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

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