Let’s give every child a sporting chance to be the best
After glory of our Rio heroes, ex-Olympics minister’s plea
WHEN BA flight 2016 brought our celebrating Team GB home, what a welcome they deserved and what a welcome they got.
First off the plane were Max Whitlock and Nicola Adams sporting their gold medals for gymnastics and women’s boxing.
Such great examples of how Team GB’s sporting achievement and medal domination has extended beyond those sports in which we expect to triumph – the sitting down events such as cycling, sailing, equestrian and rowing.
On Saturday we will celebrate the glories of Rio with I Am Team GB, the UK’s biggest-ever sports day.
After that, everyone – including the Prime Minister – wants to keep the pride, triumph and celebration alive. So how can we do that?
It all starts in the playground, with schools making sport part of every child’s life. This is a second chance for this Government to put right the wrongs of the past, when they wound up the Labour government’s school sport programme.
But let’s take the party politics out of this and invite all parties to commit to a 10-year programme of investment in sport for our kids to secure our country’s and their Olympic future. Let every child have the chance to be the sporting best that they can be.
Part of the London 2012 Olympic legacy promise was to transform a generation of children through sport. Great progress was made between 2005 and 2010. Had the programme remained on track, by 2012 at least 60% of all children would have been playing five hours or more of sport every week.
It begins with PE in primary school – running, jumping, throwing and children beginning to play sport – and then in secondary school offering children a range of sports to choose from. A significant number of our Olympians started playing one sport and then transferred to the sport in which they won a medal.
This is a win-win, as evidence has shown schools that succeed with sport also see their academic results improve, often from a very low base. They are likely to see less truancy and less disruptive behaviour. Most of all, children are introduced to what, for some, may be a gift for the rest of their lives.
These Olympics have led to a lot of talk about the British mindset. How we somehow expect to lose, how we are timid about ambition, surprised when we win. Try telling that to any of our Olympians. Let’s knock that on the head for ever.
Let us resolve also as a country that sport will no longer be regarded as an optional extra for children in school but as a fundamental part of a good and rounded education. What a brilliant Olympic resolution that would be. So how do we put it into practice?
There are steps Theresa May should take if she is really serious about honouring the legacy created by Team GB.
She should instruct the Department for Education to ring-fence the funding for high-quality PE and sport for older children so it’s not spent on something else.
We should also face the fact that some playing fields are not fit for purpose and so deter kids from wanting to play. They may be waterlogged, inaccessible and lacking pavilions, showers and things that most kids today take for granted.
The conditions for selling off even part of a playing field are tough, as they should be. But there should also be an absolute requirement where all, or part, of a playing field is sold the money raised is reinvested in more suitable, modern sporting facilities.
Mrs May should look again at the effect of the cuts faced by local authorities which are closing sports centres and swimming pools, leaving playing fields neglected and unusable, and even selling them.
Building an Olympic legacy will need to be funded at least in part from Government.
Much of community sport is run for and with volunteers – nearly five million across the country. So we also need a new and sustained drive to build the army of volunteers to support our kids as they play.
School competition doesn’t just happen. Schools must have someone whose job it is to organise competitions. Someone who will make sure the school timetable of a young talented swimmer doesn’t clash with her ability to do her homework. Who will make sure that the buses are booked, the teams picked, parents told about the competition times and arrangements. So, with commitment, facilities, trained coaches and proper organisation we can begin to build the opportunity for our children to excel. If we all get behind this, there could be no better tribute to our great 2016 Rio Team GB.
It’s win win, schools that succeed in sport see academic results improve
GOLDEN DAY Whitlock & Adams land back home
HIGH HOPES Hurdling at school