Culture and Identity

Competing as ‘Team GB’ – not in spite of it

I have a confession. I absolutely love the Olympic Games. Where else would you spend a fortnight as an armchair expert, with fully formed opinions on the intricacies of a sport you’d never even seen before just a few weeks prior, asks Tom Giffard.

And as final flame flickered at the 2021 Olympic Games, (technically still the 2020 games!) and the Paralympic games beginning, Team GB could look back on another remarkably successful Olympics and many hopes for the 22 Welsh athletes competing in the Paralympic games.

Finishing 4th in the medal table is a remarkable achievement, and we were by far the smallest nation by population to finish in the top 5. 

And for me, the most welcome statistic was this; we won more medals across more sports than any other nation.

But this wasn’t an isolated successes. Great Britain hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in an Olympic Games since the 1990s.

Those 1996 Games in Atlanta, where Great Britain managed just one gold medal is an outcome unthinkable to today’s sports fans.

The backstory to the turnaround in our sporting achievement is a long and complicated story, and I don’t have enough space in this article to take you through it all. But the key philosophies are twofold; significant investment in elite sporting athletes and a ruthless pursuit of medals. 

And it’s hard to argue with the results. Before even these games, Team GB had won 99 gold medals since those 1996 Games, and this years’ haul adds another 22 golds to that total.

There were also lots of great individual moments for our Welsh athletes like Lauren Price’s gold in boxing or Hannah Mills’ gold medal in sailing, it shows Welsh athletes are also punching above their weight on the global stage.

Now, the last thing I want to do is a be a typical politician and make a political point out of all of this, but I think there’s a valid one to be made here.

The truth is that there has just been far too much Welsh sporting success on the international stage for it to be purely coincidental. 

Those of us that seem desperate at the moment to rip our country apart with their calls for ‘independence’ fail to consider the sporting ramifications for these successes. 

Our athletes are thriving at the Olympic Games, because they compete as ‘Team GB’ and not in spite of it.

Since those games in 1996, £1.2bn has been invested in the pursuit of Olympic success for Team GB since the introduction of lottery funding over 24 years ago.

The UK Government’s recent announcement that £232 million will be invested to back aspiring Team GB and Paralympics GB athletes. £77.4 million a year to UK Sport which is an increase from the £54 million a year baseline government funding UK Sport received for Tokyo 2020 – a rise of 44 percent. The ‘Union bonus’ for sport is clear.

Welsh sport has benefitted from unprecedented levels of funding from UK sport which allows prospective athletes to focus solely on their sporting discipline, many of whom would not have been at the Games this summer without it. The National Lottery alone invested around £21million to support Welsh sport in 2021/22, with £9.9 million of that supporting elite sport. That money helps elite athletes gain access to world-class facilities, support, training, and advice to help them achieve their Olympic goals.

Lottery funding has helped pay for facilities such as the Principality Stadium, Wales National Pool and the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome. These iconic sporting venues push elite athletes in Wales to their best. 

It’s not just about numbers or buildings, any sports star will tell you that the role of coaches and other specialist staff are key to elite level performance, and the ability to share world leading expertise to deliver sporting success shouldn’t be overlooked either.

The problem with those separatists that would like to see Wales compete independently at the Olympics is that they feel unable to celebrate the joy and success when our sporting athletes achieve anything wearing a GB vest or uniform.

Did the majority of people in Wales seriously not celebrate when Mo Farah won his medals in previous games? 

Or that Ellie Robinson’s or Adam Peaty’s dominance in their sports is undermined in Wales because of their postcode? 

By the same measure, when Lauren Price won her gold medal in boxing a few weeks ago for Team GB, it didn’t make her any less Welsh.

Some of these separatists pine for a Wales that doesn’t exist. We’re proud to be Welsh, and we’re proud to be British, and that’s no contradiction!

And so we should continue to compete as Team GB, because the alternative arguments, whether they be financial, sporting or indeed cultural just don’t stack up.

Sir Hugh Robertson, the British Olympic Association Chairman said before the Games that the target was another top 5 finish for Team GB in these Olympics, which was achieved comfortably, and added “That establishes our credentials as one of the leading Olympic nations around the world, which is where I want us to be. Not only that but also using Olympic spirt as something as a nation we are proud of and are really good at.”

And he’s right. We are really good at it. 

It would be a shame to lose it.

Tom Giffard is the Member of the Senedd for South Wales West and the Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport.

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