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Local Sporting Heroes

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the importance of local sporting heroes.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard.

This debate is about recognising local heroes. We are lucky to have bags of them in Blaenau Gwent—Nye Bevan, for one—but it is those from the field of sport who I will look at today. They are people such as Sam Cross, the Olympic medallist from Brynmawr; Ashley Brace, the female super-flyweight boxing champion from Ebbw Vale; and Mark Williams, the three-time snooker world champion from Cwm.

We had a vote on that in the Whips Office and we all agreed that it was; I think it is. However, I will focus on one local sporting hero in particular and that is Steve Jones.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and indeed for securing such an important debate. Before he moves on, will he join me in commending Ken Jones, who is from my home town of Blaenavon in my constituency? His achievements in athletics, as an Olympic medallist of course, were outstanding, but he was also a quite outstanding rugby player, who scored the crucial try when Wales last beat New Zealand at rugby in 1953.

I am very pleased to say what a brilliant athlete, rugby player, journalist and schoolteacher Ken Jones was; he was renowned across the valleys for his rugby pedigree. Today, however, I will talk about Steve Jones, from Blaenau Gwent.

The unusual thing about Steve is that he is a world-class, record-breaking athlete who hardly anyone knows about. He is one of the most successful long-distance runners ever produced in our country. Despite his multiple achievements, however, many people know little about this British athletics hero. So I will start telling them today.

Steve is a Blaenau Gwent-made and self-trained sporting hero. The son of a steelworker, he grew up in Ebbw Vale. Steve had been a cross-country runner, but it was while he was a technician with the Royal Air Force that he really began running competitively. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and he reminds me of what Michael Parkinson has just said about George Best—namely, that while Best was the greatest player he has ever seen:

“He did not arrive as the complete player; he made himself one.”

Steve made himself the complete runner.

Training in what spare time he had, Steve began working his way up and competing, all the while serving his country full-time. After a ligament injury put his leg in a cast, Steve soldiered on, saying later:

“If anybody says I can’t do it, I end up doing it...I don’t like to be told that.”

That was an understatement. The tragic death of Steve’s dad in 1978 had a major impact on his career. His dad had been extremely proud of his achievements and, after his dad’s death, Steve wanted to push himself even further, and to be the best.

Steve burst into the top tier of world athletics in 1984 by completing the Chicago marathon in just over two hours, beating a reigning Olympic champion in the process. He set a British marathon record that stood for 33 years, until it was broken just this April by Sir Mo Farah.

In the years following Chicago and after receiving generous sponsorship from Reebok, Steve racked up further first-place marathon finishes in London in 1985, in New York in 1988 and in Toronto in 1992. Taken together, his achievements add up to a remarkable contribution to British athletics.

Now 63, Steve works as a running coach in Colorado, supporting athletes from across the world. In Blaenau Gwent, his legacy is seen every weekend in our local parkrun and other initiatives that Tredegar’s Parc Bryn Bach Running Club uses to encourage new runners; I am a newish member of the club. It has also been leading the charge for proper recognition for Steve. A local dynamo, Lee Aherne, has launched a campaign to build a statue of Steve, which has already raised more than £2,000.

The key issue is this: we have this great man, who accomplished incredible things and inspires people to follow in his footsteps, but he is simply nowhere near as widely recognised as he should be. Steve’s achievements are a great source of pride for many in Blaenau Gwent, but he is barely known outside our borough.

On that point, as I come from Henley it will be no surprise if I mention our rowers, many of whom are—like the hero the hon. Gentleman is talking about—not widely recognised outside the town, even though they participated in an international sport. Will he join me in celebrating the achievement of all these local heroes, particularly in attracting young people to their sport and giving them something to live for?

I am very pleased to support the commendation that has just been made.

There have been other positive steps in Blaenau Gwent, such as installing plaques for some of our other sporting heroes, notably Spurs football legend Ron Burgess. Over the next few months, I will write to the Welsh Government, the Cabinet Office and Welsh Athletics to seek proper recognition of Steve’s substantial contribution to sport.

However, I also want to look at one of the best ways to do justice to the record of local sporting heroes—harnessing their achievements to improve public health. Groups such as the Blaenau Gwent Sole Sisters and the Parc Bryn Bach Running Club already do a great job with the Couch to 5k programme and parkrun, which are coming on in leaps and bounds. However, I think that Steve getting the recognition he deserves would inspire even more people to participate.

