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Sports bosses urge calm as athletes worry about coronavirus impact on funding

The Olympic Committee says that success in competitions is just one factor considered when handing out grants.

Susanna Tapani
The Lionesses' funding is secure, says top Olympic Committee boss Mika Lehtimäki. Image: Emil Hansson/AOP Image: Emil Hansson/AOP

After the Covid-19 pandemic forced the postponement of this summer's Olympic games for a year and cleared the rest of the season's sporting calendar, questions have been raised over the availability of funding for athletes aiming for next year’s games.

One athlete who received 6,000 euros in support this year, heptathlete Miia Sillman, told Yle Sport (in Finnish) she was having to save up money for next year.

“It’s a tough situation for the team, so why not for the Olympic Committee as well?” she said.

"We’ve talked with our coach and, looking forward, we’ll try to save money from this year for next year,” she continued.

But Mika Lehtimäki, director of the Finnish Olympic Committee’s high-level sports unit, said the situation isn’t so clear cut.

“We have tried to make as many multi-year agreements with athletes as possible,” he said. “A situation where funding is given for just one year before it ends only applies to very few athletes.”

Tax-free grants for coaching and training are distributed by the Ministry of Education and Culture twice a year, once for summer athletes and once for winter athletes. The grants vary in scale, coming in tranches of 20,000, 10,000 or 6,000 euros.

Promising athletes will still be eligible

According to the Olympic Committee, the situation has improved since last year, after the criteria for qualifying for grants were changed.

Now, even the biggest possible grant can be awarded to an athlete who has not yet been successful in the respective championships of their sport. Previously, in order to receive a grant of 20,000 euros an athlete had to be ranked in the top eight at the Olympics or the World Championships.

The most important factor is an assessment of an athlete’s potential to win medals, said Lehtimäki.

One example of this is the women’s national ice hockey team, who came second in last year’s World Championships, held in Espoo. That performance in 2019 places them in a good position for grants awarded this year, even though this year’s competition has been cancelled.

“It means that new grants will be influenced strongly by performance last year,” Lehtimäki explained.

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