Britain is leading Australia on the Olympic medal tally and given that nation’s current rate of expenditure, that won’t change by 2012, and possibly not 2016.

But for the British, the scale of that expenditure is unrealistic. Britain’s economy is verging on recession, with a government committed to spend billions on athletes and facilities for the 2012 games at a time when it is scraping to find the money this winter to pay pensioners a heating bill supplement, and looking for cost savings so a pensions indexation payment can be made next April.

It seems Britain’s “Olympic heroes” face a shortfall of 100 million pounds ($A214 million) for the London Games in 2012 (which will cost $A25.5 billion at current exchange rates). This is after spending 235 million pounds in recent years, and on these games, financed mostly by the National Lottery and some Government money. (That’s a touch over half a billion dollars.)

The UK Treasury is now contributing 100 million pounds, or around $A210 million a year, until 2012 to help the Poms win gold. That’s well over $A1 billion from taxpayers directly, all promised by Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was the Chancellor. In all he promised 600 million pounds from the Government two years ago, or well over $1.2 billion. Mr Brown will almost certainly be defeated at the next British general election, due by 2010.

The Poms concentrated on cycling, rowing, sailing, swimming and athletics (where it has had a number of drug cheats in the past few years). The Lottery money has been supporting most of these sports for a decade, the UK Treasury payment will take over until the games in 2012 and will be 60% of elite funding over the next four years.

But not even these hundreds of millions of pounds in Government revenue is enough. The Poms are facing budget cuts between now and the Games, according to London reports. Sports where it “underperformed” in Beijing — such as athletics, judo, fencing and shooting – face the deep cuts, but even swimming could be chopped back. The Poms did poorly in the horse events. Off to Uncle Ben’s for them all?

As a condition of providing that 100 million pounds a year, the Government said that 20 million pounds a year for five years had to be found from the private sector. It hasn’t been. The growing recession is playing its part, but business is also being pressured to contribute to the 650 million pounds (around $A1.4 billion) in private sector sponsorships for the games themselves. (And remember that Australian company, Lend Lease, can’t find the finance in Britain to pay for its share of building the key athletes village contract, which will become housing and apartments for sale after the games.)

According to reports, because of the private sector shortfall there will could be around 80 million to 100 million pounds less in the budget for 2012 for sports to prepare teams to compete. With this enthusiasm for state aid, what’s the difference between what Britain (and Australia for that matter) and the former states behind the Iron Curtain, like East Germany?

Not much from what I see today.

Peter Fray

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