Cycling’s success in increasing mass participation in sport has been rewarded with a 30 per cent increase in long-term funding from the government body responsible for grassroots sport.
Netball and triathlon have also won substantial funding increases for the next four years from Sport England for improving their participation numbers.
But swimming, tennis, fencing, squash and table-tennis have only received one-year deals and been told that a fifth of their funding for the remaining three years is at risk if their participation rates do not improve.
The stick-and-carrot approach is part of Sport England’s drive to make sport governing bodies take seriously their obligations to improve grassroots participation and deliver an Olympic legacy.
Sport funding was “not an entitlement but a privilege”, said Jennie Price, chief executive. The government quango is introducing competition among governing bodies by setting aside £40m to reward sports that do well in increasing participation.
Sport England is in all distributing £493m to 46 sports, paid from the National Lottery and government funding.
Ministers want an Olympic legacy of more people playing sport, particularly young people aged between 14 and 25, but they are also under pressure from Labour to improve sports participation in schools.
Clive Efford, shadow sports minister, said: “In the absence of a coherent school sports strategy aimed at generating a sporting habit for life among schoolchildren, many sports governing bodies will find it hard to reach their targets to increase participation for 14 to 25-year-olds.
“What is needed is a national framework for sport in our schools and communities so that those working at all levels of sport can plan ahead with confidence.”
The latest participation figures show 15.5m aged 16 and over are playing sport at least once a week, a rise of 750,000 on last year. The growth is particularly strong among women and in the sports of cycling and sailing.
Cycling is now Sport England’s most-funded sport, receiving £32m, compared with £24.7m in the previous four-year period. British Cycling said slightly less than 2m people were cycling at least once a week, 200,000 more than the number in October 2011.
In contrast, tennis has seen its funding reduce from £24.5m in the previous four-year period to £7.1m for one year, with a further £10.3m over three years, which is ringfenced depending on how its participation rates progress.
Ms Price said publishing league tables about how each sport was performing would be part of Sport England’s new regime.
“It is not so much about naming and shaming, but making clear where people are relative to their peers,” she said.
While there was some need to increase the number of some sports facilities to boost participation, such as swimming pools and football pitches, Ms Price said other sports, played in sports halls, needed to work on “getting access to what’s there”.
Bigger sports had done well in beefing up coaching numbers, Ms Price added, but athletics was an example of a sport that had not kept up with public demand for coaching.