SPORT AND POLITICS: FROM THATCHER TO CAMERON – WHO WILL BE NEXT?

British politics has not always had an interest in sport. Even now many involved in politics feel that the two should never mix.

For a long time it never did. A huge step was taken in 1972 when the Sports Council (now known as UK Sport) was established in Britain.

This organisation launched the ‘Sport for All’ campaign. The aim behind it was to promote wider public awareness of the value of sport across the United Kingdom. ‘Sport for All’ wielded a dual message; it wished to promote access to sport for marginalised or disadvantaged groups, such as women, the disabled or those of a low socio-economic status, furthermore ‘Sport for All’ wished to promote sport as a part of everyone’s day to day life.  Over the course of the campaign new facilities where built to offer sport provision, or there was simply improvements made to existing facilities.

The establishment of the Sports Councils for a short time provided a positive step for sport. All would soon change under Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

MARGARET THATCHER: The Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher, the woman that would change it all.

Lady Thatcher, and the Conservative party, would form the role as British Prime Minister for 11 years from 1979 – 1990.

Beginning with the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Thatcher desired all British athletes to boycott the international sporting event because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. That GB athletes that did attend, did so without government support.

Thatcher was ever keen to reduce public spending would never allow for a home Olympics. When Birmingham bid for the 1992 Commonwealth Games, it did so without financial support from the government.

Thatcher and Football were two words that certainly did not mix well. Following two “crowd disaster” in 1985 (Heysel and the Bradford Fire) Thatcher and her Conservative government introduced fan ID cards under the Football Spectators Act of 1989. The ID cards were required by fans to gain admission to football grounds in Britain.

Critics of the scheme complained that a vast majority of supporters may have been law-abiding citizens. There were also technological difficulties associated with the cards and heavy queuing was another major issue.

The Prime Minister also failed to consider the possibility that most disturbances were outside grounds rather than inside.

Hillsborough would be the final “crowd disaster” that would lead to the abolishment of the ‘National Membership Scheme’.

School Sport, and the work of the Sports Councils, was to take a heavy toll during the Margaret Thatcher era. The Prime Ministers 1981 Regulation 909 gave education authorities the right to sell school land that they considered surplus to their requirements. Over the next decade an estimated 5,000 playing fields were sold, many converted to housing developments, supermarkets or car parks.

A survey by the Secondary Heads Association showed that the proportion of pupils under 14 spending less than two hours a week in physical education rose from 38% to 71% between 1987 and 1990, a shocking statistic which completely summarises Thatcher’s indifference towards sport.

JOHN MAJOR: The sports fan not without failure

John Major, and the Conservative party, would succeed Margaret Thatcher and form the role as British Prime Minister for 7 years from 1990 – 1997.

Major aimed to place sport at the top of the Westminster agenda. He believed that School Sport was the first step towards a lifetime participation in sport. To achieve lifetime participation John Major aimed to provided links been school and club sport.

Sport: Raising the Game released in 1995, was to be the Conservative Party’s new sports policy plan. The plan committed to correcting Thatcher’s failure and looked to reinstate a minimum of 2 hours a week dedicated to Physical Education and School Sport for ALL children. Traditional British sports and team games would be central to the plans. The cultural heritage surrounding team sports in Britain was to be used to promote pro school values and character building.

Under Major’s Conservative government huge funding was put aside for the provision of extracurricular activities and school – club links. The establishment of the National Lottery in 1992 was used for this exact purpose. The Lottery funds were to be split amongst the UK Sports Councils with the sole purpose of providing school sport.

Under Major sport appeared to be in good hands, however there are issues with his policy.

Major valued traditional, team games and while this appeared to be harmless in reality it divided genders. ‘Traditionally’ boys played rough, competitive, tactical games like football or rugby while girls played low intensity, aesthetically pleasing, technical games like netball and gymnastics.  The plan was critiqued for not engaging everyone at school level.

The idea of ‘traditional’ school sport mirrored Victorian ideology that resided in the English public and Scottish private schools. The plan was deemed as ‘more of the same for the more able’.

TONY BLAIR: The Game Plan

Tony Blair, and the Labour party, would succeed John Major, and form the role as British Prime Minister for 10 years from 1997 – 2007.

