The sorry state of British sport is highlighted in a survey of top sportspeople undertaken by two universities. The survey showed dissatisfaction with training facilities, support services and financial assistance.
The research, which comes hard on the heels of Great Britain's dismal performance in the Olympic Games in Atlanta, reveals that 45 per cent of athletes responding thought access to scientific support was poor or very poor.
There was general satisfaction with the level of training facilities in the United Kingdom but, whereas 65 per cent of athletes considered training facilities abroad excellent or good, only 32 per cent put UK facilities in these categories. And 26 per cent of athletes considered UK training facilities poor or very poor.
Just over a fifth of the athletes in the survey, carried out by the leisure industries research centre at the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, were students. The single most important problem identified was the conflict between the demands of work and education and those of a career in sport.
"The problem relates partly to a lack of adequate financial assistance (for those outside the education system) and partly is due to an education system that has not been made sufficiently flexible for those pursuing a top-class sports career," says the report.
The overwhelming majority of athletes agreed that Britain needed a structured system of sports scholarships like the one that exists in the United States. Only 8 per cent of the athletes had ever received any form of sports scholarship.
The research was commissioned as part of a feasibility study into a bid by Sheffield for the British Academy of Sport. The idea for such an academy was put forward by the Government in its sports policy statement last year and further promoted in a report from the Sports Council.
A large majority of the 334 top athletes, coaches and sports medics and physiotherapists replying to the survey thought that a British Academy of Sport would be beneficial, with 91 per cent of athletes, 82 per cent of coaches and 73 per cent of sports medics and physiotherapists thinking it would improve British performances at world level.
There was a clear preference that the academy should be a regional network of facilities. In many cases these could be associated with local universities, says the report.