What do I think the Government could do more of? First, it is important to assess the criteria for the official UK Government honours system, to make sure that people such as Steve are not overlooked. Understandably, many honours are awarded to people who have recently won a major competition, and some are awarded to athletes who are still competing, which is great. However, it is also important to recognise those who have made a sizeable contribution during their career—local heroes, whose good will keeps on giving.

Secondly, successes in local sport need to be given due credit. There is space for awards for services to sport at the devolved or local level, with a project similar to Australia’s Local Sports Stars scheme, which seems to be a tremendous initiative.

Thirdly, we need to encourage links between our local sporting heroes and key public health initiatives. Local sporting heroes know the areas they come from and their communities, so they are ideally placed to continue encouraging others.

Some Welsh athletics stars came to our parkrun recently to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS and they went down a storm—the response was absolutely fantastic—so I ask the Government to consider engaging local sporting heroes as part of the childhood obesity plan’s local partnerships, which are in train. I will suggest a similar approach in my discussions with the Welsh Government and my own local authority.

Great sporting achievements of any era show us what is possible, whether they are Steve’s marathon records, Mark Colbourne’s Paralympic cycling achievements or Mike Ruddock’s delivery of a grand slam as Wales rugby coach—we can all be inspired by the examples that such sports people have set—but when we see others reaching the pinnacle in any field, if they are from our home town, the thought “that could be me” strikes home a bit harder.

I hope everyone here has learnt a little more about Steve, his achievements and how he continues to make a great contribution to Blaenau Gwent, and I bet that other people here today have their own sporting heroes to celebrate. Finally, I would like to hear other suggestions on how we could build on the good work that these local sportsmen and women have done.

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who I congratulate on securing this debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) said while we were gathering for this debate, a famous pub quiz question is this: which three England captains played for Scunthorpe United, the Mighty Iron, whose tie I am wearing this afternoon? Of course, the answer is Ray Clemence, Kevin Keegan and Ian Botham. I understand, Mr Pritchard, that Ian Botham played for Scunthorpe against Hereford United, not always successfully.

There are many local sporting heroes that we should celebrate—that is a very important thing to do—and I would like to talk about two of Scunthorpe’s sporting heroes, from different generations and different sports: Tony Jacklin and Tai Woffinden.

Tony Jacklin, as people will probably know, was the first person to hit a televised hole in one in Britain, at the 16th at Royal St George’s, Sandwich. That was an achievement, but Tony achieved much more in his life as a professional golfer. Scunthorpe born, he became the first British/European player to win on the Professional Golf Association—PGA—tour since the 1920s. He ended a 17-year British drought by lifting the British Open championship trophy at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and the following year he won the US Open. He is the only British golfer to hold both the British and the US Open.

Jacklin should also be remembered for rejuvenating the Ryder cup. We recently had a very successful Ryder cup series that would not have happened but for the inspirational leadership of Tony Jacklin, who led the European team to win the tournament in 1985, 1987 and 1989. The 1987 victory was the first ever on US soil by a European team.

Jacklin deservedly entered the world golf hall of fame in 2002, but he is perhaps one of those sporting heroes who has been overlooked in honours from his own country. In former times, people often had to wait until they were older to get their honours, but in these times they often get them fairly close to their achievements. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of that amazing sporting occasion when, in the Ryder cup, Jack Nicklaus conceded to Tony Jacklin on the 18th hole, and it would be an absolutely ideal year in which to recognise Jacklin’s massive achievement and his contribution to the world of golf and sport, and to this nation.

That is Tony Jacklin. We have the appropriately named Jacklins Approach in Scunthorpe, which is a street in Bottesford, and recently, when I was visiting my parents in Leicester, I passed Jacklin Drive, so there are street names, but it is time to recognise Jacklin’s achievement even more.

Tai Woffinden was also Scunthorpe born and, riding for the Scunthorpe Scorpions in 2006, he completed a clean sweep of conference league trophies, winning the championship, the conference trophy, the conference shield and the knockout cup. It was clear back in 2006 that Tai was someone special. Since then, in 2013, he has won the speedway grand prix to become world champion. Woffinden was the eighth British rider to become world champion, and the first since 1992 to hold the British championship and the world championship in the same year. He is also the youngest world champion in the modern-day grand prix competition.

