an Olympic podium.

    : Is it a different situation with golf than rugby?
    JS: I think golf has attracted more attention. … Some might say golfers would put other things first. That remains to be seen. Also the commercial aspects about how golfers would embrace the Olympic detail. There are plenty of questions around golf but time will give us those answers.

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    Written by Ed Hula .

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