Give urban kids the space to ruck and maul

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall and sports minister from 1999-2001, talks to The TES about the state of school sport.

"The Government has been keen to jump on the bandwagon after England's spectacular World Cup win. But it is less keen to admit that it is continuing to put pressure on schools to sell off their playing fields to meet their budgets, particularly in the light of this year's schools' funding crisis.

"The truth is that, in town after town, green spaces are being concreted over and it can be seen by everybody. We need playing fields and qualified coaches if we are to develop and find the next generation of England players.

"Many state schools would love to build on what has been achieved in the World Cup but are prevented from doing so because there are not enough good playing surfaces, particularly in the inner cities, and not enough PE teachers qualified to teach the sport.

"Trying to stop the sale of playing fields is an uphill battle. When I was sports minister I set up the Playing Fields Monitoring group, which meets again next month. I made sure that the National Playing Fields Association was a member. The group repeatedly told us that the policy to stop sales of playing fields was not working.

"The Government responded by producing glossy documents with pictures of new all-weather pitches and sports halls built from the proceeds of playing-field sales. Ministers have now become grumpy about the publicity which the NPFA has generated on sales and resorted to verbal attacks.

"Recently, Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, accused campaigners of being sentimentalists lost in the misty past.

She also said that the days of small boys playing football in parks with woolly jumpers as goalposts were over!

"Well, I can tell her that there are thousands of youngsters in the inner cities who would love the opportunity to play rugby or football on any green space at all.

"The Rugby Football Union has done a fantastic job. But it's no good the Government saying well done when it continues to allow the mass selling-off of playing fields. This needs to be addressed and stopped if we are to remain a country capable of fielding world champions.

"When the euphoria from the victory dies down, the Government should address the issue of the sale of our school playing fields."

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