Man with a teeming vision

When Iain Sproat was appointed junior heritage minister responsible for sport in May 1993, he rapidly became a man with a mission to put team games back into schools. An appropriate vision for the man who edits The Cricketers' Who's Who.

With his ally John Major, the sports-mad Prime Minister, Mr Sproat had no hesitation in riding rough-shod over his colleague John Patten, then the Education Secretary.

Mr Sproat worked hard behind the scenes to get Ron Dearing to make team games compulsory until school-leaving age in his review of the national curriculum. And he forced Mr Patten's hand by leaking his proposals to reform school sport to The Times and the Daily Express while the Education Secretary was on a trip to Malaysia in April 1994.

A joint statement had to be issued by the education and heritage departments saying Mr Sproat's paper represented his personal views which would feed into the Government's future plans for sport, which culminated in last summer's policy paper, Sport: Raising the Game.

In January 1994, Mr Major told Parliament of the importance of team sports which "instil that spirit of competition in children, quite apart from enhancing their school days and their childhood generally". On the same day, Mr Sproat, the guest at a sports writers' lunch, echoed his sentiments.

"Sport is so important because it affects the whole character of a generation, let alone its health. And when I say sport I do not mean aerobics, stepping up and down bars or countryside rambles.

"What I mean is properly organised team games . . . particularly of the traditional games of this country: soccer, cricket, hockey, rugger, netball. " Mr Major again raised the profile of school sport in his party conference speech in October, but had to scrap a plan for a compulsory two hours of games on the advice of DFEE lawyers.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority said hours could not be prescribed under the national curriculum. He had to resort to exhorting schools to offer at least two hours a week.

In March 1995, Stephen Dorrell, then the Heritage Secretary, promised that a White Paper on sport would be published in the summer. In the meantime, Mr Sproat visited Australia, where he had been greatly impressed by the Institute of Sport and especially the country's cricket academy, which has produced the likes of Shane Warne, the legendary leg-spinner.

Last July, the Prime Minister launched the long-awaited document with the great and the good in the sports and education world at breakfast in the Downing Street rose garden with Virginia Bottomley, the new Heritage Secretary, much in evidence.

The 40-page glossy document, Sport: Raising the Game, contained the sports minister's passion for a national academy but after all that, Mr Sproat scarcely got a look in as he had to dash off to the Commons for an urgent vote.


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