New National Lottery funding to help young athletes meet the rising cost of sport

The rising cost of becoming a sports star has led to some of England’s best up-and-coming talent dropping out, with new research showing parents have to fork out as much as £27,000 a year to help their child pursue their sporting ambition.

The study comes as Sport England launches Backing The Best, a ground-breaking new scheme to support talented young athletes. It will help families of the next Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis-Hill or Ellie Simmonds who might feel competitive sport is out of their financial reach.

On average, athletes and their families are paying £6,200 a year, with some paying up to four times that, according to the study by charity SportsAid, which is delivering the scheme. And the cost of progressing towards top-level competition is growing all the time.

More than two thirds (68 per cent) of young athletes rely entirely on their parents and charitable donations to fund their sporting dreams, the research shows. From a recent sample group of 1,192 young SportsAid-supported athletes, the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ covered a collective bill of more than £7.5 million annually.

Parents are taking on second jobs or having to go without to meet the costs, and, in some cases, giving up work to ferry their child to and from training. Others have had to remortgage their home.

Sport England’s Backing The Best scheme will commit £5.5 million of National Lottery funding over four years for talented youngsters who, because of their family’s financial situation, might not get the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Jennie Price, Sport England’s chief executive, said:

“It’s impossible not to admire the young people who dedicate themselves to being the best they can be in their sport. But for some, a hard road becomes an impossible one due to tough financial circumstances.

“That’s why we created Backing The Best. We can’t make competitive sport any easier, but we can make it possible for those who deserve the chance.”

The scheme isn’t open to everyone – only young exceptionally talented athletes in the early stages of their careers and who face the greatest financial challenges will qualify.

SportsAid, of which the Duchess of Cambridge is patron, will be working with coaches and national governing bodies of sport to identify the athletes for whom an award would make a future top-level sporting life possible.

Annual awards of up to £5,000 will be made on a case-by-case basis, specifically contributing to essential costs such as travel, accommodation, kit and support by coaches and physios. The first awards will be made in February 2016 with up to 100 young athletes expected to benefit in the first year, rising to around 200 in subsequent years.

Sport is expensive for anyone, and parents across England are making sacrifices all the time for their children’s sporting careers. Backing The Best is designed to help young talent from families where money for sport simply can’t be spared.

Sophie Colebourn is 18 years old and relies on her dad, and more recently a small contribution from SportsAid, to fund her sport. She is ranked second senior women amateur boxer in England and lives in Seaforth, Liverpool.

She said: ‘I can’t rely on my dad for money for equipment or supplements because he doesn’t have it. And if I don’t have the money that I need, I can’t do the things I want to in boxing.

‘Training is intense, day in, day out, for a head guard it’s about £100, for a pair of boots it’s £100, so before funding it was a strain for my dad, and for my younger brother and sister, because they’d have to go without. My coach, Sid, has bought me equipment in the past when I haven’t had funding.

‘Everyone’s dream is to go to the Olympics, isn’t it? But it’s a very long road and a lot of hard work.’

Tim Lawler, SportsAid’s chief executive, said:

“Sport can often be about seizing an opportunity at the right moment, but what if you’re never given that opportunity? Backing The Best is a fantastic new way to help those young athletes that need it most. We owe it to the next generation to at least give them an opportunity to progress – Backing The Best will do that.”

Why is sport expensive?

According to research carried out by Leeds Met University, travel and accommodation are by far the biggest costs for a young athlete trying to fulfil their potential.

The study also found that drop-outs are more likely for athletes from single-parent families, those living in rural locations and in areas across the North East of England – primarily because the region is isolated from key training and competition venues.

Young athletes with a disability also have to travel further – often abroad – because there are fewer sports clubs and teams for disabled sports, which again means the price of making it to the top is higher.

UK Sport, the nation’s high performance sports agency, invests National Lottery funding in over 1300 British athletes with Olympic and Paralympic medal potential, and hopes the Backing The Best scheme will provide an even greater pool of young athletes with the potential to progress.

Liz Nicholl, UK Sport’s chief executive, said:

“We want to see as many young, talented athletes as possible enabled to reach their full potential through the home nations’ talent pathways. Finance should not be a barrier in achieving their dreams, so Sport England’s National Lottery funded ‘Backing The Best’ programme should provide a great stepping stone for promising youngsters to access and develop through the England Talent Pathway.”

For more information, visit

About Sport England
Sport England is focused on helping people and communities across the country create a sporting habit for life. We will invest over £1 billion of National Lottery and Exchequer funding between 2012 and 2017 in organisations and projects that will:

  • Help more people have a sporting habit for life
  • Create more opportunities for young people to play sport
  • Nurture and develop talent
  • Provide the right facilities in the right places
  • Support local authorities and unlock local funding
  • Ensure real opportunities for communities.

The National Lottery has been changing lives for 20 years. Every week National Lottery players raise over £30 million to help change people’s lives across the UK.

About SportsAid
For almost 40 years, SportsAid has helped British athletes to overcome the financial challenges they face in their bid to become Britain’s next Olympians, Paralympians and world champions. The charity’s patron is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.

Some of the best known SportsAid recipients are Sir Chris Hoy, David Weir CBE, Mo Farah CBE, Dame Sarah Storey, Jessica Ennis-Hill CBE, Ellie Simmonds OBE, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE, Sir Ben Ainslie, Jonnie Peacock MBE, Tom Daley, Ade Adepitan MBE and Sir Steve Redgrave. In the last three years the charity has helped 5,000 of the UK’s brightest prospects who hope to follow in their footsteps. Sport England is a long-standing supporter of SportsAid’s work.

SportsAid Athlete Survey
SportsAid’s athlete survey has been conducted every year since 2007. For this year’s survey, some of the data was collected from the charity’s online nomination system (sample size: 1192) while the remainder came from a subsequent questionnaire which was sent to every athlete who has received funding from the charity this year (sample size: 714).

The data was analysed for SportsAid by Nunki. For more information, please contact Simon Worsfold at SportsAid on 020 7273 1978.

Leeds Met sports research
Leeds Metropolitan University has carried out research – Exploring the financial constraints of athletes on the England Talent Pathway – on behalf of Sport England. Earlier Sports Aid investigations had identified that access to funding is one of the main barriers faced by developing athletes, and these barriers could lead to them dropping out of training.

According to the research, 40 per cent of parents suggest that their son or daughter was most likely to drop out of sport at the middle to higher levels of the talent pathway. Pinch points were identified in the study as being at the level just below World Class Performance/Elite, as travel and accommodation costs escalated.The research has been used to inform and develop the Sport England and SportsAid Backing The Best scheme. For more information, or a copy of the research, contact Sport England media department.

Backing The Best infographic