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UK Sport: Elite Sport Funding

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 18 January 2018

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to reviewing the guidance given to UK Sport about which sports are to receive funding for elite programmes, to take into account the potential growth of grassroots participation.

My Lords, I thank all those who have decided at the end of this busy week to give me an hour of their time to discuss these matters. This debate was inspired in my mind by the fact that we are at a point of celebration and worry in sport, in equal measure. We have transformed our sporting environment from the top. Of the statistics that I have acquired from various sources, as one does at the start of a debate, the one that stuck out for me was that our improvement from 1996, the Atlanta Games, to the Rio Games was a 347% increase in medals. But that figure probably tells you where one of the problems comes from—the Olympic Games. At elite level, one of the problems has been that, if you are in that select club, getting this wonderful funding that is provided by the lottery, or at least inspired by it, and giving central government the incentive to get in on this wonderful success story and guarantee it, which it has done, you are actually excluding other sports, or making the barrier to get in there that little bit higher. Team sports seem to struggle slightly, and are more vulnerable.

I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, beforehand whether he could give an example of exactly what the criteria for success is, because it is perceived as being medals at the Olympics. I know it is broader and more complicated than that, and I have probably made that mistake in conversation and in communication with people—but if we can actually see what the criteria for funding elite sport is, that would help this debate and, I hope, get it beyond here and out. If we can make sure that we are encouraging sport to expand its base, we may well get to the bit that has not been so successful. The participation rate at a moderate level of about 30 minutes a week has improved over the same period by 6%. Clearly, a 6% improvement for the entire population may be a massive increase, but the perception is, in our current environment, that funding is concentrated on a few sports that are encouraged to win all the medals. With certain sports—for instance, when you have lots of medals available—of course, we have the potential of getting much more bang for our buck.

A sport such as artistic gymnastics has lots of different events and lots of opportunities to acquire champions and people who succeed at that level, compared to one of the team sports. Hockey has done reasonably well, but one centre forward down and a goalkeeper having a bad day and that medal goes. That is the fact of the matter in all team sports. If you have lots of different options, to a degree you have a buffer zone, and if you have a good structure in place, you do not have to worry about that off day to the same extent, because you will have other bites at the cherry. How are we going to structure this in future? The question of how we bring other sports up that will penetrate into other bits of society is very important. If we cannot address that, we are not following on from that initial success. We are not saying, “We will do more”.

There is a cohesive social value in amateur sport, when people join together to do something that they get a buzz out of or enjoy, or whatever the correct term is in psychology. It is about the mates who give up their time on a regular basis to get involved in sport. Indeed, there are direct health benefits of casual sport. At Question Time today, we were discussing how exercise helps you in old age. If you have a sporting habit, exercise is a lot easier to do. Your muscles might have decayed, but if you have some muscle memory then, to put it bluntly, you stand a chance of getting them back without killing yourself. As all the old sportsmen in the Room will know, and I see there are a few, you find yourself going back.

The relationship between the elite and grass-roots sports is changing, in a good way. As I get older—and I still occasionally put myself through “golden oldies” rugby—I am beginning to wonder when rugby is going to get a walking version of its game. It has been said of me that I am going that way quite rapidly anyway; indeed, some people have said I was never far off it in the first place. In the context of the development of grass-roots sports, how do you make that relationship between the two, and how can it be perceived as more equal? What thinking is going on about that?

There is an elephant in the room that is going to plant its feet on our toes very rapidly: the lottery does not seem to be delivering funds with anything like the efficiency that it did. I do not know whether that is a management problem or the result of competition or if it is just the case that the world has slightly moved on. I have had exchanges with the Minister before about this, but if we are going to rely on the lottery, we must look at what we can do to ensure that it can at least guarantee the level of funding that we have at the moment. A decline in funding from the lottery, particularly for grass-roots sports, is unwelcome. It is one thing to get a Minister to say, “Yes, we’ll guarantee your Olympic programme or your elite-level programme”, but it is rather more difficult politically to argue for the upgrading of sports pitches, village halls and so on, particularly as there will always be someone making an excellent case for other uses of that money. How are we going to address that? I would be interested to hear the discussion that is going on, because we are coming to the end of this cycle of funding. For the next Olympic Games, it is all to play for. We must start to address this thoroughly.

We have to go beyond the idea that everything will be fine because, if lots of people watch it on television, they will go out, join in and take it up themselves. Although that may work a little, it patently does not work well enough. We have to do something else. If we want to cheer people on TV, we have to make sure that our recruitment base is wide, or we can contract in on ourselves and concentrate on a few sports. For instance, if we want to have an internationally recognisable basketball team—I have a little knowledge of some of the people in the Room—with a cultural base and activity, what level of investment by the state would be required to do that? That would drag in other aspects as well, and other sports would have other angles.