In 2018, Tai became the first British rider to win three individual speedway world championships, and he is the current world champion. That is a fantastic achievement, in a sport that is sometimes a little overlooked but one that many people enjoy in the same way as many enjoy football, rugby—I should mention the wonderful people who play for the Greens in Scunthorpe—and, of course, golf, which is where I started, with Tony Jacklin.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I was not going to participate in this debate, but I will do for a short moment. Each year in Henley we have something called the Regatta for the Disabled, which has been going on for the past 10 or 11 years. I have gone along and supported it every year. I will come on to the sporting hero associated with the regatta in a moment.

The regatta has a great impact on disabled people, showing them that the river is theirs; that it belongs to everyone. There is a good deal of fun about the day. I do a bit of the commentating on the dragon boat races, which is something to behold, but what I want to mention is that one of the really important people in the whole regatta is Helene Raynsford.

Helene is a world-class rowing champion and also a Paralympic champion. Her involvement in the regatta means a great deal to all of us who are involved, and it sets an absolutely brilliant example to everyone of what can be achieved despite a disability. It has always been a great pleasure to welcome Helene and to participate with her during the day. I offer her up as a local sporting champion and pay tribute to the enormous role she plays.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for boxing, a steward of the British Boxing Board of Control and the author of “Fearless Freddie: The Life and Times of Freddie Mills”. I think that Members will, therefore, know what I am going to talk about today.

The primary focus of my speech is boxing and how it inspires people, but I first want to talk about something that is happening in my constituency at the moment. All sporting heroes, wherever they come from and whoever they are, have to start somewhere. They need facilities and coaches and, more importantly, they need inspirational people. The week before last, I joined my predecessors as MP for Islwyn, Lord Kinnock and Lord Touhig, to march with the community through Blackwood against the proposed closures of leisure centres in Pontllanfraith and Cefn Fforest. The leisure centres are well-used community facilities and resources, and 5,500 people have signed a petition to save them. I have been honoured to support the community in their campaign and they can rest assured that they have my wholehearted and continued support against the closures. I hope that when the council makes its decision it will bear in mind the voices of the people and keep the leisure centres open. We have seen in the past that once such community facilities are gone, they are gone forever.

I mentioned the all-party parliamentary group for boxing because we had a meeting this morning that was particularly pertinent to this debate. We were talking about how boxing has turned people’s lives around. Among others, we heard from the chairman of Matchroom Sport, Barry Hearn, who told us that inspirational role models are absolutely key to turning people’s lives around. We heard how Mike Tyson, the famous world heavyweight boxer, started fighting. He was in a correctional institute in New York state when Muhammad Ali came along, and watching Ali perform and say his rhymes for the children suddenly set a light off in Mike Tyson and he too wanted to be a boxer and follow in the footsteps of the greatest fighter of all time.

In Wales, we have a rich seam of boxers. People ask me, “How did you get involved in boxing? What was your interest in it?” and I often consider saying this: “It’s an old pair of worn-out dusty leather gloves that hang in my grandfather’s shed”. He was a fighter in the boxing booths, which were well known in south Wales. They came around every summer and many miners used to fight in them to get extra pennies, because the mines closed down for the last week of July and the first week of August and there was no holiday pay in those days. My grandfather was one of those miners and his family of 18 needed to look for an alternative form of income. He would put those gloves on and hit the carpet to knock the dust out for my grandmother before, even though he had been blinded many years previously in a pit accident, fighting his heroes, including Percy Jones.

Percy Jones is long forgotten. He died in 1922 and had a very sad life. He has a unique place in Wales, as Wales’s first flyweight world boxing champion, long before Jimmy Wilde who lived up the road in Tylorstown—they were the same weight but never fought. Percy Jones’s life is very pertinent, especially the week after Remembrance Day, because he served in world war one, was hit by shrapnel and lost his leg. He would not take a stretcher, in case he used up one for a less able-bodied man. That is how brave he was. When Percy went to a fundraiser in Cardiff at the age of 29 with his former coach and friend Jim Driscoll, people did not recognise him because he was so underweight. He was suffering from all the symptoms of trench disease, and he succumbed to it on Boxing Day 1922, at just 29 years of age. His story was lost to the mists of time, but the bravery he showed in the trenches was also demonstrated in the ring.

