Alan Hubbard: Sports governing bodies are laws unto themselves
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
But whether they will come fourth in the gold medal table is, he says, "an incredibly big ask."
Moynihan reckons: "It is going to be very tough. We may have set our expectations too high."
He says he does not altogether share the confidence of those who believe Team GB will surpass the achievement of 19 golds in Beijing – 47 medals in all – and fourth place in the table.
Not for the first time this brings him into conflict with the man who set those expectations at UK Sport, Peter Keen. The architect of UK Sport's "no compromise" policy, Keen (pictured below), newly and deservedly awarded a CBE as he steps down from his full-time post, has suggested Britain might even finish third, thanks to Lottery cash.
His blog last week on insidethegames claimed that Olympic athletes who succeed without central funding are "the exception rather than the rule".
He adds: "'No compromise' is a phrase we refer to a lot at UK Sport. It represents not only our approach to investment in Olympic and Paralympic sport, but the mind-set and philosophy we believe is paramount to achieving greatness...compromise was exactly what British athletes their coaches had to do to just make it to the start line before National Lottery funding came along."
Fair enough. But several respondents demurred, one calling his views "sanctimonious humbug". I don't go as far as that, but I do disagree with Keen's basic tenet, which appears to be that Lottery funding is now the be-all and end-all of British sporting success.
It clearly isn't. Hard work, dedication, good coaching and natural talent are far more important. Lottery funding is the welcome icing on the cake, not the main ingredient.
Britain produced plenty of gold medallists long before Lottery funding for sport was a twinkle in John Major's eye. Some prime examples of go-it-aloners were Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Daley Thompson, while Keen himself acknowledges Chris Boardman, Sally Gunnell, and our most successful Olympian ever, Steve Redgrave as some who made it without the help of the Lottery's numbers game.
It was also pointed out to Keen that track and field has actually gone backwards since Lottery funding was introduced, with fewer medals in Beijing and Athens than in non-Lottery funded Sydney.
When he suggests that that Olympic athletes who succeed without central funding are "the exception rather than the rule" one presumes he wasn't having a veiled pop at taekwondo's go-it-alone Aaron Cook (pictured below), who seems to be paying a heavy price for opting out of their funding system?
As the jilted Cook fights on in the law courts with the same vigour he doubtless he would have displayed on the ExCeL mat, UK Sport have been curiously muted about any role they may have had in this regrettable affair.
Yet one imagines they would be bound to give wholehearted backing to GB Taekwondo who snubbed Cook in favour of the lesser-accomplished but Lottery-funded Lutalo Muhammad.
After all, it is hardly human nature to applaud someone who has told you to stuff your system, and gone on to do things successfully his way. It would defeat the object of their exercise.
I happen to agree with 99 per cent of the public who believe that Cook was stitched up because the governing body didn't want to lose face.
I like the loner, the maverick, the non-conformist. More often than not they also turn out to be winners.
As I have said before, when an enterprising young athlete elects to forgo using public money, supports himself, trains in his garage and becomes the best in the world at his weight then surely he epitomises what Olympism is about. Or used to be.
Or have we forgotten the basic ethos of the Games?
And answer this: Why is it that Team GB is happy to accommodate a drugs cheat in Dwain Chambers (pictured below), who has absolutely no chance of winning a medal unless Usain Bolt and a fistful of West Indians and Americans pull up to the sound of twanging hamstrings, but not Aaron Cook, a clear favourite for gold.
One is being fast-tracked apparently without even achieving a qualifying mark, the other frozen out. How crazy is that?
The trouble is, sports governing bodies are laws unto themselves.
I suspect that the BOA, whose hand has been forced over Chambers, has much sympathy for Cook's situation, though they can't say so publicly, having to abide by the prevailing regulations.
After all, you can't beat the system.
The BOA and UK Sport must get this 'system' sorted well before Rio 2016. For his part Moynihan assures me he is determined to do so and one hopes UK Sport – and the Sports Minister – will come off the fence in the name of justice.
Of course funding has greatly enhanced British prospects in a multitude of sports. It would be deemed a disaster if it hadn't.
But remember that for every well-provided winner who stands atop the Olympic podium there will be a dozen lottery-subsidised also-rans who finish somewhere down the field in double figures.
Most of them probably can be identified now.
So should that be considered money wasted?
But on the other hand should the potential medal winner who hasn't cost the public a penny at least be afforded an equal chance of glory?
Sadly it won't happen while there is no longer room for compromise and sport is governed by self-interest.
What a pity there is not another "system" in place – that of the wild card, an idea the then International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch was said to have seriously considered when no less a personage than his idol Coe (pictured below) was controversially omitted from the 1988 Seoul Olympics by intransigent selectors.
Many thought he would have won another gold.
I believe they have wild cards in Olympic tennis – so why not other sports?
It would certainly liven things up and correct miscarriages of justice.
What also needs to be sorted before Rio is another system which allows coaches like Charles van Commenee to ride roughshod over Britain's legacy aspirations by cynically importing athletes with only tenuous links to this country to gain Olympic experience (because few will actually win medals) at the expense of home-grown talent.
Fortunately wrestling wasn't allowed to get away with it altogether but athletics, basketball and to some extent handball have created an unhealthy and unwelcome precedent.
That's really the area where Keen's "no compromise" edict needs to be applied.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.