Wednesday, 8 August 2012

secret wheels: funding for athletes

The Olympics have certainly been a fascinating, vivid spectacle, and the British medal-winners are generally compelling and often charismatic individuals. There's been some discussion of lottery-funding and fears etc it will decline after the home event, but there's been no attempt that I've seen to look at the bigger picture in the funding - about funding for athletics in comparison with other cultural activities that find it difficult to fund themselves from their audiences alone. Poetry is comparable in this respect to a sport like kayaking - it's a minority interest and needs public money to survive. The difference is that poetry is part of a very long British tradition and one which forms part of our larger global prestige. Its neglect is evident when you compare the imminent appearance of British athletes on stamps to the absence of WHAuden from such honours in his centenary year a couple of years ago. Auden was the greatest British artist of the twentieth century. This is also reflected in the funding - British success at the Olympics has been achieved through targeting lots of cash at elite athletes. The amounts involved are staggering when you compare them with Arts funding which has been squeezed and squeezed so that small presses like Salt and Cinnamon are struggling desperately to survive. It's not just poetry that's suffering, but all the Arts, and the career of Danny Boyle, who directed the opening ceremony, needs to be borne in mind in this context. He's a generation older than the athletes and benefited from a previous economic regime - he was a student in my own academic department at a time when students got grants. He will also have furthered his career in Britain at a time when there was general funding for all the Arts. Younger versions of him will certainly be struggling to make their way.