KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Two-time Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson has offered his support to UK Sport's much-disputed decision to fund sports on the basis of Olympic medal prospects rather than participation levels.
Thompson, one of Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen, also bemoaned the lack of characters in modern sport—and urged current stars to show more of their personality in order to boost interest in athletics.
Speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards on Wednesday, an event for which he is an ambassador, Thompson offered his backing to UK Sport’s controversial recent decision to slash funding for popular sports like basketball, in order to instead divert money toward sports and disciplines with greater medal prospects.
UK Sport has faced widespread criticism for its recent decision to withdraw all funding for basketball, the second-most popular participation in the country, along with swingeing cuts in a range of other disciplines—including synchronised swimming and a number of Paralympic sports.
In response, the heads of both British Basketball and British Swimming have called on sports minister Helen Grant to launch a review of the entire sports funding system in the country.
But Thompson, while acknowledging that increasing sporting participation among youngsters should remain a priority, believes that—as a former elite athlete himself—directing funding toward medal hopefuls makes sense.
“I always assumed there were two pots of money; one for participation and one for going and chasing medals,” Thompson told Bleacher Report.
“Of course the most important thing overall is that we have healthy kids and give them the opportunity to play whatever game inspires them. Obviously that is the most important.
“But then for somebody like me, it is also important that [athletes with medal prospects are well funded]. You only had to see how our country had a wicked psychological lift for what we did at the Olympics in 2012, so clearly it is important to the country as well that we do that."
However, he suggested that basketball was unfortunate to lose its funding entirely.
“Basketball is a great game, and there are lots of great games out there," he added. "And every one of them should have some money so that kids can at least attempt them. How much money is beyond me.”
Thompson was renowned as one of the most outspoken and controversial athletes of his era, but he believes few modern stars of the sport live up to his example. He has called on them to show much more personality when they are competing, to boost the profile not only of themselves, but the sport as a whole.
“I think sport in general, and I don’t think this is meant in a downer, just seems to lack personalities,” Thompson noted. “I just think if they want to appeal to a bigger audience they need to get out and let people know they have a funny side, or a miserable side, or whatever, but at least get people being emotive about them.
“I think it is a case of the right people presenting themselves in the right way. The only person that really stands out at the moment in athletics is Usain Bolt, yet when I was doing it there were plenty of them.”
He added: “It’s not necessarily even a question of liking them, you just have to have a feeling about them. I think maybe they practice too much and don’t get the chance to go out there and show they have a personality.”
Thompson also blamed generational changes for the relative dearth of elite-level decathletes, particular in Britain, these days.
"I think it’s harder, and it takes longer, and people aren’t prepared for that seven-, eight-, nine-year commitment it takes," he said. "I was prepared for that commitment because I did not see it as a short-term thing. I saw it as a career.
"For most people if you are going to be good at the decathlon, you need pretty good speed, like Ashton Eaton, but if you have that kind of speed in Britain, you’d be in the 4x100-meter [relay]. And that’s a lot easier."