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Sport England launches Backing The Best with SportsAid

Press release   •   Nov 10, 2015 10:16 GMT

Sport England has announced a ground-breaking new initiative with SportsAid today to help talented young athletes facing the greatest financial pressure.

The athletes who will benefit from the scheme are those for whom the cost of sport would ultimately prevent them from progressing through their sport’s talent development system to fulfil their potential.

Known as Backing The Best, the initiative will use £5.5 million of National Lottery funding over four years to extend SportsAid’s reach into new areas of the country and offer more support to those who face the biggest financial challenges. Annual awards of up to £5,000 per athlete will help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation and kit as well as providing extra support from coaches and physios.

All the athletes will be nominated to SportsAid by their sport’s governing bodies, after which the charity will perform a basic means test to ensure the funding goes to those who are most in need. The first awards will be made in February 2016 with up to 100 young athletes expected to benefit in the first year and around 200 athletes annually in subsequent years.

Sport England’s chief executive Jennie Price said, “It's impossible not to admire the young people who dedicate themselves to being the best they can be in their sport. But for some, a hard road becomes an impossible one due to tough financial circumstances.

"That's why we created Backing The Best. We can't make competitive sport any easier, but we can make it possible for those who deserve the chance."

SportsAid’s latest Athlete Survey has shown that the average annual cost of training and competing has risen to more than £6,200, with the parents of the 1,200 athletes the charity supported this year saying they spent £7.5 million last year alone to keep the nation’s brightest prospects in sport.

One of those athletes is 18-year-old Sophie Colebourn from Liverpool who is the second ranked senior women’s amateur boxer in England. She said, “I can't rely on my dad for money for equipment or supplements because he doesn’t have it. And if I don’t have the money that I need, I can’t do the things I want to in boxing.

“Training is intense, day in, day out. For a head guard it’s about £100, for a pair of boots it’s £100. So before funding it was a strain for my dad, and for my younger brother and sister, because they’d have to go without. My coach, Sid, has bought me equipment in the past when I haven’t had funding.

“Everyone’s dream is to go to the Olympics, isn’t it? But it’s a very long road and a lot of hard work.”

Tim Lawler, SportsAid’s chief executive, highlighted the enormous potential that Backing The Best could have for communities right across England, saying, “Sport can often be about seizing an opportunity at the right moment, but what if you’re never given that opportunity? Backing The Best is a fantastic new way to help those young athletes who need it most. We owe it to the next generation to at least give them an opportunity to progress – Backing The Best will do that.”

Research carried out by Leeds Met University in 2014 found that athletes from single-parent families, those living in rural areas and in many parts of the North East of England are most likely to drop out of sport, often due to the distance they have to travel to train and compete. Young athletes with a disability also have to travel further because there are fewer sports clubs and teams for disabled sports, which again means the price of making it to the top is higher.

UK Sport, the nation’s high performance sports agency, invests National Lottery funding in over 1300 British athletes with Olympic and Paralympic medal potential, and hopes the Backing The Best scheme will provide an even greater pool of young athletes with the potential to progress.

Liz Nicholl, UK Sport’s chief executive, said, “We want to see as many young, talented athletes as possible enabled to reach their full potential through the home nations’ talent pathways. Finance should not be a barrier in achieving their dreams, so Sport England’s National Lottery funded Backing The Best programme should provide a great stepping stone for promising youngsters to access and develop through the England Talent Pathway.”

For more information, visit

Case studies

Sophie Colebourn, boxing

  • 18 years old, from Liverpool

Sophie was badly bullied when she was younger – to the extent that she was beaten up in the local park when she was 11. Her brother found out and took her along to his local boxing club to help her learn to protect herself. She was a natural and is now ranked England number two. She lives in council-owned housing and her dad has sole custody of her and her two siblings. He struggles to afford the cost of fresh meat and fish, which is important for her nutrition, let alone new trainers and boxing equipment, and it’s her coach that has often stepped in to buy her gloves or kit. He also trains her for free. Funding from SportsAid and England Boxing has made all the difference to this athlete, and has allowed her to go to competitions across the UK and meant she hasn’t had to drop out of sport. She is currently the No.2 ranked senior women’s amateur boxer in England.

Emily Harris, paratriathlon

  • 18, from Great Yarmouth

Emily has broken five bones in the past year learning how to ride an adapted bike for the first time – she has one leg which makes balance on a bike more difficult. But the hours spent with her stepdad in their garden learning paid off - after being hand-picked for the paratriathlon team just 12 months ago, Emily has raced her way to the top and is now England number one. But it has been an expensive journey. Equipment for disabled athletes runs into the thousands - her bike was developed specially for her by an expert team at Loughborough. Her mother has remortgaged their home to pay for Emily's sport. Emily is currently recovering from a broken wrist and readying herself for next season.

