Tokyo 2020: Team GB can win a significant number of medals at Olympics, says Chef de Mission Mark England
Mark England has stopped short of delivering an exact medal target amid a tumultuous build-up to the Tokyo Games where athletes have seen their training and competition schedules affected; he spoke exclusively to Geraint Hughes at Todoroki Stadium, one of Team GB's main training bases
By Geraint Hughes, Joe Tanner
Last Updated: 20/07/21 11:18am
Team GB's Chef de Mission Mark England believes Great Britain can compete for medals in a "significant number" of events at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Since 2004 in Athens when Britain picked up 30 medals and finished 10th in the overall rankings, the total haul has increased vastly every four years, firstly to 51 medals in Beijing in 2008, then to 65 at London 2012, and British athletes made the podium 67 times at Rio 2016.
UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday has set a target of between 45 and 70 medals this summer, a broad range given the lack of available data caused by a lockdown sporting calendar.
Preparations for athletes have been dominated by curtailed training and event schedules because of the pandemic, as well as the fact the Games have been pushed back a year.
Because of these factors, England is reluctant to place an exact figure on the number of medals GB will be aiming to win between July 23 and August 8.
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He told Sky Sports News: "I think when you look at the programme, there's over 300 medal events and you go through that in a fair bit of detail.
"You determine how many of those GB is medal competitive in. I wouldn't necessarily put a number on it, but I think we are medal competitive in a significant number of sports.
"It's our collective responsibility to make sure we get the infrastructure in place in the country to trigger and turn that medal competitiveness into actual medals.
"Seeing the environment as I have seen it now having been here for just over a week, looking at the support we've got from the local community, how we're operating in terms of our Covid mitigation, our health and safety and all the rest of it, I think this team will be very, very competitive."
'Japanese community have supported us fantastically'
England is responsible for the 375 athletes and 600+ backroom staff of coaches, medics, physios, nutritionists, psychologists, analysts and many more that make up Team GB at the Tokyo Games.
He has been preparing for almost five years to provide the best training facilities, accommodation and environment for the athletes in Japan to be able to perform to their best.
With the thought of tens of thousands of people arriving in Japan just for the Olympics having caused some anxiety for the Japanese public, part of England's job has been to establish relationships with the local population around GB's bases in Yokohama and Kawasaki.
In Tokyo, strict coronavirus protocols are in place amid the city's state of emergency which has been imposed ahead of the Games because of a rise in infections. Events in the Japanese capital will also be held behind closed doors.
Team GB's Chef de Mission says athletes are coping well with the adjustments and extensive rules so far despite what has been a tumultuous build-up to the postponed Olympics.
He said: "It starts before we fly to Japan, behaving within bubbles in the UK, getting the PCR tests 96 and 72 hours before flying and 3 lateral flow tests just to get on the plane and then no one leaves the airport without another negative PCR test.
"Then we have our bubbles and zones within the hotel where we stay and the procedures in place to get to the training venues are strict and everyone sticks to them.
"It's about working with people in Japan, behaving responsibly, and then they recognise the efforts you have gone to. Yes, it is 'hearts and minds'.
"When we arrived we weren't quite sure how we would be met by the local population, there's some nervousness from them regarding the Delta variant back in the UK.
"But everyone here has been so fantastic in supporting us.
"Our protocols are strict, when we're indoors and in close contact it's 100 per cent wearing a mask and our protocols are very, very tight across the whole team but it's gone really really well.
"We have over 400 people in the country now, over 150 athletes and that will build and build over the next few days and thanks to the local population we're in a great position going into the Games."
One of Mark England's many jobs is to ensure the safety of all the team, and while about six weeks ago England told Sky Sports News he thought it would be inevitable that a British athlete would test positive for Covid during the Games, he has since changed his mind.
He said: "I've moved away from that position, I know I said it, but now I've been here and seen how rigorous the testing and precautions are I now believe I can bring into Japan all athletes Covid free, get them to competition safely and then get the home without Covid. I'm reassured that the restrictions and the way everything does work here."
'We're proactive when it comes to online abuse'
The athletes representing Team GB in Tokyo are sadly not immune from the vile abuse that three England footballers received after the conclusion of Euro 2020.
Team GB have been preparing for what might happen during the Games and have appointed a specialist company to monitor all the athletes' various social media accounts during their time in Japan.
They will alert management in Team GB to issues and also take relevant action where required.
The advice to athletes is not 'one size fits all', it is being applied on an individual basis and some athletes will wish to remove themselves from social media entirely while others use the medium for motivation and inspiration.
England said: "We have been planning on this for a long time, we had to. We send our best wishes to Gareth Southgate and the England team for what they did at the Euros, the vile abuse was horrific they had to put up with.
"We want to be pro-active as all athletes are different when it comes to how they wish to engage online. Not only have we a specialist company to deal with many issues that could arise, but on the ground here we also have trained professionals to be able to talk through with athletes who need our help."