How the UK Lottery helped Great Britain win 100 Olympic gold medals

Aug 4, 2021, 11:17 am (4 comments)

UK National Lottery

By Kate Northrop

Great Britain has officially secured its 100th gold medal in the Olympics, part of which can be attributed to support from the UK National Lottery.

Since 1996, funding from the National Lottery has helped athletes from Team Great Britain take home over 100 gold medals at the Olympics, but what does that funding specifically entail?

On Monday, Adam Peaty took Great Britain's 100th gold medal after defending his 100m breaststroke title in Tokyo. Within mere hours, Tom Daley and Matty Lee dethroned the Chinese in the synchronized 10m platform diving, while Tom Pidcock emerged victorious in men's cross-country mountain biking.

"This gold medal is even more special because it is the 100th won by British athletes at the summer and winter Olympics since the creation of the World Class Performance system, funded by National Lottery players," Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair of UK Sport, the body set up to administer the distribution of funds to sports, said.

The milestone marks the confirmation of Great Britain as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage since a dismal overall performance at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, taking home just one gold and 15 medals in total and finishing 36th overall.

That all changed in 1997 when the National Lottery began funding Olympic sports, and within two decades, the country has proven itself as a formidable contender.

The Chair of the British Olympic Association, Sir Hugh Roberston, remarked that the 100th gold since the sustained funding was introduced was "a moment that graphically illustrates the turnaround in British Olympic fortunes."

"Our recent record would be a pretty remarkable achievement for any country, but it is a particularly remarkable achievement for a country of our size," Robertson continued.

Ever since 1997, the world has watched Great Britain propel itself to gold numerous times. Track cyclist Chris Hoy took home three gold medals in Beijing 2008, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won gold in an extraordinary 44-minute timeframe in London 2012, and the women's hockey team made history in Rio 2016 when they won Great Britain's first hockey gold in a nail-biting penalty shootout.

A lot of that, according to Robertson, is thanks to lottery funding.

"It sounds a little bit conceited to say it, but I don't think there is another sports team in this country that has been as successful as Team GB," Robertson told The Guardian. "And that is down to the transformational effect of lottery funding."

Also on Monday, Lauren Williams won silver in the 67kg taekwondo competition. While she expressed disappointment for just barely missing gold, she made sure to add, "A massive thank you to the National Lottery for getting me here."

Funding agency UK Sport has increased the amount it provides Olympic sports programs every year since London 2012 at £264 million (US$368 million). From there, funding for Rio 2016 was bumped up to £274 million (US$382 million), and then up to a whopping £345 million (US$480 million) for Tokyo.

The money funneled into sport programs pays for squadrons of support teams ready to aid the Olympic athletes. Those can include massage therapists, physiotherapists, sports psychologists and mental health experts, doctors and trainers, nutritionists, and coaches.

"To win a gold medal, you need four things — money, structure, coaching and athletes with the right sort of preparation and mental toughness," Robertson explained. "The money enables the sports to put the right structure, to find the right coaches, and, crucially, it allows the athletes to be able to train full time."

British athletes who competed in the Olympics prior to the implementation of lottery funding may understandably look at current accommodations with envy. Denise Lewis, the only British woman to win a medal at Atlanta 1996 with a bronze in the heptathlon, said she was "master of her own destiny" as an aspiring competitor and had to rely on scraping together what she could for her own physios, scans, and additional training with part-time coaches.

"You can only do what you can, and you're born in the era that you're born into," Lewis said in an interview. "I think, looking back, if I'd had more support... maybe I would have been a better athlete. But it isn't about living in the past for me, it is about celebrating what has been achieved. Now, when I look to Tokyo, when I think of London and Rio, it's just a real success story."

After medaling in Atlanta 1996, Lewis went on to win gold at Sydney in 2000.

UK Sport's approach to funding is often referred to as the "no compromise" method, which has been debated for its controversial preference for certain sports in the pursuit of medals. In other words, sports that exhibit the best medal hopes at the Olympics will get millions funneled into support for those athletes, while other sports seen with less chances of success, like basketball, badminton and wheelchair rugby, have their funding slashed.

Senior lecturer in sports management and policy at Loughborough University Dr. Borja Garcia calls the approach "brutal but effective."

"The strategy has undoubtedly delivered and been very efficient with resources," Garcia stated. "But does it have a darker side? Yes, I think it does."

"It is an arms race, and in my view, it's creating excessive demands on athletes and tempting sport governing bodies to, let's say, prioritize results over the welfare of athletes," he continued. "I also question whether that has had a real benefit in terms of increasing participation and producing a healthier nation, and I really don't think it has."

Following much discussion and debate, UK Sport revealed in 2019 that it would relax its "no compromise" attitude toward funding. While it will still prioritize Olympic and Paralympic sports that show the greatest potential to deliver medals, money will be funneled into three tiers — athletes and teams with a realistic chance of making it to the podium within four years, athletes and teams with a realistic chance of making it to the podium within four to eight years, and investment that will enable athletes to begin the first steps on the performance pathway and identify future Olympic hopefuls. In other words, this system aims to promote long-term development of Team Great Britain over short-term success.

"I think, as a country, it is good for us to be really good a things," Robertson said. "And the example that the Olympian shows is a really good one for young people growing up in this country.... It's about having a dream and carrying it out."

Lottery Post Staff



Great news for their up and coming Olympic athletes.

Mata Garbo

Really feel bad for the British Olympians before 1996, who had to scrape together crumbs to survive. Thank goodness the Lottery came riding in to save the day. I can still see the tears of joy on the faces of the British women's hockey team after they won in 2016. Love to see our friends doing well.

PatriotSee Ya!Hiding Behind Computer


The UK National Lottery is a resounding success, raising billions of pounds for non-profit projects across the UK.



50% goes to the Prize Fund.

28% goes to "Good Causes", as set out by Parliament.

12% goes to Her Majesty's Treasury, as Lottery Duty.

5% goes to retailers in commission.

5% goes to the National Lottery operator Camelot, with 4% to cover operating costs and 1% as profit.

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