What do we need to maintain sports? Are we prepared to get slightly more involved in planning ahead and developing how these things go? I do not say that this is easy; we found out from the London Olympics that you cannot create a team overnight and expect it to be maintained. Handball is a wonderful game to watch; if I were a few years younger, I think I would have enjoyed playing it. But it would appear that we have no cultural base for it, and will not have one unless we do a lot more work.

We have an expansion here; we have a series of turns we can take. What are we doing to link the two aspects? If we are to build on success, it appears that we have to look to what is culturally embedded and enhance it. In boxing, for instance, we produce literally dozens of world-class amateur boxers now, and that is socially acceptable—it goes on to have good social results. If we can build upon that, we will do something good for society. If we do not, we will lose every social benefit that goes with it. All I am looking for today is to get some response from the Government and to hear from others about how we take this on. We have a good story; we are at the point where we can make it a great one or go backwards. I look forward to hearing what others say in this debate.

My Lords, I declare two interests, one as president of British Water Ski and Wakeboard and the other as chairman of the British Olympic Association from 2005 to 2012, covering the Beijing and London Olympic cycles—when, after much negotiation with government, we secured funding for eight years and beyond. A very important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who I congratulate on securing this debate: a four-year cycle for a sport will never deliver what you wish. The reality is that you need to plan for a good 20 years. We need to make sure that secure funding is in place for sports over that sort of period rather than the quadrennial cycle.

I would like to make a very few comments. First, in essence, I hope that UK Sport will consider turning the existing pyramid upside down and allowing those sports which have no programme funding to have something that athletes can aspire to by allocating some funds to every Olympic and Paralympic sport and thus rewarding success. It is neither logical nor right that badminton, which medalled in Rio, or wheelchair rugby, which missed out on a medal by one goal in the final match, should have all their funding withdrawn after analysis by a so-called intelligence unit of UK Sport. They simply analyse using their computers and do not understand that to secure success, a wider participation base is essential and funding needs to be put in place. I repeat that it is not just for that four-year cycle, depending on the outcome of a final, but over a much longer period.

Secondly, I hope that UK Sport can look closely at the amount of money going into the English Institute of Sport. It seems in some ways to be unconnected with what is needed by each sport. Those in receipt of funding pay for the services of the EIS, which could in my view be made to work far better at a more reasonable cost. I hope that a review of the EIS can be high on Dame Kath Grainger’s priorities.

Thirdly, the short-termism culture of the current funding model, which I have mentioned, fails to recognise the potential of the unfunded sports. More and more is going into the successful sports which carry our medal haul. I recognise the extraordinary contribution they have made and the remarkable success they continue to have worldwide. I value that but we have now moved to the position whereby five sports had more than 50% of the total four-year funding for Rio. That is funded by the organisation UK Sport which is mandated to promote sport the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I believe that there should be one pyramid which should connect and encourage participation at the base and provide services and the support structure needed right the way through to medal success at the top.

I hope that more and more sports men and women move away from the feeling that many sports had post Rio: that they had nothing to aim for because their national programmes were no longer funded and were demoralised as a result. UK Sport will of course argue that national governing bodies should do more, but for many this creates an almost impossible situation for the governing bodies. For those who seek to achieve their potential, there can be no future when there is no resource to assist them. Team sports have been particularly badly hit, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned. Young men and women from ethnic communities and disadvantaged groups tend to be attracted to team sports where they find friendships and all the characteristics of well-being and togetherness. But local authority sports facilities being very expensive to hire is impacting on the ability of local groups to meet and train.

UK Sport has cut the funding for international representation. I want to put on the record that I feel this is a very important point. We need to make sure that we have good international representation in all international bodies and that our top administrators attend congresses. However, that is impossible if a sport is not in receipt of UK Sport performance funding. This comes despite more than a decade of welcoming such an involvement and encouraging sports to do so. It may not be possible for many sports to attend the international congresses of their sports, particularly those that have had a complete cut in funding. For example, squash has been working hard—admirably so—to be recognised as an Olympic sport. Having a seat at the top table of international squash helps us enormously in making the case that squash, which is a very popular sport in this country, should be an Olympic sport. A presence at the top table of sport is vital not just for those who benefit most by their medal tally, but for those five sports as well as the other sports and Paralympic sports that are funded. We should be looking at supporting international representation across the board.

