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Sport England launches Backing The Best with SportsAid

November 10, 2015

Sport England has announced a ground-breaking new initiative with SportsAid today to help talented young athletes facing the greatest financial pressure.

The athletes who will benefit from the scheme are those for whom the cost of sport would ultimately prevent them from progressing through their sport’s talent development system to fulfil their potential.

Known as Backing The Best, the initiative will use £5.5 million of National Lottery funding over four years to extend SportsAid’s reach into new areas of the country and offer more support to those who face the biggest financial challenges. Annual awards of up to £5,000 per athlete will help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation and kit as well as providing extra support from coaches and physios.

All the athletes will be nominated to SportsAid by their sport’s governing bodies, after which the charity will perform a basic means test to ensure the funding goes to those who are most in need. The first awards will be made in February 2016 with up to 100 young athletes expected to benefit in the first year and around 200 athletes annually in subsequent years.

Sport England’s chief executive Jennie Price said, “It's impossible not to admire the young people who dedicate themselves to being the best they can be in their sport. But for some, a hard road becomes an impossible one due to tough financial circumstances.

"That's why we created Backing The Best. We can't make competitive sport any easier, but we can make it possible for those who deserve the chance."

SportsAid’s latest Athlete Survey has shown that the average annual cost of training and competing has risen to more than £6,200, with the parents of the 1,200 athletes the charity supported this year saying they spent £7.5 million last year alone to keep the nation’s brightest prospects in sport.

One of those athletes is 18-year-old Sophie Colebourn from Liverpool who is the second ranked senior women’s amateur boxer in England. She said, “I can't rely on my dad for money for equipment or supplements because he doesn’t have it. And if I don’t have the money that I need, I can’t do the things I want to in boxing. 

“Training is intense, day in, day out. For a head guard it’s about £100, for a pair of boots it’s £100. So before funding it was a strain for my dad, and for my younger brother and sister, because they’d have to go without. My coach, Sid, has bought me equipment in the past when I haven’t had funding.

“Everyone’s dream is to go to the Olympics, isn’t it? But it’s a very long road and a lot of hard work.”

Tim Lawler, SportsAid’s chief executive, highlighted the enormous potential that Backing The Best could have for communities right across England, saying, “Sport can often be about seizing an opportunity at the right moment, but what if you’re never given that opportunity? Backing The Best is a fantastic new way to help those young athletes who need it most.  We owe it to the next generation to at least give them an opportunity to progress – Backing The Best will do that.”

Research carried out by Leeds Met University in 2014 found that athletes from single-parent families, those living in rural areas and in many parts of the North East of England are most likely to drop out of sport, often due to the distance they have to travel to train and compete. Young athletes with a disability also have to travel further because there are fewer sports clubs and teams for disabled sports, which again means the price of making it to the top is higher.

UK Sport, the nation’s high performance sports agency, invests National Lottery funding in over 1300 British athletes with Olympic and Paralympic medal potential, and hopes the Backing The Best scheme will provide an even greater pool of young athletes with the potential to progress.

Liz Nicholl, UK Sport’s chief executive, said, “We want to see as many young, talented athletes as possible enabled to reach their full potential through the home nations’ talent pathways. Finance should not be a barrier in achieving their dreams, so Sport England’s National Lottery funded Backing The Best programme should provide a great stepping stone for promising youngsters to access and develop through the England Talent Pathway.”

For more information, visit www.sportengland.org/backingthebest