There’s a certain resignation amongst those at British Biathlon; things have been going downhill for quite some time and it’s a situation that’s not going to improve.
For the last year, the governing body for biathlon in the UK has been without a title sponsor and therefore no funding for its elite athletes. That means the likes of Amanda Lightfoot, Team GB’s sole remaining biathlete from the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi 2014, now largely have to provide their own travel to the far-flung competitions in the IBU World Cup. By necessity, this has meant that competitors have had to choose their events wisely. Yet, cutting costs has its own downfalls, and Great Britain have started to plunge down the rankings.
British Biathlon have moved to acknowledge this in a fitting sombre tone. On Saturday, they announced the 2016 wave of new talent admitted to the Army Biathlon Development Squad (ABDS), the division of the armed forces that actively promotes winter sports and the betterment of their “extra-curricular” skills. However, whilst naming eleven men and six women selected to join the ABDS for training in Kinloss and cementing a further seven as regular IBU Cup entrants over the next year, they effectively slammed another nail into the coffin of World Cup-level biathlon in this country.
The governing body announced: “Sadly there is simply no facility for the Army to incorporate civilian development whilst the BBU has no budget whatsoever to finance civilian development, although we do support civilian Juniors on the IBU Cup circuit and at the Youth / Junior World Championships. We are sorry to say that, until the BBU can attract some new sponsorship or specific development funding, this situation is unlikely to change and promising young biathletes will continue to be the responsibility of their civilian Club.”
This leaves the likes of Scott Dixon, Britain’s only World Cup entrant who does not also work in the Army, struggling to make ends meet whilst also fighting to reach even the top 100 in any given event. Although Juniors are supported by British Biathlon, the lack of any entrants in this week’s Youth Olympic Games suggests they are not a priority.
Two of the aforementioned ABDS “Advanced” biathletes made their international debuts in this weekend’s IBU Cup event at Brezno-Osrblie. Martin Shaw, winner of the British 20km Individual race in Ruhpolding last month, led the pack with consistent performances, whilst Sandy Wishart also made a decent start to his international career. Vinny Fountain rounded off the British contingent, earning a career-best 68th place in the Individual category.
Yet despite this continued nurture of young talent, Great Britain are struggling to maintain a place at the top table – the Olympics. In a bid to remain within the top 25 nations – a feat they are currently struggling with, the GB relay team have re-enlisted Lee-Steve Jackson and Kevin Kane, previously highly-rated British biathletes, who had retired following last season. Even that hasn’t particularly helped, their 25th place in Antholz in January continuing their unwanted streak of being lapped in all but one of their major team appearances in the past four years.
Being a world-class athlete isn’t easy without money. Without being able to travel to new competitions, train with the best, own the best equipment. Snowsports in this country struggle enough without, you know, snow. Even so, biathlon is yet another winter sport (see: Luge, ski jumping, long track speed skating) that fades out of the public eye without any government funding and can’t compete with the success that curling and freestyle skiing can so readily offer. Shame, really.