Cuts will cost us medals, claims sports chief Anne Smillie

Scotland's medal chances at next year's Commonwealth Games will be affected by government cuts, according to one leading sports chief executive.

Kirsty Gilmour won a badminton silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games but budget costs could impact on 2018, with netball and parasport also affected

At least £2 million is to be stripped from Sportscotland’s funding to various governing bodies as part of a policy shift by the Scottish Government.

Anne Smillie of Badminton Scotland is fearful for the repercussions for her sport, which is already reeling from losing the entire allocation of its funding from UK Sport.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“It’s a double-header for us,” said Smillie. “With badminton dropped by UK Sport, there’s already £40,000 gone. Then with a cut from Sportscotland on top, it makes it exceptionally difficult to manage the budget. We’ll have to cut across the board, particularly in performance. We’re mindful Sportscotland is doing what it can to mitigate the cuts. But there’s no doubt we’ve been hit hard.”

Smillie has looked at the figures from every conceivable angle but what once tallied no longer adds up. As the new financial year looms next week, a game of recalculation and readjustment has been played in recent days across Scottish sport as the full consequences of sudden and deep cuts to the Scottish Government’s investment into governing bodies is felt.

“It will affect Scotland’s medal chances at the Commonwealth Games,” Smillie said of the 2018 Games which will take place in Australia next April. “There aren’t going to be personal awards for all the team which makes it difficult. We’ll do what we can to support individuals but there’s issues now.”

Badminton is just one of the sports to be chilled by the wind of change in priorities at Holyrood, one which has brought reductions in its annual grant from Sportscotland with little notice. It is thought only a handful of sports will eventually escape.

With £2 million the starting point in shrinking the pot as funding offers were formally despatched last week, there has been little time to concoct Plan B. Sport represents 0.4 per cent of the total health budget – mere pennies – and its advocates argue it is the best possible buy. Yet there is still a cost to getting the inactive off their sofa and into breaking a sweat. Every little helps, and there are fears that more will be left idle and eventually heap a greater burden on the NHS, not less.

Most governing bodies contacted by Scotland on Sunday suggest the pain will be most keenly felt at that cutting edge, where attitudes – and lives – can be changed.

“We hope it will have minimal impact but we are reviewing what we deliver,” admitted Netball Scotland’s chief executive Claire Nelson. “But we’re an extremely 
fast-growing governing body so any cut is felt. Our membership is 70 per cent above target. We’ve invested in a professional club in Sirens. So to try and deliver on our key programmes is now a challenge.”

One possible solution will be to work with others to bridge the gaps. At least netball’s performance arm has attracted enough commercial sponsorship to withstand the storm. “It won’t affect our plans for Commonwealth Games,” Nelson insisted. “It will show up more at the community end.”

Parasport too will be squeezed, seemingly contradicting the inclusion agenda. Scottish Disability Sport, its chief Gavin Macleod confirmed, is caught up in this forthcoming vicious circle where staff will remain in situ but with diminished resources to act effectively. “How we support governing bodies becomes an issue. We might have the staff on the ground still to do things like club development, coach education and building performance programmes. But it impacts on the support we might have available for athletes.”

One radical solution would be for UK Sport to divest a small proportion of its budget away from the monied monoliths of sailing and rowing to give the home nations the little extra they need to keep foundations solid. An unlikely volte-face. Hence, when the full ramifications are known by the month’s end across every governing body, it seems certain that the collective pushback to Scotland’s Sports Minister Aileen Campbell will be swift and vociferous.