After Government Defunding, British Weightlifters Appeal to Public for Help

After losing government funding, many of Britain’s greatest weightlifters are in serious financial straits and may not be able to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The trouble began in December 2016 when Britain’s Olympic weightlifting team lost all of their government funding for the Tokyo 2020 training cycle, along with badminton, archery, fencing, and wheelchair rugby.

Why? UK Sport, the government body that funds elite sport in the United Kingdom and Great Britain, decided that there wasn’t enough potential for medals. The organization’s CEO Liz Nicholl told the BBC,

“We would like to invest in every sport but the reality is we have to prioritise to protect and enhance the medal potential. If we under-invest across the board then the British teams will ultimately underperform at the Games and medal success will be put at risk.”

“It is a bit of a vicious cycle,” Commonwealth medalist and Olympic hopeful Sarah Davies told BarBend. “The government will only fund athletes to be full time if they are winning world medals but it is hard to be winning world medals if you cannot dedicate your whole life to it. I don’t know how we are supposed to break this cycle.”

“British Weightlifting were dropped by UK Sport essentially due to our historical lack of Olympic medals and doubt in our ability to achieve them in the future,” says Zoë Pablo Smith, 2012 Olympian and current national record holder in the clean & jerk and total. “However, with the prospect of weightlifting cleaning it’s act up a little so to speak, if there was ever a chance to shoot our shot it’s now.”

A little help for English athletes (but not those from Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales) came in the form of funding from Sport England, a non-governmental organization that helped them qualify for the recent Commonwealth Games. But the situation became a lot more complicated after the International Weightlifting Federation announced changes to the Olympic qualification process in June.

Now athletes need to compete six times in drug-tested, IWF-run competitions during the 18-month qualifying period, and while previously countries qualified with the combined totals of six athletes at preceding competitions, athletes must now personally qualify.

It’s complicated, but essentially British weightlifters have lost all their government funding yet they need to compete more than ever before in order to get into the Olympics. Combine that with the fact that there’s no more money from Sport England, and most Olympic hopefuls simply can’t afford to compete enough.

“As athletes we were not aware that once (Sport England’s) money was used that the governing body would not have sufficient funds to keep sending us to competitions as we expected revenues from the non-governing body to continue to fund this,” says Davies. “We were told this week that that was not the case.”

That means that British weightlifters are now in a desperate scramble for funds to enable them to go to the 2018 World Weightlifting Championships in Turkmenistan this November. It seems likely they’ll also need to compete in the 2019 WWC, two European Championships, and two others that are currently up in the air (and may vary by athlete). Attendance for all six competitions works out at about £10,000 per athlete.

If you’d like to help, you can visit Sarah Davies’ Just Giving page here (or buy some of her programming) or you can check out Zoë Smith’s Gofundme — she offers weightlifting coaching and programing for certain donations and will donate any funds in excess of her ten thousand-pound goal to her teammates.

“We know we might not be the strongest weightlifting team on the planet but giving us the opportunity to get to an Olympic Games, something most have us have dreamed of since we were kids, is a really big deal to us,” says Smith. “Thank you for letting us dream.”

Featured image via @sarahd_gb and @zoepablosmith on Instagram.