Wales politics

Rio Olympics 2016: Medal obsession 'risks grassroots sport'

Lee Waters Image copyright Daniel Damaschin

An obsession with winning medals puts grassroots sport at risk, an AM has said.

Labour's Lee Waters said limited public cash should be spent on getting more people active, not "investments that win medals for a few".

Wales earned four gold medals and six silver at Rio, among a total GB haul of 67.

Sport Wales says it spends three times more on grassroots sport than elite sport.

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Media captionColin Jackson hopes success in Rio will inspire the next generation of athletes

Mr Waters, who was elected as Llanelli AM in May, is a member of the assembly's culture committee.

He said funding for elite sport was "being prioritised" and "austerity cuts have brought local clubs to the brink".

"The medal tally at the Rio Olympics was brilliant and intoxicating.

"But it masks a growing crisis in sports at a grassroots level, and does nothing to address the wider public health emergency from rising obesity. An obsession with winning medals risks the future of grassroots sports.

"It's great being near top of the league for medals but we are also top of the league for childhood obesity in Europe and that should come first."

Image copyright Getty Images

Mr Waters said Carmarthenshire council was spending a £293,000 Welsh Government grant on staff to encourage kids to join clubs and "progress up the elite ladder", while "pitches are threatened with being sold off for housing developments and volunteer coaches are at their wits' end".

He cited figures from the Carmarthenshire United Sports Committee saying 10 sports clubs and 100 bowlers had been lost as a result of fee increases brought in by the authority.

The council's executive member for leisure, Meryl Gravell, said the authority "continues to invest significant resources in grassroots sport, working closely with the Welsh Government and Sport Wales to deliver initiatives such as 'Dragon Sport' and '5x60' extra-curricular sports clubs in schools and supporting local clubs through community chest grants".

Sport Wales said it invested £24m a year in community sports - three times that invested in elite sport.

A spokeswoman said: "We have seen positive trends in the last few years of increased regular participation across the board but we are not complacent and want to ensure that our investment is helping to deliver a network of opportunities that enable people to become, and crucially, remain active."

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "Welsh sporting success, whether at the Euros or at the Rio Olympics, can play a huge role in inspiring people, young and old, to participate in sport at all levels and to increase their physical activity."

She said the government was working with others "on a range of projects to support people to be more physically active, including free swimming".

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