I totally accept that sponsorship and private sector support is critical; it should be sought. This is an area where UK Sport can help. It can sit down and work with governing bodies—all governing bodies, not just the Olympic and Paralympic ones—to achieve more funding through sponsorship. When I was chairman of the British Olympic Association, we had the FTSE 100 initiative where we linked companies directly to individual sports, many of which still benefit from the sponsorship they received at that time. It was a huge pity that when it came to the Olympic Games in London in 2012, when we raised over £1 billion in LOCOG, there was not a single meeting between all our governing bodies in sports and LOCOG to introduce them to the sponsors that were new to sport. We lost that opportunity.

In conclusion, as president of British Water Ski, I want to make one very interesting point. British Water Ski and Wakeboard came off the agenda in 2012 when UK Sport stopped funding non-Olympic sports. It was told that it should rely on talent programme funding from Sport England, which is doing a very good job now in developing participation, but the talent funding programme is about to go. That is a classic example of the base of the pyramid, and the top of the pyramid for a few sports, being very strong, but there is no consistent ladder to climb, which is the only way to secure long-term success in the medal tables. I hope that UK Sport can engage more with non-Olympic sports and urge the Commonwealth Games Federation to bring water skiing onto the agenda for when it returns to the UK. With the support of the Commonwealth Games Foundation, I am sure that that will be the case.

In conclusion, more needs to be done to deliver a one-stop shop, introducing all the difficult and relevant skills necessary to link participation with excellence in a single, unique and coherent strategy.

My Lords, I welcome the debate and I draw your attention to my interests on the register. I am the chair of ukactive, vice-president of the LGA and I fit the noble Lord, Lord Addington’s, definition of an “old athlete”—many years ago, I was a lottery-funded athlete. In April last year, I published a report on duty of care in sport, which the Sports Minister, the right honourable Tracey Crouch MP, asked me to undertake.

Lottery funding was set up to transform the medal winning opportunities and it has done so. I want to point out that in Atlanta, although the Olympic team won one gold, the Paralympic team won 39 and were third on the medal table—but the funding is extremely welcome all the same. There is huge public support and a real feel-good factor when teams win. Medals matter—they always have—but we must understand that there is a cost to winning medals that is not just financial. The 2012 Games were an incredible experience and we were absolutely right to do it. The Games provide a moment of inspiration: there are athletes who are competing now because of London. I competed because of the 1984 Olympics.

Elite sport is the showcase, but it is a small part of the structure. Many sports are able to show the impact that winning medals has on participation. I have long thought that major sporting events—I need to be clear on this—on their own do not change the world or participation. It is not fair to expect the 10 days of the Paralympics to change the lives of all disabled people. It changed the lives of many Paralympians, but the reality is that for many disabled people, it changed little. It did not make buses more accessible, nor stop disability hate crime.

While it is not impossible to make a GB team or qualify for a major games, if the sport is not funded at the elite level it is likely to be very much harder. Young athletes need to be able to see the top of the pyramid and believe that they have an opportunity to get there. I understand that funding is not limitless and that there are challenges over lottery receipts; all sports want more money. But I would like to ask this: how do we inspire a nation if the opportunities to compete at the highest level are limited because there is no funding? There is a symbiotic relationship between elite, grass roots and wider participation. We also cannot forget the impact that volunteering has on sport.

I would like to look at one sport in particular, which I hope will provide a useful example: badminton, for which we won a medal in Rio. However, it is not in the funding cycle through to Tokyo for the elite side of the sport. Badminton has the largest schools championship in Europe, involving some 42,000 young people between the ages of 11 to 16. If badminton is played in your primary school, you are four times more likely to play it at secondary school. That has been made possible because of lottery investment and it could not be done without it. Approximately 50% of the people who participate in badminton would not be classed as “sporty”. For around £5 million of local money, the lottery has provided £70 million of investment into local facilities and that has been a key part of the growth in participation. The lottery investment into the world-class programme delivered not only the medal in Rio, it delivered a 245% growth in participation in London alone. Some 66% of the legacy growth across the country was among those aged under 16. Badminton believes that the lottery funding works and needs to be protected. I agree with that, although I probably have a different view on how the total sum of money should be spent.

I should like to ask the Minister about the status of the response to the Every Sport Matters agenda, which the non-Olympic and Paralympic sports have presented to UK Sport. I understand that the landscape is not simple. We have UK Sport, Sport England, the home nations sports councils and devolution. It is not a simple system to work through. I think that we need to start looking at this in a different way and consider how truly active we are as a nation. I am delighted that Sport England is looking at new ways of managing participation and funding projects differently. That is fantastic, but if we have less active people, we have fewer people coming into sport. We are a nation of sports lovers and we are a nation of people who like watching sport, but perhaps participation is a little further down the agenda. My own journey into elite sport was not about a pathway. I was paralysed at the age of seven. The world was not very accessible back then and my father believed that I ought to be fit and healthy in order to be able to live in an inaccessible world.

