Britain's hopes of finishing fourth in the medals table at the London 2012 Olympics could be undermined by a lack of professional coaching, a report published by a sports think tank revealed yesterday.
The research, carried out by Loughborough University and chaired by former 1,500m world record holder Steve Cram, says the sporting legacy left by the Games could be in jeopardy unless 250,000 full- and part-time coaching jobs are created.
While high-profile sports such as soccer are turning to foreign coaches at both national and club level, Cram believes the lack of homegrown coaches in all sports must be addressed.
"The report highlights that unless we can break the culture of 'gentleman amateurism' in UK sport, we will struggle to become best in the world," Cram said.
"As long as we continue to rely on an army of grassroots volunteers, with no clear career progression for homegrown coaches, we will tend to look to superannuated foreign coaches to fill the top jobs in UK sport.
"If we don't act now to stem the endemic culture of volunteerism in UK sport, we may have already missed the chance for sporting success at London 2012."
Senior figures in 12 leading sports were interviewed for the report by the Sportnation think tank, which found that nearly 70 percent of sports coaches in Britain are volunteers.
It said athletics, the blue-ribbon event of the Olympics, has as few as 12 salaried coaches.
Cram said there was too much reliance on "white, middle-class men who are giving up a bit of time" and it was vital to spread the net more widely.
"You need coaches who are from your background and who you identify with, because they are the people who enthuse you and give you a bit of vision and a dream," he told Reuters.
"I remember my daughter came back from the athletics club a couple of times and said 'Dad, why are all the coaches old men?'" he added.
"I said 'well, because they've got the time to do it'." For a 12- or 13-year-old its not a particularly vibrant picture to paint."
Cram said coaching had to be made attractive as a career option to entice the sort of people who would otherwise be lost to sport.
"If you are struggling just to make a living and you don't have lots of time and you have all sorts of other pressures in your life, you are not going to look at coaching if there is no chance of it giving you something back," he said.
A recent blueprint put forward by Sports Coach UK, the national coaching foundation, set a target of 42,000 new coaching positions by 2016, but the Loughborough research says that figure would be inadequate. It calls for between 160,000 to 233,000 paid positions.
Failure to do so, the report says, could exclude those from poor backgrounds becoming involved in coaching and lead to Britain's sporting talent going abroad.
Portsmouth and England goalkeeper David James, who still hopes to be part of Italian Fabio Capello's plans for the national team, said Britain could struggle to compete in many sports unless the level of investment in coaching was improved.
"The research shows that unless we act now to professionalize our coaching system from grassroots to elite sport stars, and draw inspirational coaches from all sections of society, British teams will continue to fall short in international competition," he said.
Pat Duffy, the chief executive of Sports Coach UK, believes that fourth place at the London 2012 Olympics is achievable, but says there is still a long way to go.
"If we don't put the coaching infrastructure in place we are relying on the odd exceptions ... but things are improving. We had excellent results in Sydney and Athens," he told Reuters recently.
"We need to make sure the improvements are long-term and sustainable. We are in direct competition with the likes of France, Italy, Australia and Germany, all of whom have established coaching infrastructure."
Source: China Daily/Agencies