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The funding crisis at the heart of England Water Polo, Ian Elliot speaks out -

I am writing this open letter to you, in my capacity as the Chair of Swim England’s Water Polo Management Group, on behalf of the entire Management Group, because we believe that it is essential that all the stakeholders in the England and GB water polo community including athletes, volunteers, parents and the relevant National Governing Bodies; Swim England and British Swimming, understand the funding crisis which confronts the national squads and athlete pathway for water polo in this country.

I would also like to highlight that this is just one aspect of water polo management, made significant because it is the area requiring by far the most financial support.  The focus of this letter, on financial matters for the future management and development of national squads, should not detract from the importance the WPMG places upon the overall development of the water polo from grass roots level on a national basis, led by development of seamless pathways from which a sustainable sport can be managed and delivered.

Achievements to date

Over the last three years or so, following the appointment of the Water Polo Management Group in early 2015, significant progress has been made within the national water polo programme including:

  1. The establishment of a long term Strategic Partnership with Manchester City Council which has enabled access to world class sports training facilities including health and strength and conditioning support for our squads.
  2. The hosting, in partnership with Manchester City Council, of several high quality international events over the last 2 years, including LEN Junior European qualifiers, EU Nations’ tournaments and lone standing international fixtures.
  3. The introduction of over 20 new volunteer staff into the national programme with more than 30 coaches and support staff across the programme who have all invested significant amounts of their own time and who are mainly young, developing professionals in coaching, team management, strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, nutrition and sports psychology.
  4. The revival of women’s and men’s England senior teams, which had been discontinued in the years following London2012.
  5. The achievement of some performance gains as a result of the significantly improved programme with teams at both under 17 and under 19 level. In 2017 our GBR under 19 women achieved their highest finish ever (6th) in the European Championships, while our GBR under 19 men qualified for the European Championships in 2018 for the first time in 10 years.
  6. Success for our England men and women at under 17, 19, 21 and senior level in winning the EU Nations title.
  7. The appearance, for the first time in many years, of both men’s and a women’s team to the World University Games in Taipei and looking forward to competing in Naples in 2019.
  8. The review of domestic event management and calendar with BWPL Management Committee and proposed management of NAGs and British Championships.
  9. Collaboration with Swim England to develop innovative ways to attract players at entry levels into the sport, including working with Universities and local authorities to establish early entry level water polo activities to ensure clear pathways into water polo clubs.
  10. The introduction of a new coach education strategy and delivery programme to ensure that the players of the future have the support to start them on the ladder to success.

Current Funding (April 2018- March 2019)

The current position 2018/19 (ends March 2019) comprises the following funding arrangements.

  • For each of the last and current season (ending March 2019) we have used an equal share of the £100,000 Swim England lump sum funding made in March 2017. Therefore £50,000 has been allocated between each of the 6 international squads (each squad has equal levels of funding) and the National Academy over each of the two seasons.
  • British Swimming has provided £ Nil to water polo for a number of years
  • For each of the last and current season (ending March 2019) we have used an equal share of the £100,000 Sport England “parachute” payment made as a final funding support by Sport England.
  • Therefore £50,000 has been allocated between each of the 6 international squads (each squad has equal levels of funding) and the National Academy over each of the two seasons.
  • UK Sport has provided £ Nil funding for a number of years
  • Fundraising – Despite an on-going search for sport-wide funding – with well over 100 companies contacted in this financial year – we currently still have no water polo specific sponsor. This is therefore not quantified, as it only provides small levels of support into each squad.

The current programmes are therefore very largely self-funded by the athletes and parents. Current funding investment from Swim England and Sport England has been used to support athlete training costs including pool and gym facilities along with travel expenses of our coach and team staff. The vast majority of whom are volunteers developing their own careers, all operating for the benefit of the sport without any remuneration and they simply don’t have the means to travel across the country or overseas at their own cost for training and competitions. Future  budgets (12 month period) identify more than 80% of budget funding originating from athlete and parent groups for the Talent programmes.  To put this into perspective with the other disciplines in the aquatics family, the non-Swim England contribution for water polo (athlete and parent) is more than 1.5 times greater than the entire non-Swim England contribution made by all of the  athletes and parents for all of the other aquatic disciplines combined (Swimming, Diving, Artistic Swimming (previously Synchro) and Disability).

No comparison can be made with British Swimming budgets as no contribution is made for Waterpolo.

Future Funding (April 2019 onwards)

The future funding of the national programmes is a huge concern for all and most certainly the biggest challenge to the sport.  The WPMG has invested considerable time and energy with both Swim England and British Swimming management over recent months in a bid to resolve this challenge.  The current level of approved funding from the Governing Bodies is detailed below.  It is inevitable that this level of funding will impact significantly on viability of some/all aspects of the pathway and the quality of any future programme will be compromised.

  • Swim England has approved a £37,500 funding to support water polo for the period April 2019 – Dec 2019. This period is identified to meet the new financial year of Swim England.
  • British Swimming funding contribution £ Nil
  • Sport England funding – £ Nil
  • UK Sport funding £ Nil
  • Fundraising (not quantified but as described above)

Where do we go from here?

Unless sufficient funding can be secured very soon, opportunities for all players will be very severely restricted, and competitive international competition for water polo in England and Great Britain will once again return to the shadows of the immediate post London2012 Olympic period.

