Winning in the New Millennium
by David Rutherford

Will Britain ever be a great sporting nation again?


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Sport in the U.K. needs a radical overhaul. The Premiership may be awash with millionaires but it was not built on any National success unless they are French, Italian, German, Brazilian or Danish. The players of today are merely the fortuitous fillings in the sandwich, nicely placed between the global television stations and digital TV wannabes. It is they who are trying to present Europe with a "genetically modified" European league. They have cultivated the ground, they are buying and sowing the seed, to be enjoyed from the confines of your living room, so they can reap the reward.

Television needs product. The marketing men have decided that Europeans will pay a premium for a European football League. Consequentially they are investing huge amounts of money, trying to secure the rights to a European league that will ultimately bring them even larger profits. The players and their agents aware that at present they hold the power are making hay whilst the sunshine's. I dare say once a winner in the Broadcasting World materializes a wage cap will appear and the harvest will not be so plentiful for the players.

Rugby experienced it, but for a much shorter time, just after the World Cup of 1995 in South Africa. Reality has now struck home, squads have been cut and the new contracts are not as rewarding as the old.

What this country needs is wholesale success, not a few extremely wealthy sportsmen plying their trade, offering little in return to the Nation as a whole. Harsh maybe, but like many, I am whole heatedly sick of these so-called stars complaining about the stresses they face. If they think it so stressful to kick a ball about, of what ever shape and be well paid for doing it with such mediocrity on a global stage, then that is exactly the type of stress I am looking for.

There needs to be a root and branch reform in this country. Yes, Sport is in the entertainment business, but it also transcends business, it permeates every echelon of society and has the capacity to both inspire and demoralize individuals and economies.

If this country is truly interested in sport then the government must look at, as a matter of urgency, the NCAA system that operates in the United States. We need to invest in sport at university level. We need to establish and promote student sport across the board. If it can be done for Oxford and Cambridge, it can be done for all. Certainly there are already structures in place in certain sports but this needs to be further enhanced and promoted. All the very best athletes should as a matter of course have to attend University. We often cast our eyes across the Atlantic to see how they continually achieve success. I find it strange therefore that we always seem to pass over what is their foundation of success, namely a strong and thriving (both competitively and financially) college system.

Sport in this country outside of football requires government intervention or should I say whole sale financial support to succeed or indeed survive. Not in the form of a national stadium or other facilities that the nation will only need in one off competitions that we may or may not get. No the investment needs to go into grass roots funding. In very simplistic terms, if we produce the best athletes / Rugby players / swimmers / cricket players etc, in the world, we will ensure their survival and maybe even our National identity. Having the best facilities in the world won't compel the likes of the Americans or Australians etc. to compete against us, but having the best competitors will.

Having the best Stadiums in Europe will not bring in the crowds having the best teams will. If we are going to build the best facilities in the World, lets have make sure that we have competitors worthy of them.

Our national teams' successes cannot rely on being delivered by being run like a traditional business. This is because running a successful business is vastly different from producing world-beating teams.

Yes, ultimately a successful team should in theory become a profitable one, if the off field activities are handled correctly, but that is merely a happy spin off. Most shareholders invest in a product because they believe it is going to offer them a better rate of return than sticking their money somewhere else. In sporting terms and in the short term, gains can achieved quickly by investing in talented players who will help the side win things irrespective of where they come from, hence the influx of foreign "stars", Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U being classic cases.

By doing this you can quickly produce winnings team and reap the rewards. This though merely results in a few clubs becoming richer and richer and importing more and more foreign stars in order to maintain their status. Quickly we reach a situation whereby at the beginning of a season you can almost name the top 5 clubs; it's just a matter of which order they eventually end up in. English players get squeezed out because they are not up to speed, due in part to second team football having been cut and the lack of investment in our own youth, in order to meet the huge wage bills, itıs a bubble waiting to burst. It will either implode or explode into a European league but either way domestic football will soon lose it's appeal.

This system will produce a few highly profitable clubs and allow teams like Manchester to conqueror but as we all saw England only just scraped into Europe. This is almost acceptable in Football because most Manchester, Arsenal or Chelsea fans would probably rather see their club win the European cup than England the win the World Cup. However the story is entirely different across the rest of the sporting spectrum. I dare say and the clubs probably wouldn't care to admit it but had England won the recent Rugby World Cup they would have seen more people pass through their gates than via any marketing plan they chose to come up with.

They sporting public needs to be energized, nothing breeds success like success. If Tony Blair and his spin-doctors want to make the next century a Labour century then the Government should plough a billion pounds over the next 10 years into British Sport.

Just imagine living in a country that boosted the World Cup winning teams at Football in 2006, Rugby in 2007, Cricket 2003 and an Olympic team that returned with 25 Gold medals from the 2008 Olympic games and a British player winning Wimbledon. The feel good factor alone would drive the economy along for the next 20 years, investment would come pouring in, the public would be flocking to watch our stars. Then truly our sports may become self-sustaining and actually a source of job creation!

A dream maybe, but with the proper investment and direction now and a measure of good fortune not an impossibility. Success would also force the World to bring the major games to our shores and we wouldn't have to build white elephants in the hope that we may one day lure them here.



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