DCMS hears athlete feedback on National Lottery’s accountability concerns

A DCMS Select Committee has heard the lived experiences of Olympic and Paralympic athletes supported by National Lottery funding. 

Adam Peaty (MBE), 3x Olympic Gold swimmer, champion Paralympic rower Lauren Rowles and swimmer Ellie Robinson served as witnesses to the Committee’s ‘What next for the National Lottery’ panel.

MPs probed the athletes on their experience of receiving and applying for National Lottery funding with regards to their development and achieving their professional goals.

The panel began proceedings by recounting their experiences of applying for ‘Athlete Performance Awards’ (APAs) provided by UK Sport, which distributes grants based on an athletes’ yearly performance and projections.  

“At the start of the year you get told what the funding policy is and how to get on to it. You are clearly told as an elite athlete that funding will be based on your performance during that year or season,” Rowles explained to the committee.

Rowles’ experience was shared by Peaty and Robinson, as the panel outlined the harsh make-or-break realities of UK Sports athlete funding structure.

Peaty highlighted the ‘accessibility barriers’ of funding for athletes from working-class backgrounds, as the APAs were simply based on performance, and made no distinction with regards to an athlete’s personal circumstances.

Following initial statements, the Committee asked the panel to examine the role of the National Lottery as the main fundraising body of UK sports and its relationship with governing bodies.

Focusing on social mobility, the athletes were probed on whether National Lottery funding had any influence on motivating governing bodies to improve accessibility.

Reflecting on the common experiences of disabled athletes, Rowles stated that the majority of governing bodies had no dedicated person promoting accessibility and that matters would only be highlighted when “shouted about by disabled athletes, who have been pushed to the back of the bus”.

Returning the panel to the key theme of the National Lottery’s future, Labour MP Kevin Brennan questioned the athletes on their knowledge of the National Lottery’s stewardship under Camelot UK. 

Consequently, Brennan highlighted national audit reports that “returns for good causes in 2017 were only 2% higher in 2017 than they had been in 2009, whereas in the same period Camelot’s profits were 122% higher?”.  

As the Panel’s highest-profile member, Peaty responded: “I read about this a few days ago, it’s hard because it’s gambling. Are we funded to make them look good?

“I think if we’re doing that then there should be more funding. If your profits are going up by 120% and good causes is only going up by 2%, then it doesn’t take anyone with two brain cells to go ‘hold on a minute, what’s going on here?’ Camelot or whoever gets the next award… there needs to be more back to society.”

Peaty’s frank remarks were welcomed by SNP committee member John Nicolson MP, who stated his disbelief that athletes were pressured to “pay homage to a greedy Camelot” during interviews.

He said: “The fact you are instructed to obsequies on camera, made me feel terribly uncomfortable because at the end of the day this is funded by gambling and we know that gambling is funded by the poorest people in society and in the poorest areas of society.”

The SNP member asked the panel whether they ‘felt orchestrated to feel cheery and happy about sports funding being relied upon by gambling”.

“I think it’s hard,” Peaty replied. “It’s a societal problem really. Camelot obviously use good causes, use the national lottery funding, to gamble.

“Yes, it’s great that we get this funding but there needs to be more accountability and more of a clear vision of where the money is actually going and the story they are telling.”

On the future of sports funding, Rowles acknowledged wider concerns that the National Lottery held little appeal for a new generation of consumers to support sports funding, adding: “You’re constantly reminded that the National Lottery fund this and there’s also a fear that where does the National Lottery go? 

“My generation don’t play the National Lottery, it’s my Nan and my Mum. People my age don’t play, so there’s a fear of where that goes.”

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