Pyeongchang 2018 was Great Britain’s most successful Winter Olympic Games ever, with a record five medals won.

It’s a real pleasure to write that statement and we’re delighted for all five medal winners (especially Billy Morgan, for whom the phrase ‘it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy’ has never been more apt).

However, this record haul was achieved with the help of another record – a mighty £28 million spent on winter sports over this four-year Olympic cycle.

Avoid the hyperbole and stick to the facts

All we are asking is for administrators and the media to avoid the hyperbole and stick to the facts.


The Funding Propaganda War 

This money is distributed by UK Sport with the primary goal of winning medals, hence the targets set in the graphic above. The secondary goal is to ‘inspire’ and increase participation in sport.

While Curling and Speed Skating fell short (literally, in the case of Elise Christie), Skeleton dramatically exceeded their minimum target of a Top 8 place (a remarkably low goal considering GB had medalled in the last four Games).

Our skiers and snowboarders were bang on target for their minimum return of two medals.

With great money, comes great responsibility – and this is where the funding propaganda war starts.

Bill Sweeney, BOA: “There are 8 million snowboarders and skiers in the UK”

Few administrators have more at stake than Bill Sweeney, the CEO of the British Olympic Association. The BOA’s vision is to ‘inspire the nation with Olympic athletes in the pursuit of excellence’.

Within a day of the Games finishing, Sweeney was quoted in the press insisting that it was worth investing more in winter sports:

“I read a figure we have something like 8 million snowboarders and skiers doing it on an annual basis, so we think there is a really strong culture around it worth investing in.”

Now as someone with an interest in a booming British ski industry, this seems like great news.

The only problem is that it is not correct.

We have noted before the statistical limitations of industry reports such as those by Crystal Ski, Ski Weekends and The Ski Club of Great Britain. However, at no point has any report suggested that the UK market has even close to 8 million active skiers and snowboarders.

We contacted the BOA to ask for clarification as to where Sweeney ‘read’ this figure, but they were unable to provide an answer.

It was suggested by a source who prefers to remain anonymous that Sweeney misheard a comment by Chemmy Alcott on the BBC Olympics coverage, when she estimated the market at 4 million (still twice the size of any previous reported figure).

We do not claim to have knowledge of, or access to, every single report about the UK ski market, so we are happy to be proved wrong. Please contact us if you have access to any such data.

However, until that point, it does look like the CEO of the British Olympic Association (current salary £279,000 per annum) is happy to pass around any old stats that suit his purposes cross his path.

Bill Sweeney Photo: BOA

Dan Hunt, British Ski & Snowboard: “A top 5 & two top 10s in alpine skiing”

BSS Performance Director Dan Hunt should be congratulated for managing a very successful team of skiers and snowboarders.

They were the only one of the six funded winter sports categories to hit their UK Sport minimum medal target, and that was achieved without Katie Ormerod, who was a strong podium favourite.

We completely support Team BSS and believe the results from PyeongChang, with medals for Izzy Atkin and Billy Morgan, plus a 4th place for James Woods and 7th place for Katie Summerhayes prove that they are worth their £5.1 million investment.

Indeed, these consistently high quality results suggest that more investment in Team GB Park and Pipe would be worthwhile.

However, Dan Hunt disingenuous when he claimed success for the Alpine skiers as well:

“In PyeongChang we had a top five and two top tens in alpine skiing.”

Dave Ryding performed creditably to finish 9th in the slalom (the second best ever Alpine result – excluding the Alain Baxter affair), but which were the other results Hunt was referring to?

We contacted Team BSS for comment.

They explained how Hunt managed this generous interpretation of Team GB’s results:

  • Great Britain were knocked out of the Alpine Team Slalom Event in the quarter-finals. By Hunt’s reckoning, this placed them in 5th place, which while technically correct (they were equal fifth with three other nations), does seem to be misleading.
  • And the ‘two top tens in Alpine skiing’? It turns out that one of these was Dave Ryding’s 9th, while the other was…the equal 5th place in the Team event.

So that explains that then. It’s Orwellian work, and given UK Sport’s requirement of medal potential, some sterling, if dubious, massaging of the numbers by Hunt, to help Ryding and the other Alpine skiers to some much needed funding.

Dan Hunt Photo: Team BSS

[FWIW we think Team BSS’s performance has been outstanding, but it makes sense to direct additional funding to the Park and Pipe team, where there is genuine medal potential]

Snowsport England (and Bill Sweeney again): “A 20% increase in snowdome visitors”

Let’s go back to Bill Sweeney again. He was also quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“We are reading reports…around snow domes…and inspiring kids to go and book going through the roof, booked for weeks to come.”

Again, we are not persuaded there is any report that says this.

Rebecca Hicks from The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead was quoted in The Guardian on Friday 16 February saying that they had seen a 20% increase in visits since the Games started.

However, given that this coincided with half term week, when all snowdomes would typically be busier anyway, this is a meaningless statistic.

The more relevant comparison would be with same week last year. We requested this data, but the only stat confirmed was that there had been a large increase in beginner snowboarding lessons.

After Jenny Jones’ medal in Sochi in 2014 there was a significant uplift in visitors to The Snow Centre and other UK ski slopes. We hope that in a few months’ time, we’ll see a similar trend again in 2018.

However, this ‘20% increase’ statistic has now been recycled again and again, not just by Bill Sweeney, but also by Snowsport England, who used it to subsequently claim evidence of a ‘surge of interest’ in the UK’s artificial slopes.

An unquestioning media then creates headlines like this:

We want more British skiers…

Just to reiterate one more time, we want more British skiers. And indeed, we’re optimistic that Britain’s success at PyeongChang 2018 will help encourage more skiers and snowboarders to take up the sport.

All we are asking is for administrators and the media to avoid the hyperbole and stick with the facts.


Medal Winners – Team GB / Facebook