How National Lottery players helped prepare Hege Riise’s football team for Tokyo

GB women’s football team leader David Faulkner explains how funds from The National Lottery paid for acclimatisation equipment to help Team GB cope with Japan’s 35° heat

Team GB women’s football team will make history on Wednesday July 21 by playing its first competitive overseas match, against Chile in Sapporo. The only other occasion a British women’s team has played at the Games was at London 2012, when Hope Powell’s side suffered a 2-0 defeat to Canada at the quarter-final stage. 

David Faulkner, Team Leader of GB women’s football, says that Hege Riise’s squad is primed and feeling optimistic about a medal-winning run. But he stresses that adequate preparation would have been impossible without National Lottery support. 

“Bringing together a GB women’s football team for the first time has been a long time in the making,” says Faulkner from the Yokohama camp. He was awarded an MBE for services to sport in the Queen’s Birthday Honours earlier this year, and says National Lottery support means “the team is in the best place possible to compete against the world’s best as Great Britain, which is in itself unique”.

“The team arrived in Japan with a high level of confidence after completing a demanding schedule at Loughborough University, while evolving the team culture as part of ‘One Team GB’ – much like the British and Irish Lions.”

Before flying to the Japanese capital on July 7, the women underwent a gruelling three-week training camp. With temperatures in Japan expected to reach 35°C and humidity hitting 95%, the team used an acclimatisation chamber at Loughborough University, thanks to Lottery funding.

The chamber is a cross between a sauna and steam room, and the players were forced to exercise daily on Wattbikes with the temperature turned up, replicating the hot and humid environment expected. The physical and mental demands of the acclimatisation sessions should pay off when the competition kicks off, says Faulkner.

“There is no question that without The National Lottery’s support we would not be in a position to have the dedicated accommodation, food, gym, and an acclimation area and training pitch,” Faulkner says. “We cannot thank those that play The National Lottery enough for the funds that have provided the team with the best preparation possible for the Tokyo Games.

“Not only did it provide a high-performance environment for such intense preparation, we were also able to make it Covid-safe with our protocols and testing. We are extremely grateful for the support that has enabled us to set up such a unique performance environment where every additional percentage gained will have such an impact with delivery in Japan.”

On the extra costs required due to coronavirus precautions, the 58-year old continues: “Covid places many more demands on players and staff, such as testing every day in game time, wearing masks and social distancing at all times. However, the funding has ensured there remains a performance focus across the elements of technical, tactical, physical and psychologically.”

Nigel Railton, Chief Executive of The National Lottery operator, acknowledges the role of those who play The National Lottery in helping Team GB’s Olympians and Paralympians this summer. “Every day, National Lottery players make a huge difference to communities across the UK. Their support has a real impact on a sport and in boosting the chances in Tokyo.”

Former hockey full-back Faulkner, who earned 225 international caps, captaining both England and Great Britain, knows what it takes to achieve, having won at Seoul 1988. “To win a medal you must ensure you reach the semi-finals,” he says. 

Following the first Group E match against Chile, Riise’s side takes on hosts Japan on Saturday July 24 and Canada next Tuesday July 27.

“The players and staff are highly motivated, relishing the challenge ahead and ensuring every element of performance that can make a difference to delivery on match day is covered,” says Faulkner. “A podium finish would be a fantastic achievement for this group – but they have the energy, depth and talent to finish at the peak.”

Whatever happens, Faulkner is thankful for The National Lottery funding, which has been supporting Team GB since 1998 – two years after the Atlanta Games when Great Britain won only one big prize.

“Quite simply, the funding has provided the opportunity for more athletes across more sports to be the best they possibly can be at the pinnacle level of sport,” adds Faulkner. “At the same time, the investment has helped develop a performance system that is the envy of other sporting nations, which has resulted in consistent medal-winning performances at every Games since 1996. This, in turn, continues to inspire the next generation of Olympians, which is the true legacy of the funding.”

This article, sponsored by Camelot, first appeared in The Telegraph in July 2021

Published by

Oliver Pickup

Multi-award-winning writer, content editor, ghostwriter, and TV and radio commentator (and occasional illustrator), specialising in technology, blockchain, startups, business, sport and culture. Founder of Pickup Media Limited. Interviewer of death row prisoners, legendary athletes, influential leaders, tech trendsetters, and cultural pioneers. By-lined in every English newspaper. Contributor to dozens of multinational publications.

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