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Let's gear up for a sporting revolution

After the cynicism comes the euphoria.

But you can't bottle euphoria; if you are not careful it vanishes in no time. There is a strong need to capitalise on the success of the London Olympics as a matter of urgency.

Two Tory peers have been making this point forcefully. Lord Colin Moynihan, himself a distinguished rower and boxer, noted that a disproportionate number of our successful Olympians were educated privately. Lord Sebastian Coe, one of the greatest runners of all time, and the man who as chair of the organising committee probably deserves more praise for the success of the Olympics than any other individual, said there is "a limited opportunity" (in terms of time) to build on the great achievements of the British team.

The two points should be linked. As Lord Moynihan grasped, this is about more than sport; it is about education. The UK invests a colossal amount of money in state education but sport is too far down the list when it comes to allocating priorities. The current mood of optimism and positivity must be harnessed to bring about a revolution in state school sport. Leadership has to come from our politicians. The private sector can assist with sponsorships.

Here in Scotland there is an opportunity for our education minister, Mike Russell, one of the more forward-looking members of the Scottish Government, to set up a task force to re-invent, no less, sport in our schools. This involves many things, including an end to the anti-competitive, safety first culture which is too prevalent in the educational establishment (the Olympics, obviously enough, are all about competition, not the sharing of prizes). Other priorities are a reclaiming of land for playing fields, the development of all-weather sporting facilities and – above all – the reinvolvement of the wider Scottish teaching profession in school sport.

My wife's father started his teaching career in Hamilton. He helped with school football on Saturday mornings. He was typical of many hundreds of teachers in the 1950s and 1960s, when so many Lanarkshire secondary schools would put out a dozen or more football teams on Saturdays. All this ended abruptly with the first wave of serious industrial action by Scottish teachers in 1974. The late Bob Crampsey, who was both a head teacher and a respected expert on Scottish football, once told me that this period was "utterly disastrous" for football – and many other sports as well.

He insisted that the withdrawal of teachers from voluntary supervisory and refereeing duties on Saturday mornings meant that many potentially great Scottish footballers were lost to the game in their teens. And many thousands of less able footballers, those not good enough to become professionals, were also lost. These were the people who would have learned to understand and appreciate the game and would have gone on to become referees, administrators, coaches, or even just well-informed fans.

In the autumn of 1974 it was not so much strikes that had a devastating impact on Scottish sport; it was the teachers' new preferred weapon, work-to-rule. Voluntary activity by teachers stopped completely, and many teachers never resumed their old habit of volunteering to support extracurricular sport.

Our schools should be helping to nurture enthusiasm for not just football but all sorts of sports. A revival of school sport would bring innumerable benefits; not least a reduction in obesity, and growing self-confidence and self-respect. Such a revival requires money, of course: money for facilities, which would be available in evenings and holidays as well as during school hours; and money to re-incentivise the Scottish teaching profession to take part in the supervision of competitive sport outside school hours. More money than you might expect could be forthcoming from private sector sponsors.

Easy enough to write all that; much harder to implement it. But given political will and leadership, we could and should embark on nothing less than an educational, sociological and sporting revolution. This is the moment; let's seize it.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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