I want to mention not only Percy Jones but Jimmy Wilde, “the ghost with a hammer in his hand”, and other names that trip off the tongue. Even now, most recently and sadly in Newbridge in my constituency, we had Joe Calzaghe, undefeated over 40 fights. He has a unique bond with his father Enzo, to whom I want to pay tribute. They were a special team—a father and a son—and as Enzo said, “I went to war with my son, and I supported him.” Each of those boxers, whether Percy Jones, Jimmy Wilde, Jim Driscoll, Joe Calzaghe, or Muhammad Ali—I should not really mention Mike Tyson, given everything that happened—has an inspirational story. As we heard today in the all-party parliamentary group for boxing, when we talk about turning people’s lives around, we are mainly talking about people who have had contact with the criminal justice system, many of whom are inside. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), having been a boxing doctor and having attended meetings of the APPG in the past, knows Anthony Joshua well, and will know that he was tagged. When Anthony Joshua goes into a prison, unlike myself or many Members here, he can talk the language of those prisoners. He can share experiences with them, and may even have friends who were in that prison. He can tell those prisoners how boxing turned his life around.

The problem is that people see boxing as violence. People think that it is all about who can hit the hardest, and that the bigger man will always win. It is more technical than that; it is about tactics and thinking, and—as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting will say, having been ringside a number of times—it is about discipline. It is that discipline that turns people’s lives around. As Barry Hearn said this morning, people who have been absolute devils, when they get in the boxing ring and see they are good at it, suddenly become like angels.

I have to take the Government to task, since there is so much good news showing that boxing in prisons can turn people’s life around. I cite other American boxers such as Bernard Hopkins, who lost his first fight after being released for armed robbery, and Sonny Liston, who famously fought Muhammad Ali over two fights many years ago. Both were prisoners who turned their life around. On 11 August 2018, the Ministry of Justice published Rosie Meek’s independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons. In that report, she highlighted the beneficial role that sport can play in our criminal justice system. She drew on extensive evidence from community groups and academic research to show that sport and physical activity, including boxing, can help to reduce antisocial behaviour and violence in prisons. Moreover, her research demonstrates the value of sport as rehabilitative in prison settings, specifically in relation to educational and employment opportunities. Recommendation 7 of that report urged the Ministry of Justice to

“re-consider the national martial arts/boxing policy and pilot the introduction of targeted programmes which draw on boxing exercises, qualifications and associated activities.”

Rosie Meek argued:

“Where these are offered (in some Secure Children’s Homes and Secure Training Centres), they are well received and highly valued, both as a behaviour management tool and as a vehicle through which to facilitate education, discipline and communication.”

Unfortunately, in the wake of that report—which only asked for a pilot—the Government decided not to take forward recommendation 7. In their response to the review, they stated:

“We acknowledge that there is a great deal of evidence about the way in which participation in boxing and martial arts programmes in the community can have positive outcomes for individuals, however there is currently limited evidence about how that translates into the custodial environment.”

Without the pilot, how are we going to have evidence? I say to the Government and the Minister—although I know this is not her direct responsibility—that they should think again about promoting boxing in prisons, and the discipline that it can encourage.

Boxing, like rugby, is entwined with our valleys communities, whether in Blaenau Gwent, Islwyn, Rhondda, or the other places I have mentioned. The boxing booth was a familiar sight in our communities. Boxing turned around not only the lives of people who might have been drawn into the criminal element but the lives of people such as Jimmy Wilde from Tylorstown, who might have been resigned to a life in the pits. It turned around the life of Percy Jones, and countless others such as Jim Driscoll and Tommy Farr. All of those people are now lost in the mists of time, but boxing turned around their life. Freddie Mills would not have been heard of if boxing had not come into his life at an early age; he would have remained a milkman in Bournemouth. He was a young criminal who turned his life around. The discipline of boxing, introduced first by his brother and then by the boxing booths, took him from driving around in a milk cart in Bournemouth to the Royal Albert Hall, and eventually to a media career. Those are inspirational stories, and there are countless others. I urge the Government to allow the boxing community to share them with those who have found themselves in trouble in life.

We have extra time so there will be six minutes for the SNP spokesman, seven minutes for the shadow Minister, and 10 minutes for the Minister.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I welcome the Minister to her place. She follows a Minister who advocated for sport with great passion; she will, I am sure, follow in her predecessor’s footsteps. I thank the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing today’s debate, because sport is close to my heart, having played rugby—and any other sport that I possibly could—for 17 years. He outlined that one of the main reasons for the debate was the lack of recognition given to Steve Jones, and the campaign to ensure that he gets the recognition he deserves. I wish that campaign well.

