Will Olympics help school sport?

5th August 2005 at 01:00
Will the London games reverse years of decline in sport for state pupils, or rob schools of vital funds? One of Britain's greatest athletes wrestles with a leading football journalist

YES says Daley Thompson

I'm thrilled that we are hosting the Olympics. Of course, the games will not sort out all our country's ills. This country has been selling off sporting facilities for years, not to mention school sports fields.

But the Olympics will give us the chance to claw back some of the ground we have lost. Either we take this chance or don't even try to make a difference. I say go for it.

The Olympics will benefit schoolkids in two ways. First, hopefully, all of them are going to have a lot more opportunities to play sport. The eyes of the world are going to be on this country for the next seven years so we want healthy kids doing sport. We want fun runs and rowathons. We need to get people engaged with sport. Just because some children aren't going to compete in the games does not mean that they can't have positive sporting experiences.

Second, the Olympics will lead a small minority of those it enthuses to take up sport to a great sporting career. True, only a handful will make it, but that's the same in any career.

I hope the games boost competitive sport. We have gone a long way backwards by taking competition out of sport, to shield children from failure. The result is that when they reach 19 or 20 and start losing at something for the first time, it seems terrible.

Kids like competing, they understand the principles of winning and losing.

They know who is best in geography and in history. I think if I were 14 now, I would be motivated by competition, and want more competitive sport.

I would be thinking what it must be like to be Seb Coe, Linford Christie or Colin Jackson.

The games could make a difference to the nation's health in other ways - we want them to make an impact on the obesity crisis. At the moment, the Government wants every pupil to do two hours of sport a week in school. It will bring that in over the next three or four years. But two hours a week is nothing! An hour a day, or five hours a week should be a minimum - not because we want kids to be sporty, but because we want them to be healthy.

Again, the Olympics is a great opportunity to highlight this aim.

But it's the Government that must take the lead, not schools. Heads and teachers can only follow government directives, although they may try to give kids an extra hour or two of PE. Most parents would love to take their kids into school an hour or so earlier to do some games and teachers can seize on that enthusiasm.

Hopefully saying that sport and PE matter will also do PE teachers good.

Like anyone, they need a pat on the back and all this will raise their profile.

Some say that the Olympics will not help children throughout the country.

Well, it's true that most of the games will take place in London. and, admittedly, London is also a fair distance from places such as, say, Orkney. But children who live in Orkney and other parts of the country will still benefit. To say that they won't be interested in the London games is like saying that, because you live in China, you don't want to be David Beckham. It just isn't true.

There are just so many opportunities for school sport with this Olympic project. The focus on health, fitness and successful role models will benefit kids everywhere.

We can't ignore the fact that, at the moment, we're doing really badly when it comes to school sport because whoever holds the purse strings does not take sport seriously enough.

I am sure the Government will deliver all the new Olympic buildings on time, but the true test of the games' success will be how healthy we are as a nation in about 15 years. These Olympics are about finding a sporting experience for everyone. Let's do it.

Daley Thompson won golds at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics in 1980 and 1984 and is a former world record holder for the decathlon. He was talking to Lisa Parry

NO says Mick Dennis

London won the Olympics the moment its bid team filed into the hall in Singapore. The city's rivals, especially Paris, had stuffed their teams full of middle-aged, middle-class white men but London included a contingent of East London schoolchildren, carefully selected to represent as many creeds and skin tones as possible.

Only a soundtrack with that Whitney Houston truism, "I believe the children are our future", could have made the stunt cornier. Yet it worked. The International Olympic Committee - an unaccountable, self-elected clique in charge of a multi-billion-pound Coca-Cola and McDonald's franchise - was gulled into believing that the London bid was "for the kids".

That beguiling fallacy at the heart of the London bid also lay behind the alliterative soundbite this month from schools minister Lord Adonis, who promised a "pathway from playground to podium" for young people.

In reality, the path is much more likely to be from playground to PlayStation because of the 2012 Olympics. Staging 17 days of Greco-Roman wrestling, synchronised diving, beach volleyball and the rest in London will seriously harm sporting opportunities for schoolchildren. The grievous damage will be done in two ways. Both involve money, of course.

First, the Government has said it will set up a special, Olympic Lottery to raise pound;1.5 billion to help pay for the stadia and facilities facilities in Stratford (and towards the cost of dismantling four of the arenas as soon as the games are over and reducing the size of the main stadium by 68 per cent).

Yet the Olympic Lottery can only succeed at the expense of the existing National Lottery, which is already in trouble. Although there has been a slight upturn in the past 20 months, ticket sales - and resulting cash for grassroots sport - have been dropping since 1997. Sport England, the quango which hands out Lottery cash for sport, warns on its website that "it is very unlikely that large capital requests, particularly any in excess pound;500,000, will be successful".

People will not buy tickets for two lotteries and so funds for sport will shrink. If your school is hoping for a Lottery grant for a new all-weather pitch, forget it.

The second way the 2012 Games will ravage grassroots sport is by siphoning off funding and giving it to elite sportsmen and women.

For the 2012 games to be seen as a success, the Government needs a glut of British medal-winners and that glib "playground to podium" promise signals its intention to concentrate on them.

Another portent was provided by Sport England's chief executive, Roger Draper.

The Commonwealth Games Council for England only had enough cash to send about 55 competitors to Melbourne next year but all that changed when London won the bid. Mr Draper said: "We will find the investment needed (to send more). The pressure is on to deliver success in championships involving teams from Britain for the next seven years." In other words, forget "sport for all" and focus instead on a tiny number of potential medal winners.

Of course, the zealots behind the London Olympics argue medal-winners inspire others and "enthuse a generation". But what point is there in enthusing children if they have nowhere to train and nobody to train them?

What is more, ordinary children cannot and do not do most Olympic sports.

Sailing, equestrianism, shooting and so on are not cheap and impossible in most state schools. That is why 80 per cent of British medal-winners at the Sydney Olympics came from public schools.

Playground to podium? Perhaps for a few lucky Lottery recipients, but for the rest - and for most of those East London schoolchildren wheeled out in Singapore - Lord Adonis is taking the pee.

Mick Dennis is football correspondent for the Daily Express, but the views here are his own

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