Sunday, April 14, 2024

England Squash suffer substantial funding cut

Happier times: England celebrated success at the Men’s World Team Championship in June 2013

England Squash suffer budget slash and are threatened with further action unless new objectives are met
By Lee Horton – Squash Mad Reporter

England Squash has been hit with a £355,000 funding cut after failing to halt the decline in people playing the sport.

Sport England announced the 20 per cent reduction in financial support and also issued a three-point action plan with the veiled threat of further cuts if things do not improve.They demand:

  1. A rapid and immediate improvement in leadership.
  2. A complete review of the ESR’s current participation strategy and current development staffing structure by October 1st.
  3. The demonstration of a sound understanding of the market and consumer trends within the sport with particular focus of the player motivations.

Squash was one of six sports, including basketball, tennis, swimming ,table tennis and fencing, singled out by Sport England’s demands for improvement.

The latest Active People Survey, which measures participation levels based on the number of people taking part in an activity for at least 30 minutes a week, revealed that 240,700 over-16′s played squash at least once a week.

That figure showed a decrease on last year’s total of 257,100 representing a 0.55 drop but still showed the sport holding it’s own despite the economic downturn, closure of courts and the disappointment of missing out on Olympic Games inclusion.

The decline in playing numbers comes at a time when England are enjoying unparalleled success at the top level.

Yorkshire’s Nick Matthew is the current World champion and world number one ranked player, James Willstrop, Peter Barker and Daryl Selby are in the world’s top 10 while women players Laura Massaro (2), Alison Waters (4) and Jenny Duncalf (9) are among the world’s elite.

In their statement issued on Thursday, Sport England said:

“In December 2012, Sport England committed £13.5m for the period 2013-17, this included £4.98, to the ESR four-year talent and elite programmes and a one-year investment of £2.5m into its participation programmes.

“While the ESR’s talent and elite programmes remain at a notably high standard, there has been limited progress on the participation agenda and the number of people playing the game continues to decline.

“England Sport is therefore investing £3.37m in ESR over the next year, including £1,25m for it’s talent and elite programmes.This includes a 20 per cent reduction (£355,000) for participation programmes to reflect its poor performance in increasing its number of regular players.”

Peter Goldson, Chair of England Squash & Racketball, said: “We’d like to thank Sport England for its ongoing support. ESR is committed to driving participation and will continue to work with key partners, squash facility owners, managers and operators to grow the sport at a grassroots level.

“By listening to our players and potential players, ESR will focus on working smarter to retain and increase the number of people playing squash and racketball. Our commitment to lead, influence, enable and support more people to play more often will be our immediate priority.”

Sport England, which invests £250m a year in grassroots sport, has given a cautious welcome to attempts by the Lawn Tennis Association to turn around a decline in the number of people playing the game.

A year ago it placed the LTA in “special measures” and said its funding could be cut unless it changed its outlook and started to address an alarming decline in participation figures.

Andy MurrayDespite Andy Murray (pictured right) becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, the latest figures showed a decline from 423,400 to 406,000 in the past year. Since 2005, the number of people playing once a week has slumped from 457,200.

But Sport England announced on Thursday that it had been largely convinced by the change in outlook at the LTA that coincided with the departure of Roger Draper and the arrival this month of the new Chief Executive Michael Downey from Tennis Canada.

But to continue to receive its full £17.3m four-year funding allocation, it will have to start delivering quantifiable results. Sport England said it had already docked £114,000 to reinvest into a local authority pilot project aimed at getting more 16 to 25-year-olds playing the sport.

Football and cricket were warned that their governing bodies are likely to be the next to lose millions in public money after Sport England got “tough” on the alarming decline in participation since the Olympics.

New sports minister Helen Grant also vowed to clamp down on those who saw cash they received from the exchequer and National Lottery as a “gravy train” following the latest round of funding decisions by the grassroots watchdog.

Football, cricket, golf and netball all suffered slumps in participation in Sport England’s most recent Active People Survey and can expect to pay the price in the near future.

The Football Association and England and Wales Cricket Board could therefore lose some of the respective £30 million and £20 million of grassroots funding each received for the current four-year cycle.

Grant said: “Sports governing bodies are getting in the region of about £500 million to finance their grassroots plans and to engage with our young people.

“But it’s no gravy train and if the sports’ governing bodies can’t deliver then it’s going to be redirected elsewhere to those who can – it’s as simple as that.

“If sports are not performing then they need to look out. We cannot reward failure with public money.”

Sport England Director of Sport Phil Smith added of football: “If football fails then we fail because of the scale of the numbers that play the game.”

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Sports Minister Grant is attending a squash event in her Maidstone constituency tomorrow (Saturday). She will be guest of honour at The Mote Squash Club, host venue for the Select Gaming Kent Open.

Main picture by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite); Andy Murray picture by Beth Wilson

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