Great Britain’s Olympic skiers launch emergency appeal after funding cut

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Great Britain’s Olympic alpine skiers have issued a cry for help following funding cuts they say could spell an early end to their careers.

Beijing 2022 flag-bearer Dave Ryding and Charlie Guest, who in January recorded Britain’s best result for a female on the World Cup Slalom tour in 33 years, are among five athletes who were told their discipline would be axed from the World Class Programme.

According to UK Sport, WCP funding is allocated to national governing bodies to “support sports and athletes with realistic medal capabilities at Olympic Games”.

Without that backing the group, which also includes Billy Major, Laurie Taylor and Charlie Raposo, is facing the daunting prospect of needing to raise £800,000 in eight weeks, when the current cycle ends, to cover the shortfall.

“My stomach just sunk,” Guest told the PA news agency. “I’m in skiing, I’m very used to raising money, to finding money, to finding sponsors, but to have to find hundreds of thousands was something that was… I was just like, ‘I don’t know how I can do that.’

“It’s something I’ve been training in for 17 years, and I’m just like, ‘I don’t want this to be the end. This can’t be the end’.

“There are plenty of times when you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this? I should just go home, I could just go and finish my degree, I could just get a job or whatever’. And then you have one good race and you start thinking, ‘Yeah, actually I love doing this. I’m so proud to be part of this team’.

“It’s sad. We’re a bunch of individuals that poured everything we had into this sport, and it’s an inspiring bunch as well.”

Guest was part of the British team that finished just two places out of the medals, joint fifth, in the first-ever Olympic mixed team alpine event at PyeongChang 2018, and also competed in slalom at Beijing 2022.

She was “in tears” watching team-mate Ryding become the first British winner in 55 years at the Alpine World Cup, when he took slalom gold at Kitzbuhel just weeks before being selected to carry the flag for his country. It was proof, said Guest, of what her squad was capable of achieving.

Dave Ryding flag bearer
Dave Ryding (left, with curler Eve Muirhead) was selected as one of Great Britain’s flag-bearers for Beijing 2022 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Ryding will receive some earmarked funding as part of the £11.9million allocated to GB Snowsport for both its Paralympic and Olympic programmes for the 2026 Milano-Cortina cycle. A statement released by the affected athletes said it “will not be enough to cover coaching”.

That overall allocation is also less than the just over £14million the NGB was granted for the Beijing Olympics, with GB Snowsport confirming: “A significant portion is ring-fenced for World Class Programme funding, which we are only eligible to spend on programmes deemed eligible for WCP investment by UK Sport.

“Alpine, cross-country and Para Nordic have not been deemed WCP eligible in this cycle.”

UK Sport expressed sympathy for the alpine athletes, but agreed that the organisation’s WCP funding priorities had shifted.

“UK Sport is aiming to become an ever greater force in winter sport, while powering a broader range of sports and champions who reflect the diversity of British society,” a statement read.

“We recognise GB Snowsport and some of their athletes will be disappointed by our recent investment decisions, but our investment going forward for snowsport is now more targeted, with a focus on the freestyle ski and snowboard disciplines, albeit not exclusively.”

Alpine skiers will still receive some support as part of UK Sport’s national squad level funding, which enables athletes to attend major international events and Games qualifying events.

But the cuts mean potentially having to train and compete without the help of coaches and other vital staff. It is not something Guest feels prepared to undertake.

“I know what it takes to get to number one in the world,” she said. “It takes 100 per cent hard work and it takes 100 per cent dotting all the ‘i’s and crossing all the ‘t’s and that is something we cannot do by ourselves.”

GB Snowsport has launched an official appeal to UK Sport and hopes to receive a decision by October. That, however, might be too late — the last day of the current funding cycle is September 30, with athletes in what Guest said is the “biggest volume training block of our year” now contemplating their careers amidst the emergency fundraising campaign.

GB Snowsport chief executive Vicky Gosling said: “We fully support and share the disappointment of our Alpine team and all other GB Snowsport athletes impacted by UK Sport’s funding decision for the Milan-Cortina Olympic and Paralympic cycle.

“As an organisation, we are actively exploring all avenues to help make sure British athletes are able to compete to the best of their abilities in world-class competition, as they have done so successfully over the past few years.”