Skip to main content

Olympic Games

Volume 457: debated on Monday 5 March 2007

5. If she will make a statement on progress with support to improve the performance of athletes for future Olympic games. (124565)

I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate our athletes who performed so well at the European indoor athletics championship. I am particularly sure that my hon. Friend will want to congratulate Phillips Idowu, his constituent, who won the gold medal in men’s triple jump, together with Jason Gardener, Nicola Sanders, and the men’s 4x400 relay team, Robert Tobin, Dale Garland, Phil Taylor and Steve Green. In a way, that is the answer to my hon. Friend’s question. This time, we topped the medal table in the European championships; two years ago, we finished sixth.

An elite performance is going from strength to strength. Why? Because of the extra investment—the extra £300 million that is being promised—and the outstanding training facilities, such as the Lee Valley athletics centre in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which he opened with me only a short time ago and which was built on time and on budget.

I thank my right hon. Friend for stealing all my thunder, but I will obviously add my congratulations, specifically on the 10 medals won by our team over the weekend. Of course my right hon. Friend mentions the fact that, in January of this year, she came to my constituency to open the new high-performance centre at Picketts Lock. That is the only six-lane indoor facility in the south of England, so when will she expand that facility? More importantly, when will we see facilities of a similar nature in other parts of the country?

As my hon. Friend knows, a large 80,000-seat stadium will be built just down the road from the Lee Valley athletics centre at the heart of the Olympic park for the 2012 Olympics. On the strength of that, he will also be aware that in the nine regions of the country, under the auspices of the English Institute of Sport, facilities are being upgraded and improved. We have already had a list of some of the great centres in Bath, in Sheffield and in the sports city in Manchester, all of which offer specialist facilities to improve the performance of our best athletes. That shows that, if we combine investment with top-class facilities, we get gold medals.

Although I welcome the Government’s programme to trawl for Olympic talent in many of the deprived and poor areas of the country, the Secretary of State will be aware that world-class talent is, in itself, class blind. What reassurance can she give to the House that any child or any young person who lives anywhere in the country who might have the ability to win a gold medal at future Olympic games will have their talent picked up and nurtured?

The intention is that the opportunity is available to every child—including, I stress, children who are disabled—and an increasing proportion of our talented athletes are coming via disability sports.

Of course, much of the attention is on the Olympic games, but not so much is on the Paralympic games. I wonder whether the Minister could think about creating a fund for local authorities that have no disabled facilities, such as Kent county council, which is the largest authority in England. One of the ways of doing that would be to challenge the Treasury on the 12p in the pound tax that it takes from lottery tickets. What we need most of all is to get our disabled athletes to be as good as the Chinese disabled athletes, or better than them, for 2012.

I take seriously what my hon. Friend says and ask him and the House to note that, in the run-up to Beijing, the funding available for Paralympians has doubled. For the Beijing games, UK Sport is supporting 23 Paralympic sports. That is an increase of eight over the number supported in Athens. It is that fundamental commitment to make sure that the Paralympics, Paralympians and disabled athletes have every equal opportunity with able-bodied athletes that will produce the results that we all want.

I thank the Secretary of State for the much-deserved praise of the sporting facilities in Bath. I join her in welcoming what the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last year: additional funding for elite athletes. But does she recognise that part of that announcement by the Chancellor was for £100 million to come from private sponsorship? Does she accept that little or no work has been done in preparing to raise that money, and will it not be particularly difficult, bearing in mind the National Audit Office’s recent comments, that private sponsorship for sport will be increasingly difficult given the uncertainty over the Olympic budget? When are we going to have a finalised budget for the Olympics?

It is categorically not the case that, as the hon. Gentleman said, not very much if anything has been done. There are discussions in train between potential private sector partners and UK Sport. I also remind him—[Interruption.] If he would like to hear the answer, I remind him that the money does not come on stream and will not be required until after the Beijing games. As with every other aspect of Olympic planning, this aspect is on time, taking account of the fact that we all have to be ready for the opening ceremony in five years’ time.

My right hon. Friend is quite right about continuing. I hope that she will continue the pressure to ensure that our elite athletes can get to the Olympics and win recognition. Surely she recognises that the prize is not just a gold medal; it is what the athletes do for the status of the clubs that they come from and the part that they play in their community as role models. They send a signal back to every youngster that, with determination and support, they too can get there.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right. That is why one of the important developments of recent years has been the willingness and the enthusiasm of so many of our lottery-funded athletes to go into schools, work with local clubs and provide precisely the kind of leadership and powerful role modelling that young people want.

I associate the Conservative side of the House with the Secretary of State’s remarks regarding the success of our athletes in the indoor championships. She has just confirmed that no progress at all has been made in raising the £100 million of private money of the £300 million that the Chancellor alluded to more than a year ago. Can she further inform the House what kind of progress is being made in those negotiations, or is this just another case of press-release politics?

The hon. Gentleman fails to listen and then thinks that he can assert his view as fact if he stands at the Dispatch Box and shouts. With great respect, I have just given the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) an answer to that question and I made it absolutely clear that there are discussions between potential private sector partners and UK Sport and that all that is timely, because the money is not needed until after the Beijing games. When it is needed, it will be in place.

Is that not yet another example of the Chancellor’s incompetence when it comes to money and the Olympics? It was the Chancellor who signed off the Secretary of State’s budget, which is now two or three times the original figure. It was the Chancellor who announced in the Daily Mail that he would get the nation fit for the Olympics, but who has not produced an extra penny to fund them, and the Chancellor who is now contemplating another devastating attack—

Order. It is all right for Front Benchers to read. They need a bit more assistance than Back Benchers.

The Chancellor is contemplating another raid on the lottery to pay for his incompetence. Surely it is not the performance of elite athletes in 2012 that we should worry about, but the performance of the Chancellor, which is seriously undermining the credibility of the Olympics.

Mr. Speaker, you were very kind to the hon. Gentleman, who needs as much help as he can get. The House should beware when he starts shouting, because there was no substance whatever in what he had to say. The plan to raise money for elite sport from the private sector, agreed as part of the elite sports funding agreement, is under way. It will be negotiated, and will be in place when it is ready.