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Backing The Best programme welcomes 2018 intake!

Olympic silver medallist swimmer Keri-anne Payne, Team GB weightlifter Zoe Smith and ironman John McAvoy starred at the latest Backing the Best workshop. The trio provided specialist advice to the 115 recipients of the National Lottery-funded programme at a special event at Loughborough University.

Now in its third year, Backing the Best, which is managed by SportsAid for Sport England, financially supports young athletes who would otherwise face difficulties progressing through their sport’s talent development system.

Youngsters that are put forward by their national governing body receive an award of £5,000 that goes towards essential costs, such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills. All Backing the Best athletes must demonstrate outstanding ability, as well as their family’s financial situation, to be eligible for the funding.

This year, 59 new athletes have joined the programme and they, along with 56 from the 2017 intake who have been renominated, benefitted from the experience of the panel at the event.

John McAvoy is a committee member of the Backing The Best awards panel. He supports SportsAid and Sport England by providing oversight and guidance on the operational delivery of Backing The Best with his fellow panellists. John, who found redemption in life through the power of sport and is now a Nike-sponsored triathlete, feels pride in the opportunities the programme presents for athletes.

“Every child should be given an opportunity in life to be successful,” said John. “There is no greater waste than being able to do something but not being able to access the pathways to do it because of money. That’s not fair. These athletes have all got aspirations, they want to do it and Backing The Best is allowing them to go off and achieve their dreams, go forward and be very successful people."

Commonwealth Games gold medallist Zoe Smith, who benefitted from Backing the Best funding at the start of her career herself, said the programme provided key support to the athletes at a vital stage of their lives.

“It’s totally overwhelming at 17 as you don’t know which way your career is going to go,” she added. "You start needing to make the best decisions for yourself and your career and outside of sport too. You’re a baby still in most sports, still starting out, and you’ve got lots of other life choices to make like university, education, career, relationships, friendships, family – there’s so much to think about. To have the right kind of guidance and a person that can point you in the right direction, and to know who you can ask these kind of questions to, is so important,”

Phil Smith, Sport England's Director of Sport, highlighted the difference Backing the Best is making: “Talent and effort alone should determine who reaches the top in their sport. Yet many aspiring high-performance athletes have had to consider whether they can continue to pursue their sporting ambitions due to the mounting costs of competition, training, travel and specialist equipment facing them and their families at critical points in their development.

“These challenges often coincide with other educational pinch-points and lifestyle transitions and therefore it’s imperative that there is relevant and targeted support available to enable athletes of all backgrounds and circumstances to continue their journey and fulfil their potential.”

"Backing The Best is helping to level the playing field by providing aspiring athletes with the additional support to relieve this financial pressure and give these up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to fulfil the promise they have shown. Thanks to National Lottery players we’re able to offer financial support and recognition to 115 athletes in 2018.”

Tim Lawler, Chief Executive of SportsAid, added: “Backing The Best provides a very targeted, informed intervention to a group of talented young athletes that are facing certain financial difficulties, trickiness in their life circumstances, that has put them at risk of dropping out. We are really excited about Sport England’s investment into talent, committing to change and addressing those barriers.

“Backing The Best is creating an opportunity to excel, it’s looking into the darker spaces that perhaps sport and talent identification hasn’t looked before. We’re building a platform to continue forever, to make talent and performance sport accessible, much more diverse and rich, and perhaps more beneficial to its impact in wider society too, more reflective of the country as whole.” 

Among the list of talented young athletes receiving Backing the Best support in 2018 are
  • Ben Cutmore (Diving)
  • Richelle Houlden (Diving)
  • Cameron Vearncombe (Para swimming)
  • Katie Crowhurst (Para swimming)
  • Kieran Williams (Para swimming)
  • Megan Neave (Para swimming)
  • Emily Pyper (Waterpolo)
  • Matthias Madden (Waterpolo)

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