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Sports Participation

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

9. What estimate she has made of the number of people who play football, tennis or cricket at least once a week. (81370)

This information is not available on a weekly basis, but according to the general household survey of 2002-03, 1.8 million adults had played football, 745,000 had played tennis and 235,000 had played cricket in the previous four weeks. The Department’s taking part survey will provide a complete picture of current participation levels in sport, including football, tennis and cricket, later this year.

As the House sends its commiserations to the England team for not winning on Saturday night in that dramatic penalty shootout, as it reflects on the great legacy of Fred Trueman, who died at the weekend, and as it salutes the great performance of Andy Murray, whom we hope will go further, does the Minister think that there is scope for the Government to lead on engaging the great motivating potential of people such as Andy Murray, Rio Ferdinand and Andy Flintoff to make many more people who watch sport go on to participate in it, with all the benefits that that brings us all?

Very much so. The hon. Gentleman is right that such people are incredibly powerful in the community. There is no doubt that they are icons. The sporting champions whom we are developing are playing a major role and talent is being identified through the talented athlete scholarship scheme, right up to possible world-class performers. Young people in schools from the age of 10 will be picked up not by chance, but by design, and they can be put on the pathway to excellence to allow them to realise their potential. I agree that we need to use the sporting icons in our nation more effectively than we do, and we are working to that end.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the lack of cricket coverage on free-to-air TV might have an adverse effect on the number of children who regularly play the sport? On average, only 200,000 viewers watch Sky’s coverage, compared with a peak of 8 million or 9 million people who watched Channel 4’s coverage last year. Does he also accept the good wishes of many cricket followers for the talks that he is initiating with broadcasters? There is widespread hope that that might lead to the return of at least some live test match cricket coverage to free-to-air TV.

I can partially agree with that, but may I put on record my great appreciation of a legend of Yorkshire cricket, Freddie Trueman? I saw him at Bramall Lane with my dad when I was about 10 years old, and he is truly a legend, as Dickie Bird said on Saturday night.

On Sky television and terrestrial broadcasting of cricket, we must remember what was in the Select Committee report. Had it not been for all the investment of television money in cricket, I do not think that we would have won the Ashes, which was a great feat, or had the coaching programmes and central contracts that the England and Wales Cricket Board now has. One must pay credit to the ECB for the modernisation that it has gone through. It is can now choose a team that can take the Ashes—which that team did, and we wish it well over Christmas and the new year in Australia—and also get more young people under coaching in cricket than there have been for many years. Credit must go to the ECB for that, and the funding—whether we like it or not—has largely come through television revenues.

No doubt the Minister would encourage participation in sport by boys and girls, and men and women, in equal numbers, so does he agree that it is unfortunate that the Wimbledon authorities still insist on paying much smaller amounts of prize money to their women champions than to their men champions, even though women are willing and able to play as many sets as men?

I think that the hon. Lady really believed what she said, so I have no doubt that she can join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and none other than the Prime Minister in having a joint approach to the All England Club authorities. Let us have hope for the negotiations that are taking place with the Women’s Tennis Association. I hope that the All England Club listens carefully in the meetings that I know that its representatives will attend in the next few months, and I hope that this ill will have been rectified when the Wimbledon tournament takes place next year.