The debate over sports funding has been dragged onto the front pages by the Olympics. Pressure groups such as the National Obesity Forum have criticised fast food manufacturers for targeting children through sport, yet the body that actually supplied our athletes with the funding to take part is grateful for the money.
‘We look for major multinationals who will give us long-term support. We want responsible sponsors, whatever their background,’ says Philip Pope of the British Olympic Association (BOA).
The benefits are clear. ‘I’m 100 per cent certain my career would have suffered without corporate sponsorship,’ says Darren Campbell, Olympic 4x100m champion and a part of McDonald’s Go Active! Campaign. ‘Your talent can only get you so far. It won’t pay for two months of hot-weather training in the States every year. That’s why America produces so many great sprinters – they have the conditions to run fast every day while we’re battling against the cold and rain.’
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And Pope adds, ‘Olympic sponsorship is different to other sports. There’s no board at pitch-side, there are no logos at the medal ceremony – there’s no immediate kickback. Companies have to think hard about how they want to spend their money before becoming Olympic sponsors. It’s far harder to support slalom canoeing than it is to support Arsenal, so they have to be in it for the long haul.’
Sponsorship money goes to the International Olympic Committee, which shares out a chunk of it between the national organisations, and the BOA relies on this because precisely zero per cent of its funding comes from the Exchequer. We are completely independent of Government, and we’ve guarded our independence very closely ever since Margaret Thatcher supported the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow games,’ says Pope.
‘Once upon a time the BOA was a glorified travel agent. Now it’s a top-level sporting organisation, with research facilities, training camps and a staff of more than 50. Each four-year Olympic period costs us £16 million,’ he adds.