I thank you, Mr. Hood, for giving me the opportunity today to discuss the Olympic and Paralympic games. The title of the debate should cover both, and I would like to set the record straight on that from the start.
I welcome the Minister, particularly as he will pass into history as the longest serving Minister of Sport. That will happen this week, so perhaps I am getting my congratulations in a little early. In the sportsthinktank .com lecture last night, we heard about the excellent time that he has had as a Minister. Perhaps a Westminster Hall debate will not be among the top 10 highlights, but I hope that part of the Olympic and Paralympic process is very much on his mind.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests. Among other things, I am also the chairman of my local strategic partnership for volunteering in sport at the national level, and a county sports partnership chairman in Leicestershire. I am also president of Birstall rugby club, for which I played again at the weekend in a fine 29-nil win against Leicester Forest. We kicked off early so that we could watch the game between England and Scotland. Given your presence in the Chair, Mr. Hood, I shall not recount the score, but, looking around, I can see wry smiles—we can leave it at that.
Today’s debate is not about Olympic games costs. There is enough debate on that in the media, and enough scrutiny taking place elsewhere. Today, I hope to focus on what the Olympics should be about: a sporting legacy for UK plc. I am sure that the Minister is pleased to hear that, especially as my hon. Friend—I shall call him that, in these circumstances—the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is here. The Minister gets nervous when he sees a Loughborough-Bath duo, and expects another plea for money.
Yes, it has; but, on this occasion, I assure my right hon. Friend that we are not necessarily pleading for money.
Also, it is important to say—I shall touch on this briefly—that the Government have achieved a great deal in terms of the sporting landscape that I want to discuss today. I shall highlight the good things about elite sport and school sport, but then—as is usual with Members of Parliament, I suppose—come on to the big “but”. I shall concentrate most of my comments on grass roots and community sport, and what we have managed to achieve.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been a big supporter of the Olympics. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) has joined us. We spent some time before the Government had even decided to bid on the Olympics pushing the case for a UK bid, and I am delighted that we took the opportunity and won the bid. Now it is only fair that we remain firm supporters of the games throughout the process, and see it to a conclusion.
The reason that I do not want to concentrate today on costs and the things that are in the media is that I am firmly committed to the Olympics, and I recognise that there are fantastic teams at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Delivery Authority. They will deliver the best games that we will ever see, and they will deliver them on time. I shall not say “on budget” at this stage, as too many people are scrutinising that. [Interruption.] We do not know what the budget is. However, the games will be fantastic. It is important to set out from the start that that side of things will be delivered, and that we should be confident in that happening.
As to what is happening on the positive side for elite sport, the Bath-Loughborough axis recognises the enormous contribution that my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor have made. The additional £300 million allocated to UK Sport will ensure that our athletes are some of the best prepared and best motivated to win gold medals and achieve our aspiration to come fourth in the 2012 Olympics. I believe that most people recognise what we have achieved on that side. It is discussed in the UK Sport booklet, “The Road to 2012: The Impact of London 2012 and Our New Responsibilities for High Performance Sport”. Sport now comes to us and says, “You have given us the resources, it is now up to us to deliver.”
I am not saying that we close the book and say, “Thank you very much, we’ll just leave it till 2012”, but, with the present leadership at UK Sport, the national governing bodies and some of the work that I have been doing with the British Olympic Association, which is also making a step change in the way that it delivers support to the Olympic team, I am confident that, as long as we can identify talent and generate enough athletes to get through to the required level, we now have the mechanism and facilities at places such as Bath, Loughborough and, of course, Sheffield—
I thought that I should get that one in—to give athletes the best chance to get on to the podium in 2012.
It is also important to recognise that there has been an enormous step change in respect of school sport. Ten years ago, when I first came into this House, the landscape was very depressing. I believe that most of us are of an age to have some fond golden memories of what sport was like at school: PE two or three times a week, and weekend and afternoon games. But that was not the case 10 years ago.
I know that this is a short debate, but I would like to put one point to the hon. Gentleman. He agrees that the Olympic games present a unique opportunity to engage more young people in sport in the way that he describes, and that we must continue to believe that even if only a few can compete, everyone can be involved. However, just as it is important that we secure a sporting legacy from the games, would he also agree that the provision of sporting facilities and grants must not suffer in the interim, or be used to bridge the huge funding gap that is beginning to emerge?
I am grateful for that intervention. First, on competition, yes, this Government have made it clear—I believe that the Minister said this in the question and answer session last night, and I know that other Ministers have said it—that competition remains at the heart of sport. Sometimes, it does not matter whether one wins or loses. My son’s football team was losing seven or eight-nil regularly up to the Christmas period—I shall return to this later, to highlight the value of coaching. The team got a new coach in January, and my son came home three or four weeks ago and said that the score was two-one. I congratulated him on holding it down to that, only to be told that his team had won. I had not realised that they had managed to get that far. Competition is important, and we want to encourage it, particularly at school. I know that the level of competition is increasing. Pressures on the curricular timetable sometimes make travelling difficult, but competition is crucial. Sport as a whole relies on it.