Part of the challenge is how we talk about sport. What do we mean by that? Do we mean competitive sport, physical literacy or physical activity? Sport is a subset of being active, and that is why we need to change some of the narrative. It should not always be sport for sport’s sake, we need to look at physical activity as a preventative front line of the NHS. We need to be thinking about the health of the nation and how we could fund projects in a different way. The reality, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has said, is that a four-year funding cycle for elite sport does not fit into a five-year election cycle, let alone anything else. We in the UK do incredibly well in sport at the highest level, but the inactivity crisis should be of huge concern to us all. If we look back at the medal success of the Olympic team in Beijing, we see that 37% of our Olympic medallists came from the independent sector. I cheered every single one of them on, but that is not how sport should be in the future.

As the chair of ukactive, I said at our national summit last year that activity is the golden thread that runs through every part of our lives. Today’s young people are the least active ever and we need a serious shake-up of the school day to save “generation inactive” from a lifetime of ill health. The fittest children today would have been considered some of the least fit and active 30 years ago. We need to bring activity back into children’s daily lives. PE takes up just two hours of the 168 hours in a child’s week, and that is only during term time. Research by ukactive has shown how the school summer holidays can drive a sharp wedge between the activity levels of the affluent and deprived children. We need to work with partners to open up dozens of schools over the summer to address this inactivity.

Children are never going to turn up to a nutrition session on its own or talk about oral health, the subject of an earlier debate that I spoke in. They might not turn up to a session about mindfulness, but sport has the power to do a huge amount. Nelson Mandela said:

“Sport has the power to change the world”.

By looking at how we can engage children through freestyle dance classes, football or whatever sport it may be, we might just have the chance of showing them the merits of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. We will then have a much greater chance of bringing these children into sport. Sport is absolutely wonderful and it has given me so many things in my life, but it is time to think a bit more widely than just sport.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate. I also thank him for his interest in the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Basketball, of which I am joint chairman. I should also declare my interest as chairman of the Basketball Foundation, a registered charity established by the clubs which comprise the professional British Basketball League—the BBL—with a view to encouraging and supporting the community outreach activities of these clubs and of other basketball clubs around the country.

This is not the first time that I have argued the case in your Lordships’ House for more public funding for basketball. I make no apology for doing so again today. I am sure that noble Lords with strong interests in other sports, such as badminton—particularly those supported by UK Sport—will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to argue that UK Sport should make basketball a special case and support it at the expense of some other sport which it presently funds.

I would, of course, love to see our national basketball teams compete in the Olympics, and would enthusiastically applaud a decision by UK Sport to enable the British Basketball Federation to make it happen. However, I would not want it to happen at the cost of our country slipping down the medals table. I love to see us at the top of the table, and I do not mind which sports have won the medals. Nor, frankly, do I take much notice of the educational background, or even the ethnicity, of our athletes when I proudly watch them standing on the podium singing our national anthem. For me, sport is one of the few areas of life where innate ability, combined with dedication and sheer hard work—and perhaps luck—make all the difference. It is one of the few areas where what counts is who you are, not who you know. That is why I believe that Dame Katherine Grainger is right to say that our hero athletes can unite and inspire us as a nation. At a period in our national life when we are riven by debate caused by the Brexit referendum, the Government would be well advised to support anything that unites us and, to this end, to put more money into all aspects of sport, both elite and grassroots.

I am probably revealing my naivety in comparison with some noble Lords who have spoken when I say that I am prepared to leave it to UK Sport to do its job of backing Olympic winners. I do not want to make life more difficult for UK Sport by asking it to use its limited resources to solve a number of other major national problems, such as urban deprivation and ethnic and racial discrimination. UK Sport is already helping to tackle those problems by providing inspiration for our young people through the success which our athletes achieve internationally. That said, those problems need urgent attention and sport, particularly basketball, can play a major role in tackling them.

Basketball is a sport which has a particular attraction for members of our inner-city communities, and especially our BAME communities. This is partly because its world-renowned heroes such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and our own John Amaechi are, to a large extent, members of these communities. We see the practical effect of this in our national teams: 75% of our men’s senior team are members of our BAME community; 85% of our under-20 men’s team and 75% of our under-18 and under-16 men’s teams are members of those communities. The figures for our women’s teams are lower, but not significantly so. This, of course, reflects the fact that more than half—58%—of basketball’s adult participants are from BAME communities, even though those communities make up only 10% of the UK adult population. Even more striking is that approximately 17% of Basketball England members live in the country’s most deprived council wards, as defined by the Government’s definition of multiple deprivation. Some 18% of basketball clubs are located in these wards.

