Hugh Goulbourne argues that more needs to be done to ensure National Lottery sports funding benefits less affluent urban communities.
Like most other Brits I am clearly delighted at the unprecedented level of success of our Olympians in Beijing this year. But, I am surely also not alone in wondering why, given that this is the Peoples’ games, our medal haul does not reflect the wide ethnic and social mix of our great nation.
Our overall tally of 47 medals, 19 of them Gold and fourth place behind the three world super powers (USA, China and Russia), is clearly a tremendous achievement and the athletes, coaches and other Team GB members deserve a lot of credit.
Credit must also go to the National Lottery, and its founder John Major, which has funded our athletes and coaches over the past decade in the build up to these games. However, our euphoria should not overshadow the unfortunate reality, which even Major himself has admitted, that most of this money is not reaching the communities that are most in need of it.
The national lottery has delivered significant finances to sports. However, as any inner city volunteer can tell you, accessing and sustaining the funding that is distributed through Sports England is an arbitrary and convoluted process. It is a system which unfairly disadvantages those communities without the actors that are able to devote the time and to access the skills needed to construct business plans for the development of the facilitates and programs that will support the sport of choice in their community.
Well versed in the influencing skills need to tease money out of the unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats at Sports England, middle class sports have thrived under this system. Over a third of our Olympic medals have come in sailing, rowing and canoeing, the preserve of the rural middle classes. The vast majority of the rest have come in cycling, again hardly a main stream pursuit in our less affluent urban communities.
This is compared to just seven in athletics and boxing, with Christine Ohuruogu and James Degale left alone to fly the gold medal flag for Team GB. These are sports that demand simply a pair of good lungs, a willing mind and a good coach. They are not therefore closed to the vast majority of our population in the same way as sailing, rowing or canoeing which rely heavily on highly technical and expensive equipment.
None of this should detract from the enormous goodwill created towards Team GB, Sports England and the Olympic Games in 2012. But as the outstanding results of our swimmers demonstrates, it is not impossible to put in place the club structures that offer support to schools and communities in more deprived areas.
The great metropolitan swimming clubs have demonstrated how the injection of a bit of social capital can enable these communities to develop the programmes and plans needed to secure continued Sports England backing. Given the location of the 2012 games in East London, then it is to be hoped that Government can follow this model and work with Sports England, local councils and the third sector to put in place the support mechanisms needed to bring through our own Usain Bolt. That way we will truly make this into the Peoples’ Games.
Hugh Goulbourne is a school governor and community director of a new deal for communities regeneration trust.
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