|John Brewer - Chairman, British Ski & Snowboard|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 22 November 2013 15:42
John has had a career of almost 30 years in sports science and sports administration. He was employed by the Football Association as Head of Human Performance at Lilleshall National Sports Centre, where he subsequently spent 18 years as joint Director of the Lilleshall Human Performance and Rehabilitation Centre, working closely with many elite athletes and National Governing Bodies of sport, and travelling to World Cup finals as a sports scientist with both England soccer (1990) and England cricket (1992) teams.
In 2004 he became Director of Sports Science for GlaxoSmithKline, focusing on scientific support for GSK's Lucozade Sport brand and establishing partnerships with a number of National Governing Bodies, before becoming Professor of Sport at the University of Bedfordshire in 2009.
John has also been a member of Sport England's West Midland's Regional Sports Board, and Chair of the London Regional Sports Board, and is currently a Board Member of UK Anti-Doping. Between 2009 and 2012 John was Chair of the British Handball Association and a member of the BOA's National Olympic Committee, leading handball to their first ever Olympic Games in London.
You have had a vast career in sports science and administration. Tell us a little bit about how you got into the sports industry and how it led you to British Ski & Snowboard.
I was very lucky to be in the right place and the right time and was made Head of Sport Science for The Football Association (FA) by the late Sir Bobby Robson. I went to the World Cup with Sir Bobby back in 1990s as a part of his support staff and that in a sense kicked off a career at Lilleshall, where I headed up the sport science centre. We provided a service of testing and advice as well as training and nutrition for athletes. The most enjoyable time for me was working with the British Alpine team. I have always been a passionate skier. Skiing has always been my great winter passion and it was great fun working with the team.
One of the things that I really value and recommend to my students is that, as well as your day job, it is important to look at other related areas, such as volunteering. My first voluntary role was on the Sport England’s regional sport board. I also chaired the London regional sport board and when that role came to an end I got a call from the British Olympic Association (BOA). They asked if I was interested in chairing British Handball. It was not a sport I was overly familiar with but I was impressed with their plans. I announced I would step down after London 2012 and I threw my hat into the ring for British Ski & Snowboard. It was an opportunity that was too good to turn down.
So when that opportunity arose, the decision to join was easy?
Yes it was. I think it is really good for any sport to have someone who can take an outsider’s point of view on how best the sport should be run. But at the same time it is important to have people who love the sport and who live and breathe it. Whilst I can no way claim to be an elite level skier, I do have a feel for the sport and understand it, but at the same time bring a critical eye. It was an easy step to make because it is a sport that I love.
What was your biggest challenge when you became Chairman of British Ski & Snowboard?
With any governing body, it is important to have a good financial base with which to build. If you look at the lessons we learned from the snow sports GB of four years ago, if any sport spends more money than it brings in, it is a very rapid route to disaster. The first issue was to make it clear that we have to have good governance in place and good financial governance as well. We had a board meeting recently and I am delighted to say that the organisation is now financially sound. That is not to say we are immune from problems. We are very reliant on funding from UK Sport and from commercial partners. UK Sport funding is a real challenge. UK Sport has a no compromise approach which means that if you are not a podium potential athlete or sport you won’t get funding from them.
Do you think UK Sport’s approach is correct?
I think the challenge is ensuring that we can manage the British system properly and the problem with the system is that you have the home nation’s sports councils, who fund participation, talent ID and talent development. You then have UK Sport that funds elite athlete development and performance. I think we have to recognise that that UK Sport funding is public money. It is money that could be spent on hospitals or schools so we have a responsibility to spend that money wisely. One of the biggest problems in British sport in the past is that money has been awarded to individuals who haven’t been able to compete at the highest level.
There needs to be a good development pathway in place, funded by the home nation’s sports council, to make sure there is a continual flow of talent up to the highest level. If you can bring the two together, then everyone should get funded to the level they are capable of. When UK Sport says they cannot fund someone who is at the top of the development pathway, it makes it very hard for them to make the leap onto the podium. There is a grey area between home nation sports funding and UK Sport funding.
Is your funding sufficient for your plans?
Of course we would love more, because we can’t fund everyone that we would like to. We have to rely on sponsors, benefactors and families. Absolutely it is not enough. I think we have to recognise that UK Sport has constraints as well. You only have to look at government cuts across different sectors and sport cannot be immune to that. In the same way that we would like more money, so would the NHS and the police. We are however making a very robust case to UK Sport to increase our funding post Sochi. However, no matter how strong our case is, it will also depend on how we perform in Sochi.
How much of your funding filters down to athletes or things that directly affect them?
I think you have opened up a debate as to what affects an athlete! You can argue that a portion of that funding pays our two office administrators and our Chief Executive, who arrange a lot of things for them such as tournaments and licenses. We try to spend every penny that we can influencing and supporting the athletes. Some funding through UK Sport they will get and others don’t get any because of their ranking, but we can still support them through organising races, competitions and other factors.