I want to deal with the funding element, but I am more interested in how the Government tackle the issue strategically. Clearly, the ability of the games to drive up interest is not necessarily linked with a lasting legacy. As we all know, one cannot get on to a tennis court for two weeks of the year because of Wimbledon, but, unless plans are in place, a lasting legacy of increased participation is not necessarily generated.
I am proud of the bid document because it deals with two areas in which I am interested: grass-roots sport and volunteering. Historically, economic regeneration, tourism development, international prestige and national celebration have all been recorded benefits of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games. However, ironically, previous hosts have not demonstrated that a grassroots sporting legacy of increased participation has been a natural corollary of acting as host. In fact, much of the research shows that there has not been a sustained increase in participation after the games. We put increased participation at the heart of our bid, but I wish to explore in the next few minutes how we will deliver it, beyond what we have already said that we will do as a Government and through Sport England.
As a county sports partnership chairman, I know that the existing targets for increasing participation are challenging. It seems that it should be easy to add 1 per cent., but when it is converted into the number of people that must increase their participation in sport or physical activity, it becomes extremely difficult. However, we cannot say that the targets that we had without the Olympics are enough. The Olympics give us a golden opportunity to take matters one stage further.
The bid document stated that
“grassroots participation would be boosted. An already sports-mad nation would get fitter and healthier.”
However, the Government’s “Game plan”, which was published in 2002, acknowledged that
“it would seem that hosting events”—
on its own—
“is not an effective, value for money method of achieving…a sustained increase in mass participation”.
Separate resources must be directed towards creating a sustainable legacy on the back of a major sporting event.
The hon. Gentleman makes the vital point that it is not only about the specific event. Indeed, even hosting training camps should not be the end. Does he welcome, as I do, the work that has been done on the first ever deal for a training camp for the 2012 games, which will be based in Bristol, arranged by Dr. Kip Keino and the Kenyan Olympic association? That deal is predicated on the arrangement that there will be a range of sporting links between Bristol, Kenya and the west of England, including cricket, rugby, football and community sports activities and, too, there will be a range of cultural, tourism and commerce links. Will we not ensure that we make the best of the one-off event of the Olympics if we build such things on either side of the games?
I agree entirely. In fact, I think that I have half-volunteered to be involved with the great Ethiopian run this year and, obviously, it is the real millennium in Ethiopia. On one of our previous visits it was suggested that, as part of the Olympic ideals, part of the bid should be predicated on the international links and the way in which we can work. The hon. Gentleman’s example is excellent, and I hope that whenever a training camp or other facilities are opened up for such an event, people will make use of its wide impact. Today, we are clearly relating that specifically to grass-roots sport, but he knows and I know that if we succeed in getting major teams to hold their camps in places such as Loughborough or Bath that will be surrounded by cultural events, art and, we hope, by sustained links between the two countries for the foreseeable future. From my point of view, it is not about where we feel we have reached in August 2012, but the real measure of success of the Olympics is whether we are still fourth or fifth on the medal table in 2016 and whether we have seen a sustained increase in participation in sport and physical activity across the country.
As Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, said:
“A country can truly call itself sporting when the majority of its people feel a personal need for sport.”
He also said:
“In no way can sport be considered a luxury object.”
Clearly, we have gone a long way with the Government’s plans to have everybody within 20 minutes of a sporting facility by 2008 and the work that Sport England is doing, and the consultation on the new framework for community sport from 2008 to 2013 will set out some of those targets. However, it comes down to two or three key factors that we need to ensure are in place. The first has been mentioned: finance. At the end of the day, whatever we would like to think, sport costs money. Fortunately, we have some 5.9 million volunteers who ensure that we do not need as much money from the Government or other sources as we would if all those people were working full time.
My latest figure is that 120,007 people have registered themselves on the website for 2012, ready to volunteer for the 70,000 places that are needed. That was the figure on Thursday, but it might have gone up—it might be 120,009 or 120,010 by now. It is clear that people are passionate about getting involved. We need to tap that not only among the 120,000 who have volunteered to be ready in 2012 to come down to London and to be part of the Olympics, but among the others, who might number in their hundreds of thousands, who see the potential as we increase our interest in sport across the board—not only in the Olympic sports—to become involved in their local clubs and societies. Volunteering will be one of the key elements that will increase the level of participation.