Basketball is clearly a sport that reaches parts of the country that other sports cannot reach. As such, it delivers all the well-known benefits of sport—good health, confidence, self-esteem and improved mental capacity—to those who have the least going for them in terms of family income and advantage. For me, whose professional career over the past 30 years has been concerned mainly with keeping communities safe, basketball offers the unique capability of being able to reach directly into these inner-city, disadvantaged communities to improve the life chances of those most at risk of getting into trouble with the criminal justice system. By doing this, basketball can play a major role in keeping communities safe.

But those communities, by their very nature, cannot afford the facilities or coaches necessary to mount effective basketball programmes, although most of the sport’s biggest stars honed their skills on the streets or in public parks with nothing more than a ball and a hoop. So who should fund these facilities? Private commercial and philanthropic funding for inner-city recreational basketball is very hard to come by. There are many reasons for that, including the fact that, although basketball is the second most popular sport after football for 11 to 15 year-olds, it is played mainly in state, as opposed to independent, schools, and has very little social cachet. For that reason, public funding is the only realistic, short-term way of getting basketball into our inner-city BAME communities, to enable it to work its magic in terms of enhancing the life chances of the youth of those communities and keeping them out of trouble.

As I argued earlier, I would not want to see this money taken from other parts of the sports landscape, particularly elite sport. It should be found from those government departments with statutory responsibility for keeping people out of trouble, enhancing their life chances and keeping us all safe. Just as the Foreign Office supports the foreign language service of the BBC, I propose that the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and others find the funds to support basketball from their departmental budgets as a contribution to building,

“a country that works for everyone”,

to quote my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. How that money is distributed to these communities is a matter for inter-departmental consideration. It could be through basketball’s governing bodies, a new agency or charity, or through police and crime commissioners— who, by the way, have responsibility for keeping our communities safe and who would jump at the chance of taking on this new task. What needs no further consideration is the urgent need for action.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for focusing this debate on the proper relationship between elite sport and grass roots sport in this country.

The National Survey for Wales 2016-17 found that of the 700,000 population in north Wales where I live, 190,000 people—27%—aged 16 and above are not currently active but want to be more active. So, this very day, Chwaraeon Cymru—Sport Wales—is launching Sport North Wales, pioneering a new model. It is seeking longer-term funding from the Welsh Government who currently provide £3 million annually across the six local authorities. Sport North Wales will lead and co-ordinate sport throughout the region with a single mission and purpose; precisely how is yet to be revealed by today’s press release, but I hope that it follows along the lines outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, to preserve community sports facilities. In my own home town we have lost two swimming pools and nothing has replaced them.

I have always been involved in very muddy grass roots sport in north Wales, having played rugby until age disqualified me, coached my team as a WRU qualified coach to win the North Wales Cup, and then refereed from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Rhosllanerchrugog. My noble friend Lord Addington knows of my afterlife of refereeing parliamentary rugby, which is much slower but more violent, from North Island in New Zealand to California in the United States.

I am delighted that Rygbi Gogledd Cymru 1404, the date that Owain Glyndŵr beat the English, which is based at Colwyn Bay is currently heading the Welsh Premier League, the most senior league under the four regions in Wales. In my youth, north Wales was regarded as soccer territory. Wrexham Football Club was founded in 1864 and is the third oldest professional rugby club in the world. So a protestant Caernarfonshire and Anglesey supported Everton in Liverpool, for goodness’ sake, but what happened to bring rugby players such as Robbie McBryde and George North out of Anglesey? It was the elite Welsh rugby team of the 1970s with Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Phil Bennett and Ray Williams from Wrexham. It became patriotic to play rugby, particularly in the Welsh-speaking areas. So I have lived to see how sporting success breeds grass roots participation, with clubs springing up in Bala, Harlech and Menai Bridge. I once had to delay the kick-off in Nant Conwy because Twm, the star flanker, was still shearing his sheep on the hill. These and many others were clubs that simply did not exist in the 1960s.

But I have also been lucky enough to be able to take part in the United Kingdom’s premier Olympic sport of rowing, not so much at grass roots as more semi-submerged. The great Sir Steven Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent scored Britain’s only gold medal in the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996 at Lake Lanier. I rowed on that lake with my Chester-based club, Rex, the following year.