With all of the Sport England funding falling away after the end of March 2019 and with Swim England only agreeing funding of £37,500 (April – Dec 2019) and British Swimming unable to provide any guaranteed future funding to support the water polo programmes from April 2019, our programme is in trouble and is destined to fail very soon.  Already, without the opportunity to offer a vision and any commitment to the programme, a number of volunteers are walking away disillusioned.

Despite the pre-existing funding challenges, ironically water polo is now in a far healthier position than it was between 2012 and 2015, and has grown in stature year on year. However the huge gains made over these last 3 years cannot be sustained without funding going forward.  Swim England Strategy for 2017-21 identifies one of its aims as being to, “Create a world leading talent system for all of our aquatic disciplines”.  Our current programmes are nowhere near approaching this objective and this will always be the case whilst driven by volunteers whose time is limited and with no resource to deliver. For the programme to even be fit for purpose as a talent pathway, without even considering “world class”, considerably more investment is needed in people and programmes.

The lack of any available current strategy or objectives from British swimming for water polo only further reinforces the severity of the challenge we all face.

The programme needs £100,000 p.a. to match the current budget and achieve stand-still. Any sports talent system needs to have aspirational opportunities to compete at senior international level and the current funding does not allow this. It is impossible to commit to a senior programme with uncertainty over the location of competitions and the number of events to be self-funded. The current £100,000 would only cover facilities costs and volunteer expenses for an age group programme, and allows for no additional strategic development and does not support the development of senior squads into European Competition nor any development of the National Academy.  In addition there is no foundation to allow for improved preparation for junior squads and/or allow any squad to build on success and qualification from qualification events to finals.  To support progress, the budget needs to be significantly larger than the current offering.

Investment is needed over a period of time to allow England and Great Britain to be more competitive: the senior teams which went to Taipei have an average age of 20 years old. The junior programmes need development both to succeed at this level and facilitate the development of the athletes into a senior programme. All squads need time to win, lose and grow together and to gain experience and need multi-disciplinary support. Without sustained investment this becomes almost impossible to plan and deliver with any confidence.

In addition, younger programmes for developing water polo athletes, including the National Academy risk being badly compromised; impacting on the quality of the athletes we produce at younger ages to feed the pipeline. These young athletes need a vision.

To enable a credible, “professional programme” to be planned and delivered there must be medium to long term certainty in the financial landscape and a minimum level of continued investment identified and agreed over a period of time otherwise there is significant risk to the quality of the programme that can be offered. In the absence of the same, financial constraints will push water polo even further out of reach of all but the wealthy, and this is not acceptable; squad and team selection must be made upon ability not affordability.

The WPMG maintains its commitment to work with Swim England and British Swimming to try and resolve this challenge but it is essential that commitments are made quickly and the sport needs to be taken seriously. Volunteers are currently giving their own time to plan and support a programme but we should not take this for granted; time is of the essence and the volunteers within the programme cannot keep giving their own time without demonstrable progress.

Ian Elliot

Chair of the Water Polo Management Group

5 responses to “The funding crisis at the heart of England Water Polo, Ian Elliot speaks out”

  1. Robert Smee says:

    I applaud and fully support Ian and the Water Polo Management Group for their passionate open letter which clearly outlines the desperate situation Water Polo in the UK is facing.

    How is it, such a multidiscipline sport such as Water Polo cannot be supported simply from a health perspective – This alone is surely worth the investment to save the ever increasing burden on the NHS.

    Meanwhile, other countries see an increase in numbers playing Water Polo at all levels. Swim England and British Swimming take note:

    In the USA who continually achieve on the world stage with the womens team winning Olympic Gold in 2012 and 2016 have seen an upsurge in Water Polo:

    David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World, he wrote a summery last year of Water Polo in the USA – below is an extract of that article.

    According to USA Water Polo, nationwide membership jumped 25 percent in the last five years and In the past eight years, membership rose nearly 67 percent, from 26,873 in 2008 to the current number, which is an all-time high.

    High school water polo participation is also growing nationwide. The NFHS reported that women’s high school water polo grew 7.9 percent, while men’s water polo increased 5.5 percent during the five years from 2011/12 to 2015/16. During this period, mainstream high school sports such as football, soccer, wrestling, field hockey, indoor volleyball and basketball registered declines in varsity participation.

    “In a relatively short time, water polo has become a very hot sport,” said Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo. “Based on the data, we believe it is poised for further expansion across the USA.”

    AUTHOR: DAVID RIEDER
    David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

  2. Chris says:

    Such a shame that those in high places can promote the romanticism of ‘Team Sports’ but unwilling to actually get behind them #thesegirlscan’t

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. Our grandson has achieved so so much both physically and mentally from his love commitment and ability agter finding his passion for watetpolo. It has been so uplifting seeing him grow progress and enjoy this sport. My late brother played waterpolo in thr 1950s 1960s when waterpolo was even then entirely run by volunteere. Wouldn’t you think in 2018 there would be more funds a available for all sports especially water polo which has been under the radar for years. I has a passionate grandmothers who has swimming running through her veins having taught swimming including watet polofor ovet 30 years am absolutely with you. Without people speaking out like you youg people striving to be the best they can would not stand a chance. Anything I can do to help just get in touch

    • cheerychris says:

      Hi Patricia, many thanks for your comments and offer. We will make sure that Ian sees this.
      Best wishes
      Chris WPE Admin

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