Although facilities are important—we have talked about the holding of camps, and the need to be within 20 minutes of a decent sporting facility so that people can use them—the crucial point, as I have mentioned with regard to my son’s football, is having the right people and the right coaches. The Minister is to be congratulated on recognising that, even with the best facilities in the world, without the right people and coaches in place nothing can ever be achieved. That was brought home to me when the Olympic swimmers were at Loughborough using the baths that were built in the late ’50s, and yet we were producing world-class swimmers without a 50 m swimming pool. It was achieved in a horribly steel-walled 25 m swimming pool that one would not want to send one’s children to if it was part of a local authority facility, never mind part of an elite facility.
It is amazing what can be achieved with the right people. If we get the combination of the right people and the right facilities, I hope that we will go even further. The Minister must be congratulated on ensuring that the 3,000 community coaches are in place. However, we need to ensure that that number is not only sustained but increased, and that we increase the number of volunteers to build up the level of participation at a grass-roots level that would make it a sustainable future for so many people.
The delivery plan for Olympic sub-objective 4.4 states that it wants to maximise the increase in UK participation at community and grass-roots level, but without a national strategy and some drive from the centre, the potential for building on the brand that is the Olympics could easily be lost. If I were to ask for one specific action, to follow up on my correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Minister, with the Secretary of State and with the Leader of the House, who I understand chairs the Olympic and Paralympic Games Committee, it would be that we should ensure that we are not left behind. The evidence from my county sports partnership and the work at a sub-regional level shows that tourism and the business sector are moving rapidly ahead, yet we seem to rely on Sport England to pick up the participation baton and we seem to expect that somehow it will magically happen.
I understand that later this spring LOCOG will have in place a symbol that fits legally in the framework of what can and cannot be done. That will be a unit with which we can work. That Olympic symbol can be used at a community level and will then, I hope, be part of a brand in which the Government will take a lead. The danger is that if we leave things as they are, there will be no central driving force and no direct link with the Olympics and what can be achieved. All the evidence shows no automatic corollary between acting as host and increasing participation.
One example of when we have achieved those increasing levels of participation that the Minister will know well—although with cricket at the moment, it is probably not the best example—is that the England and Wales Cricket Board was good at recognising the power and value of the Ashes when we won them last year. It recognised that we cannot rely on people turning up at their local clubs and staying merely because they are interested. A sustained plan is needed to ensure that the facilities are in place and the coaches and people are in place and ready to support the influx so that it is not lost.
My main worry is that we have been successful—and will be more so by 2010—in what we achieve in school sports, but we still have a 70 per cent. drop-off rate at 16. One of the reasons for that is that we are clearly not yet doing enough to support people when they want to move out into the community. Their lives change and they drift away from the school sport environment and so it is vital that we strengthen the work that we are doing, which is already fairly good, on the school and club link. It is clearly not working yet if we are still seeing such drop-off levels.
I am not asking for a great deal more money. It would be nice, but I know that in the current climate that will not be possible. I urge that the £340 million that has been allocated should not be raided further, as did the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser). Sport as a whole is making a sufficient contribution towards the Olympics, and I would not want to see it making a greater contribution. We need a step change in attitude, with a national strategy that builds on the already excellent work of Sport England in its new framework for community sport. The targets that we have already set it are pretty challenging, but I believe that with the Olympic brand and with the energy to keep going forward we can take one further leap.
My measure of the success of the Olympics is not the regeneration of the east of London, welcome as that will be, nor how successful we are in the medal table, although I hope that lots of Loughborough, Sheffield and Bath constituents are among those medal winners, as they generally are. It is not about how successful the games are as a spectacle for the tens of thousands of spectators. My measure of success is that when we get round to 2016, our levels of growth and participation should have increased to a level of which we are proud and we should have the next generation of elite athletes.
We cannot do that without a sustained platform and strategy. Australia has a worldwide reputation for its sporting excellence, but if we scratch beneath the surface, its participation rates are not that impressive and obesity levels are growing. It does not want to know about disability sport and such things, but merely to pick out the elite. We have a golden opportunity not only to deliver and to beat the Australians in the medal table, but to beat them on the sports field across the board, whether at disabled sport or community sport. This is a golden opportunity, and I hope that the Minister can tell us exactly how we will deliver the grass-roots increase in participation that we all want to see.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) on securing this debate. He has outlined to the House the context in which he wants it to take place. I concur with him about the Olympic Delivery Authority and LOCOG. They are probably two of the best organisations to both drive forward construction and deliver the games in their many facets. I am sure that the leadership of Roy McNulty of the ODA and Seb Coe of LOCOG will make that happen.
It is helpful to concentrate on the games’ legacy. I have said many times that the Olympics games are not an end in themselves, but a means to many ends. My hon. Friend has been exploring how to use the games and that little bit of magic and gold dust that they undoubtedly provide to drive up participation in sport and physical activity and to ensure that it is sustained.
