By Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport
Every time the Olympic Games come around, a new wave of children and young people are inspired to become world class, gold-medal athletes.
They hold this dream in their hearts and feel their future success in every cell of their body, but at some point reality kicks in…
The Inspiring an Active Jersey Strategy sets out a long-term plan to address these limitations and has the vision for Jersey to become “A proud sporting nation where islanders can play sport to the extent of their ability and desire.”
Currently in Jersey there is no funded performance programme for sport, which means all financial costs involved with achieving international podium success and childhood dreams falls onto parents, clubs and, occasionally, sponsors. For many, this simply isn’t a possibility.
Without performance funding for sport, we’re limiting our island’s athletes in their progress beyond a certain point.
Jersey has a great sporting community and regularly produces athletes with both the skills and desire to progress to international success. Jersey Sports Foundation offers excellent support to our on-island performance athletes providing services such as strength and conditioning coaching, and the opening of Strive further enhances the facilities and services available to athletes. But there are still huge gaps in funding for coaching, competition expenses, equipment and subsistence allowanced to allow athletes to train part- or full-time.
What would performance funding mean for Jersey’s identity?
Home-grown athletes shine a spotlight on our island, inspiring others through their incredible stories of dedication, overcoming adversity and athletic success. I believe that we must support our athletes in reaching a point where they can pursue sport full-time. The current model makes professional sport elitist and creates division. Sport is a way to positively profile Jersey on the world stage but there’s only so far you can go in Jersey without access to the right level of competition, support and funding. For example, Isle of Man athlete Mark Cavendish proudly talks about his Manx heritage and the support he received in his early days from their lottery funded performance programme.
Aspiration is a powerful motivator.
I would love to be able to say, one day, that Jersey supports every child’s dream. And although not every child may dream of becoming a gold-medal, podium finisher, there are always gold medal moments in every sport, at every level. The thrill of winning an inter-insular event or being the fastest runner in school might be someone’s gold medal moment they cherish forever. While very few make it to the pinnacle, everyone who takes part in sport achieves a goal, with many going on to support their favourite sport as a coach, volunteer or mentor.
This year’s British athletes have been on top form at the Tokyo Olympics and I’ve loved watching the extreme sports that generally get less coverage, like skateboarding, BMX and rapid water canoeing. As GB athlete Charlotte Worthington secured a gold medal for her incredible performance in BMX freestyle, I considered the thousands of hours’ practice she’s dedicated to becoming the best. How many bruises, bumps, disappointments and spectacular falls she’s had on her journey to the top and the team of people that have supported her on her journey including family and friends, coaches, nutritionists and sports physiotherapists. They say it takes a community to raise a child and I would say the same is true in the building of a world-class athlete.
So where does Jersey go from here?
The Commonwealth Games are due to take place in Birmingham in July 2022, followed by the Island Games in Guernsey in 2023. The cost of flying off-island has always been an issue, and COVID-19 restrictions and testing have added a further layer of complication and financial implications. Put simply, sports progression is difficult for those unable to self-fund. And quite frankly, that’s unfair.
Jersey needs to look at the different ways it can support our performance athletes and create a solid structure to help those working their way up the sporting ladder. We need a programme that picks up talented sporting stars and supports them so that they can train multiple times each week and compete at the high level required to succeed without it being a household income lottery. Most UK gold medalists are professional athletes on a full-time lottery funded programme. The success of the few at the top feeds into the motivation of the masses. Most athletes started their career as a child watching sports on TV or at events and thinking, “I want do that!”
Earlier this year, Jersey BMX star Alex Coleborn was selected to represent Great Britain at the BMX Freestyle World Championships and narrowly missed out on Tokyo. The last Jersey Olympian was swimmer Simon Militis who competed in Sydney in 2000.
That same year, Sark’s Carl Hester claimed the Channel Island’s first medal since 1920 when he won gold in the team dressage event.
Elizabeth Cann, a Jersey athlete who became national badminton champion and England’s number one but narrowly missed out on London 2012 said at the time: “You need to be able to afford to have the right infrastructures in place and the right level of coaches within the island to be able to compete with the professional structures they have outside the island… Jersey could help athletes by supporting them financially even if they’re not based in the island.” We must all work harder and together to ensure that gap does not extend beyond Paris 2024.
It’s sad to think that ten years on and we’re still no closer to financially supporting our home-grown talent.
At Jersey Sport we’re doing everything we can to support clubs and sporting organisations behind the scenes, and our priority is working with the Government of Jersey and other sponsors and partners to establish a funded performance programme in Jersey.