I think we all enjoyed hearing from the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) about the plethora of sporting greats that Scunthorpe has produced, notably three England captains. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), my colleague on the Select Committee on Justice, spoke about Henley and its rowing regatta. The hon. Member for—

I thank the hon. Member for Islwyn for filling in the gap there. He spoke with clear passion about boxing, and about facilities and coaching. I will touch on coaching later. Of course, my constituency has its own local heroes, including Archie Gemmill, scorer of the best goal in World Cup history; Bernie Slaven; Callum Hawkins; David Hay; Paul Lambert, the Champions League winner; and great Scottish cup winners such as Frank McGarvey, Billy Abercromby, and Tony Fitzpatrick, who recently had the great honour of having a council gritter named after him: Tony Gritzpatrick. I can hear the groans from here, although I prefer Ploughlo Grittini, named after Paolo Nutini.

When we talk about sporting heroes, we often talk about modern-era greats such as Andy Murray or Dame Kath Grainger, or old greats such as Denis Law or Rose Reilly. However, the positive impact of sport is felt most at the local level, thanks to the real local heroes: the coaches and volunteers who give up their time to allow all of us, old and young alike, the chance to participate and compete. Scotland has always been a sporting nation. We are proud to have a pantheon of heroes that rivals that of nations many times our size, and 2018 has been another proud year for Scottish sport. We have witnessed the emergence of new household names to join those we have already recognised, such as the fantastic Laura Muir, who achieved a gold medal at the European athletics championships, and Duncan Scott, who was named the national lottery’s athlete of the year after exceptional performances at the Commonwealth games and the European athletics championships.

Of course, as an SNP MP, it would be remiss of me to not take the opportunity to boast about Scotland’s victories over England in rugby—I was there that glorious day—and, even more impressively and unlikely, in cricket.

Wales will get its come-uppance in the six nations.

Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to publish a national action plan following the World Health Organisation’s global action plan on physical activity. Empowered by local sporting communities, the Scottish Government aim to cut physical inactivity in adults and teenagers by 15% by 2030. That will mean rigorously addressing all the factors involved, using a variety of approaches, including active travel funding, support for formal sports and informal physical activity, and targeted partnerships across the transport, education, health and planning sectors.

Sport and physical activity bring massive benefits to physical and mental health. Those benefits include improved self-esteem, the learning of new skills and, most importantly, fun and the forming of new relationships. The “Active Scotland Outcomes Framework” sets an ambitious vision for a more active Scotland, and is underpinned by a commitment to equality, in recognition of the extra barriers that women and girls often face when getting involved. The Scottish Government set up the Women and Girls in Sport Advisory Board and the sporting equality fund. They have also announced a £300,000 fund to be awarded to 14 projects that will work to tackle the long-standing challenge. All those actions will make Scotland a healthier and happier nation, and ensure that our sporting heroes, locally and nationally, will become more representative of our diverse population.

Sport truly does have the ability to promote wellbeing and inspire communities through the empowerment of local heroes. Scottish football is just one example of how sport can bring communities together. Scottish football was recently the focus of a UEFA study on the social return on investment in sport. Many will recognise the story that the study tells us, namely that sport has clear, acute social benefits that play out most locally. That is thanks to countless community role models who organise kickabouts, coach youth teams, and play for their local amateur or junior teams.

The report shows that the immediate economic benefits of football in Scotland total around £1.2 billion through participation alone, with nearly 800,000 people playing in some way. It also shows £667 million in savings for the Scottish NHS and a direct contribution of £212 million to the economy, creating thousands of jobs. It finds that investment in girls’ and women’s football has paid off massively, through excellent social benefits, as well as excellent results in the game itself: the women’s team have been hugely successful, qualifying for the World cup next year for the first time, and I congratulate them on that. That amazing achievement far outstrips anything that the male team has achieved in the past couple of decades.

Building a nation in which good physical and mental health is promoted and the norm for the majority of people would be difficult without our sporting role models nationally and locally, but it would be impossible without our heroes in local communities, who champion their sports and give their own time freely to enable, encourage and educate our youngsters. As I hope I have demonstrated, Scotland champions its sporting achievements, and we are well on our way to creating the next generation of sporting heroes.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing this important opportunity to discuss the role played by sporting heroes in our local communities.

