Countdown to Paris 2024: Westminster Hosts Team GB Athletes
Left to right: Olympic Cyclist Ed Clancy, Boccia Paralympic medalist David Smith, Paralympic rower Ellen Buttrick, Chair of UK Sport Dame Katherine Grainger, Boccia athlete Sally Kidson and Taekwondo World Champion Caden Cunningham.
With the Paris Olympics and Paralympics now just one year away, Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes took time out from their busy training schedules to meet with MPs at a parliamentary reception, hosted by UK Sport. It was a chance to celebrate the contribution that elite sport makes to the UK and for our athletes to share how they are preparing to make the nation proud at Paris 2024.
Few sporting events spark the imagination of the British public as much as the Olympic and Paralympic games. Every generation has its own memories and its own heroes. Next summer, there will be a host of new names to add to the roster of British sports stars, as the nation’s athletes head to the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics in pursuit of their dreams.
A recent Parliamentary reception gave MPs a unique insight into the achievements and ambitions of our past, present, and future Olympians and Paralympians as the clock toward the opening ceremony ticks down. It was also an opportunity to celebrate the enormous social, economic, and cultural contribution that high-performance sport makes to the UK.
Hosting the event was Loughborough MP, Jane Hunt, whose constituency includes Loughborough University, a world-leader in sports research and science that provides training facilities to many elite British athletes.
“Loughborough is a shining example of how hard work, dedication, and teamwork across many different organisations can lead to international success and excellence,” she told the gathering.
Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, echoed Hunt’s sentiments, and highlighted the wider benefits that sporting excellence can bring to society as a whole.
“Sport has the magical ability to unite us,” she told those attending the event. “It boosts health and well-being, brings communities together, and provides enormous economic value.”
Dinenage’s theme was taken up by Minister for Sport, Stuart Andrew MP., He praised the investment that is providing the foundation for sporting success by allowing Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes to train full-time to achieve their potential. Andrew also acknowledged that, beyond the elite performance that delivers Olympic medals, there is also a wider positive impact that sporting excellence has on our society.
“The economic return for the UK is enormous,” he told those attending the event. “But it is also about what sport does for the public. 66% of the British public said that they were inspired by the success of Olympic and Paralympic teams in Tokyo 2020, with 40% of them saying they wanted to become more active and were motivated to do more physical activity.”
However, the real stars of the show were the athletes who were in attendance. Paralympic rower Ellen Buttrick, five-time Boccia Paralympic medalist David Smith and athlete Sally Kidson, Olympic Cyclist Ed Clancy, and Taekwondo World Champion Caden Cunningham all shared their sporting stories with MPs and spoke about their personal journeys as Paris 2024 approaches.
The panel discussion was led by the Chair of UK Sport, Dame Katherine Grainger. As a former Olympic rower, and the first British woman to win medals at five successive Olympic Games, Grainger well knows the levels of commitment and determination that sit behind every Olympic and Paralympic triumph. She is also aware of the vital importance of the solid financial foundation that sits behind every medal success.
“All of these people are working absolutely tirelessly,” she told attendees. “And that hard work is only possible because of the incredible, long-term, and visionary commitment of investment made by the government and the National Lottery.”
For Paralympic rower Ellen Buttrick, it was actually Grainger’s gold medal success in the 2012 London Games that inspired her to focus on the sport as a young woman.
“We'd go down to the Learn to Row club in Leeds, and then we'd go home and watch you race,” she told Grainger. “It was so exciting to watch and very inspirational. And that's the moment when I thought, ‘Maybe I could do this’.”
For Grainger, the ability that sport possesses to connect and inspire is what makes it such a powerful and transformational force.
“Success doesn’t just ripple,” she says. “It pours out across the country. And people across society suddenly feel that anything could be possible.”
That expansion of the horizon of what is possible was a common theme across many of the athletes’ stories along with the ability of sport to develop skills that are transferrable to wider life.
Now retired Olympic cyclist Ed Clancy has a hugely impressive haul of Olympic medals. However, when he describes the impact of sporting success on his life, Clancy instead focuses on the broader skillset that competitive sport has helped him develop. He believes that this was only possible because of the stable financial support that athletes receive.
“Government and the National Lottery funding through UK Sport has given me everything,” he says. “Not just financially. I am talking about confidence and life skills. You learn so much more than riding the bike. You learn about teamwork, how to be punctual, how to dress well, how to meet deadlines.”
That message was reinforced by Boccia Paralympian David Smith. Smith holds three Paralympic Gold medals and had the honour of being selected to carry the British flag at the closing ceremony of Tokyo 2020.
Smith told attendees that being a funded athlete opened up new opportunities for him that have enabled him to live independently and travel the world. Smith is now promoting Boccia at a community level, working with local schools.
“I feel like having one of the most inclusive sports in the world, we should share it with as many people as possible,” he told parliamentarians.
Smith is one of a cohort of athletes who are now working as part of UK Sport’s Powered by Purpose programme to use their sporting platforms to inspire, facilitate and enable positive change.
“A lot of athletes have interests beyond just their sport,” Smith explained. “We've now got athletes who are incredible ambassadors for a whole range of passions that they care about and are making the world a better place.”
Minister for Sport, Stuart Andrew MP praised the spirit of collaboration and partnership that exists between government and sporting bodies that is creating the platform for sporting success and allowing athletes to have a wider impact.
“This is an area where teamwork matters,” he told attendees. “To everyone who will be representing the UK at the Olympics and the Paralympics, good luck. You make every single one of us so very proud. We can’t wait to see how you all get on next year. The country will be right behind you.”
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