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Fencing special report: Strachan raises serious legacy concerns for cash-strapped Swords

15:00 31 January 2013

Newham Swords international fencers in 2012. That number is set to grow this year

Newham Swords international fencers in 2012. That number is set to grow this year

Archant

Six months on from London 2012 and Newham Swords Fencing Club are continuing to pull up trees, but club manager Linda Strachan has revealed she fears the Olympic legacy bubble is about to burst.

The club’s young members regularly bring home a vast collection of medals from domestic tournaments and produce more fencers for the junior England and Great Britain squads than any other club in the country.

There were no medals for senior British fencers at the Olympic Games, but it seems the sport has not been overshadowed by successes on the athletics track and inside the velodrome, with Swords having signed up 20 new members since August.

The club – based at the University of East London’s SportsDock – has also had enquires from disabled youngsters wishing to take up wheelchair fencing, after the sport was brought to prominence at the Paralympic Games.

Strachan, a two-time Olympian herself, never says no to those expressing a desire to take up her beloved sport, but a lack of financial support has begun to put serious strain on the club’s resources.

In the months after the Games it was announced that UK Sport would increase it’s funding in elite fencing from £2.5million to £3.1m over the next four years, while Sport England has pledged £1.6m a year to increase their commitment to developing the sport at grassroots level.

However, the club are victims of their own success and are not eligible to receive grassroots funding, so their position in ‘no-mans-land’ irks with Strachan, who is not convinced the increase in enthusiasm amongst young people tallies up with the required increase in investment.

“I’m not sure there can be much of a legacy without money,” she said.

“Peter King [interim chief executive] is working with British Fencing and in March there should be more clarity about how the investment from UK Sport will be distributed.

“The Mayor gave us £10,000 around the time of the [Olympic] Games because he was so inspired by what we do, though that was a one-off payment.

“If we don’t get any more money from the Mayor then I do worry about what we are going to do from now on – where is this legacy?

“David Teasdale [chairman of British Fencing] looked at our club and the success we are having and hopefully we can have a meeting about how we can be sustained in the future.”

Two of the Newham club’s junior fencers, Amol Rattan and Kristian Archer, are currently ranked first and third in Great Britain and have realistic chances of reaching Rio in 2016 as part of Team GB’s Olympic squad.

Strachan took several of the club’s members to the ExCel Arena last summer to witness Olympic fencing first hand and hopes she will one day watch some of her protégées on the piste – provided the club get the necessary support to continue their good work.

“We’ve gone from strength to strength in the past six months,” she said.

“For example, we’ve had four fencers qualify for this year’s European Championships whereas last year we had two.

“The kids have been really inspired and they say it’s because of the Olympics.

“We’ve got under-16s boys ranked first, fourth and sixth in the country. The mini fencing has really caught the imagination as well. We have four to seven-year-olds using plastic swords, they love it.

“We have Amol Rattan, the number one fencer in Great Britain, who moves up to senior competitions next year. How will we pay for his stay abroad, his equipment, etc, though?

“We have others moving from cadet to junior level and that also means mega money. I worry we won’t be able to continue at the same rate.”

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