It will surprise no one to hear that as shadow Minister for Sport, I spend a lot of time thinking about the role that sportspeople play in our daily lives and society. In the past, it might have been considered self-explanatory that “Sportspeople play sports, people come and watch said sports, and society benefits by having sports entertainment—and that is that.” Occasionally sports stars would break the mould—people such as Muhammad Ali or Billie Jean King, who challenged authority and told truth to power—but they were few and far between. If we asked someone today about the role sportspeople can play in society, I think the answer would be very different. We live in a period where sports stars are doing more than ever before to break the mould, to inspire a sense of possibility in our young people, and to educate. In America, LeBron James, an athlete at the top of his game, sets up public schools for underprivileged children.

Sports heroes are vital for society in general, but especially for the next generation, and it is important that we recognise that. They truly can make a path for others to follow. Representation matters. For many young people, seeing people who look like them, sound them like and grew up in their communities succeed in such high-profile arenas is inspiring. Nicola Adams, a normal young woman from Leeds, grew up to be our first woman boxing champion in Olympic history. We should think about how important it is for people to see themselves represented in these incredibly public settings—to see women of colour achieve so much. Women, particularly women of colour, are often told to stay in our lane, but to borrow the phrase of Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, Nicola showed that we should not stay in our lane; we should slay in our lane.

I firmly believe that the only limits that truly exist are the ones we put on ourselves. Sporting stars today do so much to personify that theme, especially for the local communities they represent. It is one thing for someone to see someone like them make it, but it is another thing entirely if they grew up in the same place. My constituency of Tooting has its fair share of sporting talent. Frank Bruno was born in Wandsworth and boxed in Earlsfield. Darren Bent was born in St George’s Hospital, where I still work as a doctor. Commonwealth heavyweight title-holder Joe Joyce boxes at Earlsfield boxing club. We are definitely very lucky with our plethora of local sports stars.

Today I would like to draw attention to one particular type of local sporting hero—the kind who almost never makes it into the headlines and never gets the medals or accolades, but is just as important to our local communities. I am talking about the parents who drive their kids to matches, meets and practices every weekend. I am talking about brothers and sisters who take their little brothers and sisters to the park for a kickabout. I am talking about people who volunteer for sports clubs, not only coaching, but offering a safe space that people can come to, where young people can be themselves and share their problems. I am talking about people like Sid and Clare Khan, who run Earlsfield boxing club—clearly Tooting has a thing for over-achieving Khans—and Winston and Natasha, who run Balham boxing club.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) rightly said, boxing clubs in the heart of our communities can change lives. Sid, Clare, Winston and Natasha perform vital roles as mentors and friends to young people who might otherwise not have reliable adult role models in their life. I still box at Balham boxing club. I sit ringside as the boxing doctor during shows. I know the difference the clubs can make. We can talk about it in these rooms and go home to our wonderful, comfortable lives, but for many young people, the boxing club is the only place they can find someone to trust. They can be the only place where they can go to find solace, speak their truth and admit that they might have a mental health problem, or that they are about to join a gang. That is the case for any sporting facility, not just boxing clubs. We have to recognise the role such facilities can play.

The people in the clubs are mentors. They spot mental health issues and problems at home. They provide guidance, and they often offer a confidential conversation where there is no other. I have seen with my own eyes how young people who probably would not talk to their parents or teachers instead come to someone like Winston at Balham boxing club. These people are local sporting heroes. There are people like Phil and the team at Tooting and Mitcham football club. When their nearby rivals Dulwich Hamlet had their ground seized by greedy property developers and their entire club seemed to be hanging by a thread, Phil offered Tooting and Mitcham’s ground. Within a week, Dulwich Hamlet had agreed terms and were able to continue playing until the dispute with their property developers was resolved.

I want to pick up on the hon. Lady’s reference to boxing clubs. I have a very poor village in my constituency that has a boxing club. It plays a fantastic role in providing some organisation for the young people who live there. The only thing one has to bear in mind is that last time I went there, I sat next to the ring, and I had to put my hand over my wine glass to stop blood from spurting into it after one boxer punched another completely on the nose.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the dangers of mixing sweat and blood, and of sitting ringside. He sounds like a true sporting hero himself for being there and supporting his local club, which I am sure was very grateful.

As we know from the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), this country has a rich history of sporting heroes; nowhere was that better demonstrated than at the 2012 Olympics, where Team GB had its best Olympics since 1908. That is something to be proud of. So many stars were made in that summer that it is hard to keep track of them.

