Biathlon is not exactly Britain’s most popular sport. Actually if you asked the average Briton they probably couldn’t tell you what it is. However this does mean that it doesn’t have any biathletes, it just means that they don’t give them any help. The best known of these are Lee Jackson, Kevin Kane and Amanda Lightfoot. They are not the only ones though. Amongst the ranks of the British Biathlon Union, the national governing body for biathlon in the U.K, are Scott Dixon, Marcel Laponder, Adele Walker and Nerys Jones to name but a few.
The BBU is funded by sponsors, the IBU, the Army Winter Sports Association and by the athletes themselves. It is run on voluntary basis and the paid staff consists of a Secretary General and a wax technician. They have no performance director or any support staff who are paid. There is no support for biathlon from any of Britain’s main sports bodies or any National Lottery funding.
Why is this? Well for all the talk of a lasting legacy in sport after the London Olympics this only seems to apply to sports that have “podium potential”. So basically if you get a medal you can have some more money. As far as I am concerned this is completely the wrong way round and leaves a lot of Winter Sports stuck in a vicious circle. If you have won a medal it seems to me that you are doing pretty well as it is with the funding you have.
Surely it would be better to give sports like biathlon more money to give them a chance to catch up with the likes of curling and skeleton. How are you supposed to improve if you are not funded? All you end up with is a couple of sports who might provide a medal and a lot that end up struggling. You would think that money could be given to sports like biathlon to give them a chance to see what they could do even on a trial basis or on a sliding scale depending on each year’s results on the IBU Cup and World Cup instead of basing everything on Olympic performances.
Another thing that could be improved is the amount of races that the British Biathletes, and those from other countries with the same issues, have to compete in. On the IBU World Cup you have to finish in the Top 60 to qualify to compete in the Pursuit race, and you must be ranked in the Top 30 to take part in the Mass Start. So if you have a World Cup round where there is a Sprint, Pursuit and Mass Start if you don’t make it into the Top 60 and you are not ranked in the Top 30 overall you could find yourself travelling to places like Khanty- Mansiysk or Kontiolahti to take part in one race. This can be expensive if you are not well funded and is hardly going to give you valuable experience on the World Cup especially if you are a young athlete.
Maybe they could think about introducing a B race for the Pursuit where the Top 5 or 10 finishers are guaranteed to take part in the next Pursuit A race to give them an incentive to race for. Or maybe they could re-introduce the Team race for the lower ranked countries and reward them with some funding rather than points. I imagine these suggestions might be difficult to put on the schedule and cause logistical difficulties but I am sure the fans wouldn’t complain as you would get more races to see each day.
As it stands at the moment the BBU and the athletes themselves have done a remarkable job to have achieved what they have done so far. However the lack of funding, assistance and interest in biathlon from the Sports funding bodies especially after a successful summer Olympic campaign means that you are not so Great, Britain!
Update as of January 2014: Good news on the funding. The BBU has a new sponsor, Aspen Healthcare Solutions, for the next 4 years securing funds until the Winter Olympics in 2018!