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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Some Views on the Olympic Talent Fund

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Some Views on the Olympic Talent Fund is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle and published in The Stock Exchange Christmas Annual 1913.


Some Views on the Olympic Talent Fund

Sir, — Some little time ago certain members of the Olympic Committee, being wearied of the constant misrepresentations in the Press, invited all the sporting journalists of the Metropolis to meet them at a London hotel, there to discuss the question.

Face to face with these gentlemen, many of whom had been severe critics of the Committee and its plans, those plans were expounded both by the Chairman, Mr. Studd, and myself. We received a most courteous hearing and, at the end of our remarks, we asked for criticism. After a long ventilation it was admitted by all those present, including, as I have already said, many constant critics, that the Committee had worked upon the right lines, that they could not have done more than they had done, and that they were deserving of all support. And this, I venture to say, would be the verdict of every other impartial critic in this country if we could meet them face to face.

There has been an immense amount of misapprehension and misrepresentation in the Press, which has had the unhappy effect of diverting subscriptions from the Fund, and so hanging up our essential preparations. We may still send a good team to Berlin, but, do what we may, we can never send so representative or so highly-trained a team as would have been available had we been able to organise during this last year.

It is quite clear that there are three courses which might be adopted towards the Berlin Games. The first is, not to attend them at all. This is surely out of the question! All other sporting nations, including our own Colonies, are not only attending, but are making special efforts to send worthy representatives.

If we stood down now it would certainly and justly cause considerable international ill-feeling.

The second course is to go on depending upon our ordinary sporting organisations and then to make a "whip round" at the last moment, to cover the actual travelling and living expenses of our team. This is exactly what was done at Stockholm last year.

Surely we have not already forgotten the humiliating result and the universal outcry in the Press, that such a failure should not be permitted to occur again!

Some of us, who took those words literally, and set ourselves earnestly to work to try to prevent a recurrence, have found ourselves continually thwarted in our efforts by the very papers which raised such an outcry.

There remains a third course, which is, as I hold, the only possible and reasonable one; this is, to make a serious effort to improve our methods and to win upon our merits. To do this, money and organisation are needed in this as in every other country. £100,000 was stated to be the amount required for complete preparation, but this was admittedly an outside figure, which would enable things to be done on a broad, national basis. With £50,000 half the result could be obtained and a good team put in the field. Even with £25,000 a little could be done. Below that figure adequate preparation is absolutely impossible, a fact which is so appreciated by the Committee that they propose to dissolve unless they are shortly assured that the public will support them to that extent.

People ask: "What is the money for?" The moment you come down to practical details, you appreciate the need for money. The final and essential charge is, of course, the expenses of the team at Berlin. Some £12,000 or £15,000 is needed for that. There is no central training quarters in London. This must be found or created, and the best possible trainers stationed there. Efforts must be made to bring on talent. In the case of the Public Schools good trainers must be sent round to give instruction. Our lads are systematically taught in cricket or football, but have, as a rule, not the least idea how to jump or run scientifically. By the time they reach the Universities they have developed bad habits which they can never shake off. Then there is the finding of talent among the general public. This can only be done by holding numerous local athletic meetings at which there shall be novices' prizes, and where Olympic events may be practised. Special encouragement, in the form of medals or badges, must be offered for all those who approach an Olympic standard. There is hardly a branch of sport in the country which has not approached the Committee, and shown how much its records could be improved by the expenditure of a little money.

The Fund has been attacked from two different sides in the Press, the two contentions being mutually contradictory and equally absurd. On the one hand it is said that the money will be used to encourage professionalism. As the money will be spent under the supervision of the Committee, by the same amateur bodies who at present manage the various branches of sport, and who are responsible for the amateur status of their representatives, I see no cause at all to fear that we will change our traditions in this matter. On the other hand, some of the more democratic papers have attacked the Fund on the ground that it is a snobbish endowment of the richer sportsman. Nothing could be more wrong-headed or perverse than this, for one of the primary objects of the Fund is to put within the reach of the poor amateur those means for athletic training and development which have always been open to the University man.

Such is the situation. It has been stated again and again. The public seem apathetic on the question. Three years hence I believe that they will take a very different view and mourn for the time which we are now wasting. Meanwhile, unless prompt and generous help comes to us, the Committee will have dissolved, and the organisation, which has been laboriously built up during the last year, will have gone to pieces. The next few weeks will decide the matter.

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Crowborough, November 27th, 1913.



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