The tally in 1996 over all sports was 15 medals and Britain ranked 36th in the world, which is something that I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, would not approve of. With the leadership of Redgrave and Pinsent, with professional coaching and facilities, and with the backing of National Lottery and government funding, the sport of rowing grew and flourished. Elite success led the way. Every time we had an Olympic success, we had recruits to my Chester club. Indeed, my club captain’s son, Tom James, won three Olympic golds in three successive Olympics. Another club member’s daughter, Vicky Thornley, won a silver medal along with Katherine Grainger in the Rio Olympics. Such is the increase in the grass roots membership of the Rex Rowing Club. I can assure your Lordships that we are not called Rex for nothing because we are about to launch four new boats at the weekend after next—one, if I may say so modestly, with my name upon it. I believe it to be very positive that some noble Lords have been encouraged to row in the annual Parliamentary Boat Race and have voiced a number of issues raised by British Rowing through the APPG.

I appreciate the single-minded purpose of UK Sport to produce medals and glory for Britain at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics. That is its mission statement and it fulfils it very well, but I am not sure that reducing the number of sports being supported and cutting off the rest without a shilling is the right way forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that there should be a base level of funding for national governing bodies in all Olympic sports otherwise the development of important areas of sport will be lost. Perhaps in 1996 tae-kwon-do would not have appeared on the list of supported sports, but Jade Jones MBE was introduced to the sport by her grandfather at the age of eight in the little village of Bodelwyddan in Denbighshire and now has two gold medals under her belt in successive Olympics.

There is today a thirst for fitness and activity among young people. Just go outside and see the peloton of cyclists swooping past this House, risking the life and limb of every noble Lord. It is absolutely clear that investment in sport will pay back in the future by reducing obesity, diminishing diabetes and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, lowering dependency on the NHS.

If lottery proceeds are falling, there is an obligation on the Government to step in and invest wisely. So where is the money coming from? Some sports do not require support. Football’s income from television is obscenely high and distorts wages and the transfer market. Gambling produces obscene profits for gaming companies without their employees even having to kick a ball or jump a fence. So it could come from, maybe not a tax, but certainly sponsorship. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, wants to get money out of the Home Office and the Foreign Office and I wish him the greatest luck in that, but it is very important that sport is supported. In the interests of a healthy society there has got to be a rebalancing of resources. Is it not time to be thinking radically?

My Lords, there seems to be a theme coming through and I simply want to add my voice to the expression of it. Incidentally, with the previous speaker in mind, I say that one former Welsh rugby union referee is following another in this debate, and no doubt some quite heavy influence will be cast upon the outcome of the debate as a result. I have to say, however, that I can trump a few aces, because I in fact played with Barry John at the University of Wales—I want that on the record of course. I also played at Lampeter, where the first rugby game was ever played in Wales—it was brought there from Cambridge, shortly after it originated in Rugby. I played in the centenary game with a whole host of Welsh international stars playing against us. I went down for the 150th anniversary just last year, where I kicked off the ball—that was the limit.

It is interesting, as my life has unfolded, that the great sports that I have played—cricket, badminton, rugby and anything else that was going—have gradually become more sedentary, ending with snooker. I have even given that up, not so much because my sons began to beat me at it but because they began to pretend that I had beaten them—that is a much more serious position, I can assure noble Lords.

As far as I see and hear it, the real key to this discussion is that we have to decide at the beginning of our thinking—our conceptualisation—whether to look for a solution to the admitted need to encourage activity in this sector at the top, through pump-priming in order to set examples that others will follow and to inspire through great success, or at the bottom. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, talked very eloquently about that second approach; I have heard him speak on basketball twice now.

All my sporting activity was in the pre-professional days, before pay, and there was an entirely different approach to it. Burry Port, where I come from, has had no medals in anything, but the playing fields of Burry Port, like those of Eton, were full of people striving to beat local opponents. There were revenge matches with Tumble over the hill and Pembrey down the road. My brother was in at 16 playing for Pembrey youth and I played for the University of Wales later on. It was all without any money being exchanged at all. Really, it is about the balance between putting money into activities that generate success that then inspires others and looking to develop communities with these local rivalries, competitions and the spirit of fellowship—is there anything better than taking to any field of endeavour with the idea of really knocking your opponents for six, only to enjoy a pint in the pub with them afterwards as you recount tales of derring-do in days gone by? There is nothing more sensible than that as a pattern for the way you live. Here, of course, I would draw a distinction between the crowds at football and rugby. The crowds intermingle at rugby, and you make jokes at each other’s expense and that of the opponents around you, whereas in football the police help to separate them off from each other.