We can speak all day long about the sporting heroes we hold dear, but we must also speak about the legacy that we leave behind as representatives of our communities. The proportion of over-16s playing sport for at least 30 minutes each week remains virtually unchanged since 2005. Teenagers are being taught almost 35,000 fewer hours of physical education in school. Hundreds of sports facilities close each year, and local authority spending in sport has been rapidly cut under this Government. Sporting heroes are important; sports facilities are vital.

I welcome the Minister to her post, and look forward to working with her in future. I hope that she will use today’s debate as an opportunity to show in concrete terms that the Government will prioritise sport. We owe it to our sporting heroes, and to the people we represent.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, responding to my first debate in my new role. I thank the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing the debate; I have no doubt that it will be the first of many in my new portfolio. I am hoping to do more actual sport now I am in this role, rather than just talking about it. Hon. Members’ contributions on local heroes have been fantastic. Even so early in my tenure as Minister, it is clear to me that sport can inspire communities to achievement and activity at every level. I am delighted that we are celebrating that this afternoon.

Let me turn to Steve Jones, who headed to Chicago back in 1984—before the running gels and the great trainers—and ran a two-hour marathon. That is fantastic. A statue for Steve would be the only time he was seen standing still. I have gone to London, New York and Toronto to run, although not always in marathons. His contribution to British athletics should be celebrated in the Chamber, and I am pleased to do that. We must also remember what got Steve running—opportunities like parkrun and support for people in Tredegar getting out in trainers. We should absolutely celebrate him. Of course, people called Jones, as we heard this afternoon, are also very inspiring.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about rowing, boxing, blood, sweat and tears and being the person on the mic at the dragon boat races. This morning, I met representatives of Activity Alliance, a disability inclusion charity whose focus is getting active lives for everybody—it is doing so much work on that. I am delighted to hear about the Henley Royal Regatta. I have not been to it, and I think there is a huge opportunity there.

We heard about the Scunthorpe stars—three of them shining England captains—and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) reminded us of the marvellous Tony Jacklin. I must confess that I was slightly distracted at the Conservative party conference this year by the Ryder cup—I think we all were. It was wonderful to hear about the 1980s Ryder cups where we really saw some successes.

The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) made a passionate speech about facilities, coaches and community; the power of change through boxing; Percy Jones and Jimmy Wilde and bravery shown in this sphere; and the importance of tactics, discipline and focus in boxing, which can be seen at the highest level through the teamwork of Joe and Enzo Calzaghe.

We also heard about Anthony Joshua. I agree that sport and physical activities give opportunities to communities. People in prison or perhaps in need of support in the community can be given opportunities through martial arts and boxing. In my very short time in the Department, I have made it clear that we should be agile, open-minded and focused on outcomes for people. It is easy to talk about the Government putting in investment, but ultimately it is about outcomes.

We heard from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) about Archie Gemmill and that wonderful moment, and Laura Muir. I have followed her as an athlete—a slip of a girl, she has achieved so much. When they are seen to be doing so well, the cold dark mornings when they put the slog in can be forgotten about. As a former Paisley rugby captain, the hon. Gentleman will know about getting out on the field and doing the work when needed. It was great to hear about Active Scotland doing so much work focused on women’s and girls’ participation. When I was lucky enough to be asked by the Prime Minister to do this role, that was the focus that she looked to me to move forward.

It was wonderful to hear from my opposite number, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), about the work in Tooting, and about Frank Bruno and Joe Joyce. I have two boxing clubs in my patch that do great work: Eastleigh boxing club, which celebrated its 70th anniversary at the beginning of the year, and Poseidon, based at the Ageas Bowl, which has been going only since 2013, but looks after 400 people and gives them opportunities to get into sport.

It would be remiss of me not to highlight the work of some amazing people across Eastleigh. The sports awards are coming up, and coaches, officials, clubs and schools all have the chance to be nominated by the beginning of February. Some great people have already done so much in the community. David Smith, a Paralympian, is now over at Swansea. He is an MBE, and he has won so much in boccia. He is the champione, and he is an Eastleigh guy. Eastleigh walking football club won the national finals. Getting involved in walking sports is a great opportunity for our local heroes to bring in people who perhaps have not seen such opportunities before to participate. At my seniors’ fair last week, Eastleigh rugby club was also looking for people to participate.

I think we do have a sporting hero here in the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. Despite the foot injury, he could be back doing the marathon for the Hospice of the Valleys—I see a comeback on the cards. As a councillor, I had the chance to meet Tim Hutchings and set up a staggered marathon. That was an opportunity to inspire people into sport. It gives public health benefits and encouragement in terms of the challenges that we face with obesity and childhood inactivity.

