By Graham Thomas
When Geraint Thomas finishes the Tour de France and heads to the start line for the Commonwealth Games road race in Birmingham, it will be a chance for many people in Wales to reflect on how they helped him get there.
Wales’ greatest-ever male cyclist will be going for gold, powered by his own talent and the funding supplied by everyone who has ever bought a ticket for the National Lottery.
In fact, National Lottery funding could be said to have nurtured the former Tour de France winner’s journey from an eight-year-old boy in Cardiff to podiums on the Champs-Elysees and, hopefully, in central Birmingham.
It’s money from lottery players that helped oil the wheels of Thomas’ first junior cycling club, the Maindy Flyers in the capital.
It was lottery funding that sent him to Melbourne in 2006 as a 20-year-old to compete in his first Commonwealth Games for Wales.
And it was £8m of National Lottery money that helped build the velodrome in Newport, re-named the Geraint Thomas Velodrome in 2018, the year he became the first Welshman to win the Tour.
National Lottery players help raise more than £30m a week for a variety of good causes across the UK and sport in Wales is just one of them.
In this 2022-23 financial year, over £7m of National Lottery funding has been allocated to partners to support high performance sport in Wales and directly to some athletes.
At the same time, £3.5m has been committed to supporting innovative, inclusive and sustainable ideas from grassroots clubs and projects through the Be Active Wales Fund.
And, £2m has been committed to partners such as StreetGames Wales, Urdd and other national partners to enable people, particularly young people, in Wales to enjoy being active.
As such, the National Lottery has become a key partner for Sport Wales – from grass roots funding of clubs and governing bodies, to those sports men and women who make up the elite.
Along with Thomas, all the other 198 Welsh athletes that will make up Team Wales in Birmingham – across 15 different sports – will have their bills picked up, their accommodation and their physio and sports science back-up paid for by lottery-buyers across the land.
“I’ve got unfinished business…”
Paralympic champion and proud Welshman Aled Siôn Davies (@AledDavies2012) is looking to complete his medal collection at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. 🥇#TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen #B2022 @TeamWales pic.twitter.com/0moU08aytJ
— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) July 19, 2022
So, when you watch Thomas surging across the streets of Birmingham, or new mum Elinor Barker scorching around the cycle track, or para-athletes Aled Sion Davies and Harrison Walsh throwing in the athletics stadium, anyone who has ever been “in it, to win it” can feel they have played their part.
The National Lottery funds elite Welsh athletes, the grass roots clubs through which they emerged, and the buildings and arenas in which they train and perform.
When Olympian Daniel Jervis steps onto his starting block at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham – and bids to win swimming gold for Wales – it will be as a National Lottery funded member of Great Britain’s World Class Programme of elite athletes.
National Lottery players will have paid his wages, just as they have paid those of Welsh athletes on the next rung down – the Olympic Podium Potential group – such as Welsh runners Melissa Courtney-Bryant and Jake Heyward.
Then, there are those venues and arenas from which the current elite, who inspire so many millions to take up sport, emerge.
With only two weeks to go until the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games begin, #TNLAthletes from each of the nations headed to Centenary Square to celebrate the countdown to the Games. It’s the first time the teams have come together in one photo ahead of the Games. 🏅⏰
— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) July 14, 2022
When Jervis won silver at the Gold Coast Games four years ago, it was having trained at the National Pool in Swansea – a venue built with £9m of National Lottery money.
When Gareth Evans won his memorable gold medal in weightlifting at the Gold Coast, pride was felt back in Bangor, Weightlifting Wales’ headquarters, as well as at Holyhead and Anglesey Weightlifting Club, where lottery funding had helped Evans on his way.
Heyward and so many athletes have used the National Indoor Athletics Centre at Cardiff Met, a facility part-funded by the National Lottery.
The same goes for Wales’ hockey stars who will be in Birmingham – Luke Hawker and Dale Hutchinson.
“National Lottery funding has changed the face of sport in Wales and across the UK, including at an elite level,” says Oswyn Hughes, the head of campaigns in Wales for the National Lottery Promotions Unit.
“It’s allowed people to train and compete at the highest level and have access to some of the best facilities – whether at a grass roots level or towards the more elite and professional end.
“The fantastic athletes you will see competing for Wales at the Commonwealth Games – a lot of their clubs along the way have had National Lottery funding.”
With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, the Team Wales athletes are hoping to motivate more people than ever to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.