By David Owen

Great Britain's women's water polo team are facing the end of the road ©Getty ImagesAs 4,500 competitors vie for Commonwealth Games medals in Glasgow over the coming days, a group of athletes who won gold in their sport's Commonwealth Championships in April are facing the break-up of their team.

The Great Britain women's water polo team followed up that triumph, when they were playing as England, by upsetting world champions Spain in Manchester later the same month.

Yet now, following the end of an ultimately disappointing European Championship campaign, some of this highly promising team face the prospect of quitting the sport for good, as a consequence of the withdrawal of water polo's elite performance funding.

It was in February that UK Sport, Britain's elite sports funding body, announced that the £4.54 million ($7.53 million/€5.54 million) water polo had initially been awarded to see them through to the Rio 2016 Olympics had been redistributed to other sports.

"Water polo was among the sports that were not able to demonstrate they had a realistic chance of performing well within the top eight in Rio 2016 and targeting a medal performance in 2020," the body said.

The team's fate was sealed, apparently definitively, nearly two months later, when British Swimming decided not to appeal this withdrawal of elite performance funding, although it is pursuing an appeal against the withdrawal of funding from synchronised swimming.

British Swimming now says that the removal of funding means there is "uncertainty whether Britain will be represented in future international tournaments".

UK Sport said the team had not demonstrated medal potential for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Getty ImagesUK Sport said the team had not demonstrated medal potential for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

"Players will now focus on finding employment, rather than achieving performance goals in the biggest sporting arena," the body says.

Fran Clayton, one of five members of the team who British Swimming says has had to find a full-time job, says having the funding cut has "enforced a life change which I wasn't ready for".

She goes on: "I was expecting to be part of a centralised team training full-time in Manchester, but instead I have had to rethink everything.

"I do fear about the impact these funding cuts will have on water polo in this country.

"Although there is still a strong club network, where is the inspiration for younger players if there isn't a national team to aspire to join?"

Captain Rosie Morris says the tightly-knit group was "looking forward to training full-time as a team".

Captain Rosie Morris believes UK Sport's funding withdrawal is a waste of potential  ©Getty ImagesCaptain Rosie Morris believes UK Sport's funding withdrawal is a waste of potential
©Getty Images

"When we look at the progress we've made with so little centralised training, it seems such a waste of potential to stop just when we had the opportunity to come together and develop," she adds.

Head coach Kostas Vamvakaris, whose role now finishes at the end of this month, says: "After the funding was cut, all of the team were very disappointed and they knew the European Championships was likely to be the last international competition of their career.

"The impact of ending the centralised programme meant the players have had to alter their lives accordingly, which meant it was all the more challenging to be 100 per cent focused during our preparation phase."

Underlining the sense of waste felt by those who have come to question the UK's ostensibly highly successful elite sports funding policy, insofar as it pertains to team sport, Vamvakaris argues that recent results have shown that "the difference between us and the highest-ranked teams is small.

"A lot of the girls are young and have great potential, but this will be lost if there isn't the political will to support a dedicated programme.

"Training a couple of days a week will not meet the standard required to break through internationally."

Chloe Wilcox, an experienced player, believes there is "a real danger that the junior players will drop out of the sport because there is nothing to aim for, or be forced to move abroad like I am doing in order to continue playing the game we all love".

Wilcox says she is still hoping sports minister Helen Grant will "see sense and help to reinstall the funding to enable a GB water polo team to continue competing at the highest level".

For all UK Sport's sophisticated assessment apparatus, you did not need to watch this team for long, or even to comprehend more than the rudiments of the sport, to see that it possessed a nucleus of young talent around which a highly competitive squad could have been built until Tokyo 2020 and beyond.

It seems a crying shame, given the sums being lavished on many other Olympic sports, that the funding to enable these exceptional role models to fulfil their undoubted potential could not have been kept in place.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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