It was now Labour’s turn to create an inclusive and proactive sports environment in Britain. The Game Plan was Blair’s proposal for improving sport in the UK. For the first time in British history the plan outlined physical activity objectives.

Sport under Blair’s Labour government was going to be used as a tool to benefit not only education but wider society. Sport would be used to benefit UK health, crime, social inclusion and educational outcomes. The Game Plan strategy sought to increase opportunity equality, allowing people to participate within the social structures of British society. Blair’s plan targeted women, the elderly, school leavers and economically disadvantaged groups.

It was estimated that £2 billion was the cost of physical inactivity each year. Physical Activity and Sport would be the miracle cure for chronic diseases. Labour admired sport as a money saving tool; it provided a preventative medicine which in the long run would decrease NHS costs.

The Game Plan outlined the value that Blair placed on International sport participation and success. He believed a successful sporting nation created a ‘feel good factor’ that could have incalculable benefits on British people.

However, it would be too simple to say that Tony Blair’s Labour party had got it entirely right. It is very difficult to evaluate the success the Game Plan had on social inclusion for obvious reasons. Furthermore, its success in the area of improved educational outcome can be questioned.

It appeared that many leading educational organisations jumped on the bandwagon in support of educational improvement. The Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA) attached themselves to Labour’s Game Plan as did Youth Sport Trust (YST). However there could be many reasons for this.

Perhaps to be seen that they are doing there jobs right, the QCA agreed that the strategy was working. They were hardly going to disagree. Similarly the YST who aims to increase sport opportunities for all young people, working within the realms of social inclusion, were never going to oppose the “success” of Blair’s Game Plan.

GORDON BROWN: Competitive School Sport, the Revival

Gordon Brown, and the Labour party, would succeed Tony Blair, and form the role as British Prime Minister for 10 years from 2007 – 2010.

Competitive School Sport was Brown’s war cry following the news in 2005 that London would host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Brown’s Labour government channelled the use of new school sport such as cycling, canoeing and boxing in order to broaden inclusion and improve participation rates.

His proposal set out to increase the minimum 2 hours of Physical Education to a weekly 5 hours of PE time. This proposal however has not since been met. It was a fairly unrealistic proposal which would require a huge increase in volunteers and specialised teaching staff.

As for the use of new sports such as canoeing and boxing well there is very little evidence to suggest that they have been used in the British school system. The equipment and facilities required, not even mentioning the specialist coaching, was far beyond the reach of Gordon Brown.

DAVID CAMERON: Cuts to school sport – A Conservative Carbon Copy

David Cameron, and the Conservative party, would succeed Gordon Brown, and form the role as British Prime Minister for 5 years from 2010 – present.

Cameron faced the hard task of attempting to continue an Olympic Games Legacy after the success of the home nation event. This is a task that the current Prime Minister has never really accomplished.

Cameron and the Conservative government in their first year in power backed major cuts for school sport partnerships, which had helped to increase the quality and range of sport available in schools.

Ironically, for a government that values competition, competitive sport between schools has suffered after Cameron cut school sports partnership funding.

The £162 million annual funding for school sports partnerships was cut in October 2010. However, with such a backlash the Conservative government had to make a partial U-turn which resulted in a £65 million a year investment in school sport. This however would only last until the year 2013.

Cameron and his love of ‘competitive sports’, like Major’s Sport: Raising the Game policy, can cause mass exclusion. Again a Conservative government singled out talented and sporty pupils, while ignoring the indifferent. This would be another downfall discrediting the Olympic game legacy.

Cameron, after dismissing the idea of reintroducing the 2 hour Physical Education target, because schools were meeting it “by doing things like Indian dance or whatever, that you and I probably wouldn’t think of as sport”, provided a new draft PE curriculum published in 2012 that will make it compulsory to take part in what his Conservative party believe to be “recognised and recognisable sports” such as football, hockey and netball.

This may well be a carbon copy of Major’s Conservative ‘Traditional’ Sports Policy, the difference being that John Major placed a fair amount of funding behind sport. Cameron obviously has different plans for his purse, and indeed he was not the man to “Inspire a Generation”.

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