Olympic Gold for the Elite

Britain achieved a record tally of medals at the Rio Olympics, a victory that said much about the culture of our increasingly divided and unequal society.


The explicit strategy was to reward sports where there was already a record of success, starving others of funding. A huge amount, £88 million, went to just three sports – cycling, rowing and sailing. These are sports which are difficult to access for the majority of the population, requiring expensive equipment and specialised training centres. This concentration on the elite meant that one quarter of the British team at the Olympics was privately educated.


By contrast, in the last twenty years 470 school playing fields have been sold off and local leisure and sports facilities have been hit by funding cuts. Childhood obesity has become a major public health problem.


For the elite there is sporting success and for the rest of us the opportunity to join in the flag waving from our sofas.


Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Tiny, socialist Cuba became the most successful sporting nation in Latin America by providing free universal access to sports facilities for every citizen.