Sport England says pupils are crying out for more bloody battles on the playing fields. George Wright reports
COMPETITION should be welcomed back to school playing fields even if it means cut knees and the occasional tear, according to the new chief executive of Sport England.
Roger Draper took up his post on Monday, after six months as acting chief executive, with a vow to rejuvenate competitive sport in schools after "years of neglect".
The 33-year-old said: "For me, school is where sport begins and ends.
"We need to reinforce the competitive aspects of sports which have been sorely neglected in recent years. I am a firm believer in school sports days and competitive matches between schools."
Mr Draper called for better links between schools and local clubs and associations, so pupils could get involved in competitive sport beyond the school gate.
"The kids, too, are telling us they want more competition - that is one of the main findings of our recent survey on young people and sport.
"It may mean blood on the knees and a few tears, but it's what schoolchildren want and I think it's what this country needs," he said.
Sport England has spent pound;1.4 billion on school and community sports since 1995.
"This is all effective in introducing children to sport, but we need to do more to retain their interest in later life," said Mr Draper.
He said Sport England's recent policy of having star athletes visit schools was like "bringing the circus to town", arousing massive interest for a day but having little impact over the long term.
Mr Draper's views are in marked contrast to Sport England's current thinking.
Advice in its "Sports Day Toolkit" for primary schools promotes "inclusive" rather than competitive activity.
It suggests games such as "bean bag pick up" - where "pupils of lower ability are not exposed" - instead of traditional events where children risk being "comprehensively beaten in front of their peers".
Mr Draper was speaking after a press conference, held at Langdon school in Barking, east London, to announce his appointment.
Also present was Patrick Carter, Sport England's chairman, who admitted the body, responsible for distributing more than pound;170 million of Lottery money annually, was fighting a losing battle against the sale of school playing fields.
More than 200 school playing fields have been sold for development, despite Labour's pre-election pledge that they would be protected.
Since the Government came to power in 1997, ministers approved 202 applications to sell sports grounds and blocked only six, according to Department for Education and Skills data released last month.
Mr Carter said: "This is a tough battle. The Government has a statutory duty to consult us on the sale of every school playing field.
"We object in nine out of 10 cases but unfortunately there are other factors beyond our control - such as the desperate financial situation at many schools - which means the sell-off continues.
"However, I am optimistic that as the public becomes more aware of the issue, there will be increasing pressure on the Government to stop this practice."