It would be remiss of the Minister not to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who I understand was the only MP to run a faster time this year in the London marathon than he had run before. He should be congratulated on that.

Runners get very affected by their times, whether fast or slow. Seconds really count, so congratulations to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe.

It would also be remiss not to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) on his performance in the London marathon.

That is a quick reminder that I did not start this year, but I feel a bit of competition coming on next year.

Moving on to the elite level, which I feel not at all close to, in Rio we saw the result of UK Sport’s no-compromise approach. Yesterday, I met with and spoke to Dame Katherine Grainger and heard about her plans. It was an amazing performance at Rio in 2016—366 athletes travelled to Brazil and 130 of them won Olympic medals. More recently, we had record-breaking performances at Pyeongchang. We absolutely look up to our elite stars, but if they are in our midst how wonderful that is.

Of course, we are building on that with our athlete days scheme, ensuring that our sports stars find some time, if they are funded, to inspire our children in schools and to go to local clubs to ensure that the story of how they got there becomes clear to our youngsters. Much of what our athletes do to inspire is vital. Since 2012, there have been more than 30,000 athlete volunteer days around the country.

We have heard about the power of UK Sport partnering with parkrun. Over 250 funded athletes have attended events this year, which has led to record-breaking attendance. The national lottery awards now include a new “athlete of the year” category. Seven shortlisted athletes were selected by a judging panel for their sporting achievements and their passion for sport. Swimmer Duncan Scott won the £5,000 award from the national lottery this year—congratulations to him.

All these people continue to keep our interest going. Football clubs across the country are doing more as part of their fixture calendar, and it is absolutely right that we allow this to happen at every level where there is an opportunity to engage and inspire. The Government are looking for lots of different outcomes with our sports strategy, but ultimately it is vital that we look for inspiration.

I feel that time is starting to push on, so I will move forward and talk about sports volunteers. The hon. Member for Tooting rightly mentioned the reliance on our volunteers, families and communities to do so much to inspire locally. There are 6.7 million sports volunteers at grassroots level; without them, we would not have the major events or sports opportunities that we see. Sport England is investing over £20 million between 2017 and 2021 to increase the number of volunteers and to allow meaningful volunteering experiences for everybody. Those mums, dads, supporters and coaches are absolutely vital.

We must talk about nominations for public honours and the opportunities to recognise people who do so much. Recipients of honours make a difference in their communities, and the guidance for nominating an individual for a national honour is readily available and can be found on the Government’s website—or people can come to Westminster Hall to make their bid and hope that it is heard by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

There are many ways to recognise the local sector. County sports partnerships do a great job in my own community at providing the nominations for the Eastleigh sports awards. Those are under way in many areas, and this is a way for local businesses also to get involved. The Prime Minister has the daily “points of light” award, which recognises inspirational community volunteers. In Hamble, there is an opportunity for everybody to experience sailing on one of the Wetwheels boats, which has been launched at Royal Southern yacht club in my own patch. This organisation for disabled people, which disabled yachtsman Geoff Holt has led, has allowed 3,000 people to get out on the water. That is an area where getting engaged is probably more difficult, but there is a fully accessible powerboat.

Dedicated athletes, volunteers and coaches, as well as people who wash kits or who get out and inspire, are vital to our communities at every level, and they should be celebrated. I have been delighted to contribute to the debate and will continue to use this platform to ensure that there are sporting heroes in our local communities who can continue to do so much and to be rightly recognised.

This has been an interesting and really important debate, and it has been good for me to celebrate the athletic brilliance of Steve Jones. It has been interesting to hear about Scunthorpe’s Tai Woffinden and Tony Jacklin; to hear more about our south Wales heroes, Joe and Enzo Calzaghe; and to hear about Hannah Rainsford from Henley, who sounds absolutely fantastic.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) about the importance of boxing in our justice system for helping prisoners to build a new life, get out of crime and play a part in our mainstream communities. I thank him for that powerful point, which he made very well.

I hope that the key message coming from this debate is that our local sporting heroes support greater physical participation and good public health across our country, which has certainly been my takeaway from today. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and the Minister, I want to give a very loud shout out to sporting volunteers across our country. Week in, week out—sometimes in all sorts of terrible weather—they ensure that our teams and individuals perform at their best.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the importance of local sporting heroes.

Sitting adjourned.