I reassure my hon. Friend that I do not want another national strategy. We have enough strategies; what we want is action on the ground. To some extent, that has happened. Well before we decided to bid for the games, we were mindful that we wanted to ensure that young people in particular became more engaged in sport and physical activity, if for no other reason than their health. Unfortunately, it is a damning indictment of our society that our young people are now exposed to obesity and type 2 diabetes in a way that they were not before. To argue purely from the Exchequer’s point of view, physical activity has a major role to play in reducing the burden on the health service, as indeed it does in social inclusion. More and more, we see it playing a role in ensuring that some of those at the bottom of the economic ladder continue to be part of society in a positive way.
What have we done to ensure continuing participation in sport? How do we get young people to participate in sport? Statistics were released a few months ago on our schools, which were our first port of call to increase participation. In 2001, fewer than 2 million of our young people were getting two hours of quality physical activity or sport every week. I am pleased to say that that number has now increased to more than 5 million. That means that in our schools, young people are having 6 million more hours a week of quality physical activity or sport than in 2001. That is very important indeed.
We want to extend such activity beyond the school gate, and we want every young person between five and 16 get two to three hours of quality physical activity or sport every week. It is a challenge to take that beyond the school gate. To some extent, that is where the Olympics come in. My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the response to calls for volunteers. Some 127,000 people have now expressed an interest in volunteering for the games, and we will want about 80,000. We want to convert that interest into involvement in sports clubs, coaching and officiating, as we are doing in a number of ways. There is a wealth of people out there who want to get involved in the world of sport—not necessarily to participate, but to volunteer to ensure that sport continues to grow in the UK.
My hon. Friend was right about the role that volunteering plays in sport. In fact, 27 per cent. of all volunteering in this country involves sport. We want to increase the quantity of volunteers, and we have a number of projects to deliver that, but we also want to ensure that the quality improves. It is important to see volunteering as a force for good in sport that could deliver not just greater participation, which is important, but sustained participation. Many of our schemes and projects to encourage people to volunteer have been described, but I shall cite one more. Step into Sport is helping 16 to 18-year-olds enter sport and show leadership. Many of them go on to run sports days in schools and communities. In my view, they will eventually be part of development for the Olympics as well.
Facilities are also important. The debate on this matter has been a long one; I dealt with it in a speech last night. The playing fields organisations have had a legitimate case to prosecute in that playing fields were closed. That has now been reversed. During the past two years, we have opened more playing fields than have been closed. More importantly, we must provide facilities that our young people want to use. It was interesting to talk to Mick Hill, the great javelin thrower, at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. He said, “Richard, if we had had these facilities when I was throwing the javelin so many years ago, how many more medals would we have won and world records would we have broken?” That question will never be answered, but one thing is for sure—we are now giving our young people the opportunity to use the best facilities available.
I should like briefly to refer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). I congratulate Bob Reeves, the head of sport at Bristol university, on the work that he has done with the Kenyans. Again, it is not just about the Olympics. The Olympic games involve 26 sports in summer, or 35 in total with the winter games, but sports beyond that such as rugby, cricket, netball, golf and so on have been part of the discussion as well. Although the Olympics will be the motivating force, the issue is much wider. It is pleasing that the press release about this matter says that the agreement that may well eventually be signed will involve more than 20 schools in an exchange of young people between Kenya and the south-west of this country. That is to be welcomed.
This is about the power of sport to bring young people together. We are starting to deliver on the narrative that won us the Olympic games on 5 July 2005, which seems a long way back now. I am convinced that that was what won over the International Olympic Committee and gave London the opportunity to host the games in 2012—we said that we wanted to reconnect the young people of the world to sport through the power of the Olympic movement and of the five rings. What we see happening in Bristol is delivering on that, and delivering it more widely.
On coaching, it is absolutely clear that unless we get it right, we will miss a golden opportunity. The Olympics will give us the opportunity through UK sport to deliver the five levels of coaching to which all governing bodies have subscribed. There are now 3,000 community coaches on the ground helping in clubs, infant schools and the probation service. We want to build on that to make coaching a profession. I want this nation to be the best coaching nation on earth by 2016. That is achievable, and it will be a massive turnaround, but it will not just be about sport. It will be about how coaching and sport can play a much more proactive role in the communities that we in the House represent.
We want to ensure that social inclusion, health and education are increasingly assisted by sport and quality coaching. Linking that principle to facilities and exploring what we can do with the Olympic ideals gives us a great opportunity to move forward not just to 2012 but well beyond it, to when we will have the most sustainable sports structure anywhere in the world. That is what we can achieve, and that is what the Olympics can help us to do.