I wonder about the way such resources as we have get channelled out. Why do we favour sports that are very low in terms of participatory potential, such as equestrian sport, when sports such as basketball—which, in terms of social cohesion, bring people together across all the divides that afflict us socially—are left out of the equation? I wish we could recalibrate the way we look at how we distribute such resources as are available. Whether it is everything as it was last year, less or whatever, how do we prioritise? The whole business of medals leaves me cold. I love having medals and cheering competitors on, but I cannot see that that must be the sole criterion when we look at a formula for distributing the cash that is available.

Tomorrow morning, I will receive a protégé of mine who got a job a couple of years ago with the Rugby Football Union. His job is to animate communities throughout north London and to interest schools that do not have a tradition of rugby, and communities that have no playing fields, in the possibilities of playing it, especially helping women to play. The Rugby Football Union no doubt gets some government money; I do not know and do not really care—it is the activity I want to exalt. It is about taking it out of a sporting base—where the newspapers are full of the rivalries, the need to win the Six Nations Championship and all the rest of it—and into the grass roots, where people play on muddy November days. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and I have refereed matches in Wales where you could not see the 25—when it was called the 25. The rule about kicking into touch left us totally lost: when we took our spectacles off you could not see whether the ball had bounced into touch or not.

For all of that, it seems to me that public money should be put into sporting activity for reasons that go well beyond sport, which have been mentioned in this debate: for health, community cohesion and well-being. All these things, and not just medals, must be a product or an outcome. In all those ways, I support those noble Lords who have made this point very eloquently and from very different positions in these fields of endeavour.

I finish by remembering the film “Invictus”, which showed South African rugby and Nelson Mandela and all of that. The great moment for me was when the rugby players in the South African team—all white—were taken in their bus by the captain of the team to a township. They did not know what to do or why they had been brought there, but they showed kids who kicked a bit of rag around as a football the glories of passing the ball and playing rugby. Now the South African team has black people in it, and I am sure it arose from those sorts of beginnings. Participation, revitalising communities and spreading money out with that must be the sole and overriding objective. I look forward to what the Minister is going to say about who he played rugby with in his day.

My Lords, I am staggering to my feet with an old sporting injury, which has come back to haunt me. I, too, thank the noble Lord for securing this debate. What a marvellous collection of sportsmen and sportswomen—I should say ex-sportsmen and ex-sportswomen—we have here to talk about this. It is an important issue that is being raised. It is particularly enjoyable for me as the Minister responding because there have been hardly any questions at all, although that is genuinely because it has been a true debate, where people have put their points of view. That is quite rare, I have found.

The timing is especially apt following UK Sport’s announcement last week confirming the medal targets for the forthcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang. It has set a target of five medals in the Olympics, which would represent Team GB’s best ever performance at a Winter Games. ParalympicsGB’s target of seven medals would be its best performance since lottery funding began. Whatever one’s views of the current no-compromise mission of UK Sport, I think that noble Lords will join me in wishing those sports men and women the very best of luck as they compete for medals in South Korea in a few weeks’ time.

I agree that the noble Lord has raised a subject which is worthy of debate—namely, considering the current UK Sport funding model and how it relates to the strength of sport at the grass-roots level. The fantastic successes at recent Olympic and Paralympic Games, exemplified by what the IOC acknowledged as the greatest Games of modern times at London 2012, have showcased to the world the very best that Britain has to offer. As has been said, the no-compromise approach delivered the greatest performances in a century at Rio 2016, with 67 Olympic and 147 Paralympic medals, and Britain coming second on both medal tables. We should remember that thanks should also go to National Lottery players, without whom none of this would have been possible. Noble Lords who do not think that medals are the only criteria to consider must acknowledge that the public, and the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, like watching our athletes on the podium at these Games.

The noble Lord’s Question is right to raise the importance of sport at all levels. The Government’s interest in areas such as safeguarding, anti-doping and tackling inactivity is set out in the sport strategy. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I can say that UK Sport is currently planning its next public consultation on its strategic direction for supporting elite sport post Tokyo, and the results of the consultation should be available at the end of this year. In 2014, UK Sport’s remit was validated by its public consultation at that time.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, particularly asked me to define what UK Sport’s mission is. It is currently to,

“inspire the nation through Olympic and Paralympic success”.

