• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Socially inclusive, low-cost sport should be within government's grasp

WE look forward to UK Sport squirming as the Scrooges of both Christmas past and yet to come.

Several appeals will shortly be lodged against miserly UKS elite performance funding, some by sports due to receive precisely £0 over the next Olympic cycle.

Don't hold your breath, but we hope the public outcry will increase pressure for reversal. There is a lack of cohesive thinking on sport funding which shows UKS and Government fail to grasp issues of social inclusion and legacy. This is a final chance to set that right.

Basketball, handball, table tennis, wrestling, men's water polo, indoor and Paralympic volleyball, wheelchair fencing and the visually-impaired discipline of men's goalball, will otherwise receive zero UKS funding until 2017.

They have heavily rewarded successful Olympic and Paralympic disciplines – most notably rowing, cycling, sailing, and equestrianism. They performed outstandingly in 2012. This is partly thanks to previous success and enormous investment. Their equipment costs are high – not cheap-access, inclusive sports to which socially deprived kids can begin to aspire.

Here are some statistics: 93% of UK children are state-school educated, yet a staggering third of Team GB went to public schools, and they won 37% of our Olympic medals (50% four years earlier, in Beijing).

Analysis of London 2012 shows GB medal-winners in establishment sports were predominantly educated in fee-paying schools: 70% in equestrianism, 54% in rowing, and 50% in sailing – this from just 7% of those attending Britain's schools.

Notably, sports like basketball, table tennis and volleyball cost little to play, which is why they are the most truly pan-global. Volleyball has the widest appeal (220 countries in membership of FIVB, the world federation), followed by table tennis (217), and basketball (213). FIFA, the world football body, has 208 member nations. Athletics has 210, judo 201, boxing 194.

UKS most heavily backs such comparative minnows because they are regarded as a softer touch for medals. There are just 118 countries in membership of the global rowing body and 132 and 133 respectively in sailing and equestrianism.

Reality is a UK government-orchestrated policy of supporting white, middle-class sport at the expense of more socially inclusive and multi-ethnic ones while spinning a spurious text of egalitarianism. It is a scandal which discredits Britain.

When sportscotland announces funding for Scottish governing bodies next month they must look beyond myopic acknowledgement of medal potential.

Table tennis has perhaps been most shabilly treated. UKS cut elite GB funding by more than 50% (to £1.2m, lowest of all Olympic sports) in 2009, and the UK national coach left for Spain.

In Scotland, however, eulogies in praise of Terry McLernon and Drumchapel Table Tennis Club were legion. Rightly so. It's more than 23 years since he launched it with a single table and two bats on Friday nights in a corner of the local sports centre.

"The Drum" had a grim reputation. McLernon himself admits he ran wild as a boy, in a scheme which rated high in those bleak league tables which focus on crime, gang violence, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, unemployment, and teenage pregnancy. He cannabalised broken equipment, begged and borrowed, levered and cajoled.

The club got its own premises where kids from the age of eight mixed with septuagenarians, and eventually it stood above every other club in the UK – first Scottish one to win the British Premier League and entry to Europe.

Members – some the product of three generations of unemployment – have played at world, European, and Commonwealth level. Discipline and the work ethic has transformed lives. One Glasgow sports club did this while ticking every box in terms of social inclusion and community involvement, inspiring local youth and training coaches who have delivered the sport to thousands of kids. These include children with additional support needs.

This was acknowledged in 2009 by record funding. The Scottish sports minister announced details at McLernon's club, and the following summer Scotland achieved their best world team ranking (39th), a single place behind very much better-funded England.

Its reward? Sportscotland imposed an 83% funding cut on the governing body which McLernon chairs. Despite being ranked seventh in the Commonwealth, it was told it had no chance of a top-eight place in 2014. We may never know whether UKS pulls sportscotland's strings. We do know Westminster wants to amalgamate home country sports councils into one, under UKS control.

The reach of socially inclusive, low-cost sport is surely not beyond government's grasp. It's not too late for ministerial intervention, but whatever narrow lunacy UKS insists on imposing at GB level, sportscotland must repair the damage. Otherwise what is the point of sport being devolved?

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

133382