By Tom Degun

July 26 - The future of British high-performance sport is being put at risk by the Government's proposed plan to merge UK Sport with Sport England, they were warned today.

Senior officials at UK Sport were stunned by the proposal, announced by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, to set-up a new body that would include them, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust.

Britain has enjoyed unprecedented success since UK Sport was founded by Royal Charter in 1997, improving from 36th in the Olympic medals table at Atlanta in 1996 to fourth at Beijing in 2008, where the team won a record 47 medals, including 19 gold.

"The news that the Department [for Culture, Media and Sport] is planning to merge UK Sport with Sport England goes further than we had previously expected.," said Sue Campbell, the chair of UK Sport.

"What is crucial now is that all sides engaged in this decision understand not only the issues but also the risks involved in such a move. 

"We will as always play our part in seeking the best solution for sport and seeking to make the delivery system as efficient as possible. 

"But equally we are very aware not only of the existing effectiveness of our operation but the incredible strides we have taken in high performance sport over the past decade, and the significant progress made in developing a system that is not only delivering results like those seen in Beijing but also making the UK the envy of the sporting world.

"With London 2012 on the horizon, it is vital that we continue to build on this and don’t distract preparations for Home Nation success in two year’s time.”

Richard Lewis, the chairman of Sport England, was also cautious about the plan.

He said: "While it is too early to say what the further changes will mean, we are clear that any solution must be one which benefits sport as a whole, particularly as we approach the milestone of two years to go until the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"We hope that discussions over the summer with the Government, UK Sport and other Home Country Sports Councils will look at how best to maximise the combined expertise and efficiency of our organisations, while ensuring that our preparations to make the 2012 Games a real success for this country are not disrupted in any way."

Other bodies affected by the proposed changes, including the Youth Sport Trust, claimed to be less concerned.

Steve Grainger, the chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, told insidethegames that the organisation will retain their current mandate of continuing to build a world-leading school sport system following the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

He said: "The Youth Sport Trust is fully committed to working with its landscape partners - Sport England and UK Sport - to ensure efficiency, improve communication and deliver the best possible sports strategy for the country.

"The Trust is an independent organisation, established by Sir John Beckwith as a registered charity, and as such any proposals to change its structure are wholly the responsibility of its Board of Trustees.

"Our mission remains the same: to continue building a world-leading school sport system which benefits all young people and enables them to participate, perform and lead in sport."

Meanwhile, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have similar funding bodies to Sport England, will not avoid the changes as high-performance in those countries is funded by UK Sport.

Stewart Harris, the chief executive of sportscotland, told insidethegames: "As the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics Media and Sport has recognised in his statement, sport is a devolved matter in Scotland.

"We look forward to seeing the details of the proposal and along with the other Home Country Sports Councils to providing DCMS with advice on the best possible structure for sport in the UK going forwards. 

"As we build towards London 2012 and Glasgow 2014, we are particularly keen to see how this will impact on the continued development of a high performance system for sport which has already delivered success for Scotland and the UK on the world stage."

Chair of Sport Wales, Professor Laura McAllister, added: "The decision to merge UK Sport and Sport England is a matter for DCMS and the Westminster Government. 

"Sport Wales would wish to ensure that any changes do not affect opportunities for our most talented competitors in Olympic and Paralympic sports. 

"We will be working closely with the Welsh Assembly Government, DCMS and UK Sport to ensure that the new structure not only safeguards athletes’ interests but provides improved services and funding to ensure continued success on the international stage."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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