Kye Whyte, BMX

  • 16, from Camberwell in London

Kye is a BMX racer who grew up in Camberwell. His club was set up as a refuge for teenagers from the area to keep them off the streets and is purposefully situated between two rival gang areas. The club has kept him away from negative influences and he is now traveling around the world competing in his sport at top level. His parents separated when he was young and his brother left home a few years ago because they have a very difficult home life. There is very little money – even finding cash for petrol to get to competitions can be tough. He was given a SportsAid award to help him stay in his sport. Kye is nine times British champ in BMX racing. He represented England in Europeans a few weeks ago in Manchester and was placed fourth and fifth.

Viddal Riley, boxing

  • 18, from East Ham in London

Viddal first started boxing with his dad aged just six. Many of the best boxers in the country come from his gym, and thanks to excellent coaches and huge dedication from Viddal he has reached the top in his sport. Disaster struck three months ago when he suffered an injury to his leg. Finances are tight - there is not much money to spare and Viddal can only work three days a week to fit in his training. His SportsAid funding paid for private healthcare so that he was back in the ring just three months later - making sure that his competitors weren't able to overtake him while he was off with injury. Without the award, he would have had to rely on the NHS, and the recovery process would have been at least nine months, rather than three.

Last year Viddal secured a silver medal in the Junior European Championships in Russia.

Noah Williams, diving

  • 15, from Hackney in London

Noah’s diving career kicked off in 2011 when he won a national competition. He then threw himself into training, for which he had to travel six times a week from Hackney to Crystal Palace. Time became such a strain on the family that his dad decided to leave his job to ferry Noah between school and training sessions. The travel was also very costly, and with only one parent working, travel costs also became a strain on the family. His dad also travelled to competitions home and abroad with him. In addition, Noah has an older sister with Cerebral Palsy who ended up spending a lot of her time in the car with Noah and their dad as there was no one else to look after her. But the sacrifices have been worthwhile – Noah has all the makings of a true star. Between 2011 & 2015 Noah has won national age group championships on three diving disciplines, after which he was invited on to the England Talent Programme. He competed for his club at internationals, competed at Junior Elites which he won on the three metre springboard before withdrawing through injury on platform. He was then selected to compete for the Junior GB team at Junior worlds in Russia - he came sixth in the platform event - and this year he represented GB juniors at Junior Europeans. His aim is to represent GB at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Tokyo Olympics 2020. His mum Julia said, “As parents all we can do is to support him and encourage him, although he has always been motivated to achieve to the best of his ability. England talent camps cost £100 + travel a time, competitions cost travel, hotels (they are usually in Plymouth/Leeds/Sheffield) and entry fees. When he was injured we paid for weekly appointments to an Osteopath. Any funding Noah receives takes the pressure off us as a family and gives him opportunities. His first lot of SportsAid funding paid for him to attend a competition in Rome and qualify for junior worlds.”

More information

For more information please contact the Sport England press office:

About Sport England

Sport England is focused on helping people and communities across the country create a sporting habit for life. We will invest over £1 billion of National Lottery and Exchequer funding between 2012 and 2017 in organisations and projects that will:

  • Help more people have a sporting habit for life
  • Create more opportunities for young people to play sport
  • Nurture and develop talent
  • Provide the right facilities in the right places
  • Support local authorities and unlock local funding
  • Ensure real opportunities for communities.

The National Lottery has been changing lives for 20 years. Every week National Lottery players raise over £30 million to help change people's lives across the UK.

About SportsAid

For almost 40 years, SportsAid has helped British athletes to overcome the financial challenges they face in their bid to become Britain’s next Olympians, Paralympians and world champions. The charity’s patron is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.

Some of the best known SportsAid recipients are Sir Chris Hoy, David Weir CBE, Mo Farah CBE, Dame Sarah Storey, Jessica Ennis-Hill CBE, Ellie Simmonds OBE, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE, Sir Ben Ainslie, Jonnie Peacock MBE, Tom Daley, Ade Adepitan MBE and Sir Steve Redgrave. In the last three years the charity has helped 5,000 of the UK’s brightest prospects who hope to follow in their footsteps.

Sport England is a long-standing supporter of SportsAid’s work.

SportsAid Athlete Survey

SportsAid’s athlete survey has been conducted every year since 2007. For this year’s survey, some of the data was collected from the charity’s online nomination system (sample size: 1192) while the remainder came from a subsequent questionnaire which was sent to every athlete who has received funding from the charity this year (sample size: 714).

The data was analysed for SportsAid by Nunki. For more information, please contact Simon Worsfold at SportsAid on 020 7273 1978.

Leeds Met sports research

Leeds Metropolitan University has carried out research – Exploring the financial constraints of athletes on the England Talent Pathway - on behalf of Sport England.

Earlier Sports Aid investigations had identified that access to funding is one of the main barriers faced by developing athletes, and these barriers could lead to them dropping out of training.

According to the research, 40 per cent of parents suggest that their son or daughter was most likely to drop out of sport at the middle to higher levels of the talent pathway. Pinch points were identified in the study as being at the level just below World Class Performance/Elite, as travel and accommodation costs escalated.

The research has been used to inform and develop the Sport England and SportsAid Backing The Best scheme. For more information, or a copy of the research, contact Sport England media department.

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