So its remit, in which it has undoubtedly succeeded, was to deliver Olympic and Paralympic medal success. The home countries’ sports councils’ role is to support participation and talent development. However, UK Sport also has other responsibilities which are best delivered at a UK level, such as bidding for and staging major sporting events in this country, and hosting major events on home soil that showcase our athletes and deliver an economic impact for the UK. That is aligned with our Sporting Future strategy.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned having a seat at the table at the highest level of international sport, and UK Sport is there to help secure that. It will help to deliver impact through athletes volunteering in schools and communities, and sharing their knowledge and expertise with the wider sector.

In pursuit of elite success, we have not forgotten grass-roots sport. The Government, with the lottery, are investing around £1 billion in grass-roots sport through Sport England over the current four-year period to increase participation and activity. To put that in perspective, that is nearly three-and-a-half times as much as the current Olympic cycle amount. Sport England’s Active Lives data show that more than 60% of people aged 16-plus are regularly active. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, activity is one thing that we ought to consider as important, because it is best for the health of the nation. If sport helps with that and helps to get people out of the front door on a cold January morning, it is a very good thing.

The latest data from Sport England’s Active Lives survey will be published in March. We hope to see continued positive levels of activity, which can contribute to physical and mental well-being and individual, social and economic development.

UK Sport’s remit of achieving medal success for the Tokyo cycle is set and performance targets remain on track. Annual reviews are held, which give unfunded sports the chance to bid with fresh evidence of performance to obtain UK Sport investment. The latest annual review decisions will be made on the 31st of this month; of course, they are a matter for UK Sport and in keeping with our arm’s-length principles.

The capacity for long-term planning is part of Team GB and ParalympicsGB’s success. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, lottery funding is crucial to UK Sport in making its funding allocations on a four-year basis ahead of each Games, which is why the DDCMS has underwritten any potential lottery shortfall so that it can confidently plan ahead of 2020.

The lottery is a matter of some concern: lottery ticket sales were £6.9 billion in 2016-17, which was lower than in recent years. Nevertheless, it is still the fourth best sales performance since the National Lottery began in 1994. We expect good cause returns in 2017-18 to be broadly similar to those in 2016-17, but we are concerned and we are looking into what we can do about the National Lottery. Camelot has carried out a comprehensive review of its business in response to those falling returns, which I welcome as a positive step. The Minister for Sport recently announced proposals to ban companies from offering bets on EuroMillions, which affects our National Lottery. DDCMS has been working with Camelot and lottery distributors to improve awareness of the good causes and projects that benefit from National Lottery funding. We have underwritten UK Sport’s lottery funding until 2020, but noble Lords will appreciate that it is a big ask to expect the Chancellor to guarantee it beyond 2020. As I said before, no funding criteria have been set beyond Tokyo, and UK Sport will consider the Paris 2024 funding cycle at the appropriate time.

Despite how it may appear from newspaper headlines, UK Sport is committed to supporting unfunded Olympic and Paralympic sports by offering knowledge sharing, technical support and services to sports that may wish to bid for major events in the UK. UK Sport will consider investment and support for unfunded sports wishing to apply for international federation positions—which my noble friend Lord Moynihan told us were so important—as well as wider advice, including participation in its international leadership programme.

UK Sport and Sport England work closely to ensure alignment of resources, messaging and support that they can offer on education and development programmes for sports and sporting talent. They also collaborate on duty of care, organisational culture, conduct, the implementation of the sports governance code and investment in talent and high-performance programmes. Over the next four years, Sport England is investing £225 million in national governing bodies and their work with grass-roots participants, through its core market investment programme, as well as £6 million in the almost 400 athletes who are not yet podium ready, supported by the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, providing academic support in areas such as sports science, medicine, strength, conditioning and performance lifestyle.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, mentioned activity. I agree with that. The point is that we need to educate people about the benefits of activity. If sport helps to do that, then so be it. It might make exercise more fun, for example, but getting out and taking more exercise is difficult. We need to work on that, I agree.

I thank my noble friend Lord Wasserman for his spirited advocacy of basketball. He knows of course, that specific funding decisions for individual sports are deliberately not in Ministers’ hands but are confined to arm’s-length bodies. But he wants money from non-DDCMS sources, so I also wish him well on that.

I was going to mention the medal winners from Wales, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, did that. I conclude by emphasising that we acknowledge that there is an issue to be debated, that UK Sport has done a fantastic job in the remit it was given, but that it may not be the correct remit for ever. There is a consultation taking place this year and I am sure noble Lords will want to contribute to it. UK Sport and Sport England, which work on grass-roots sport, work closely together to take into account sport at both levels. We as a Government remain committed to supporting both elite and grass-roots sport. We will continue to seek improvements for the benefit of both levels of sport and for the nation as a whole.

Committee adjourned at 6.01 pm.