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Faith, hope and mostly charity

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Gordon Farquhar | 07:00 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010

It has been a long while since I walked into a press launch for any government-backed sports initiative and had to join a disorderly queue to hang up my coat.

I have been to more events than I care to remember where the press officer looks relieved to see you, as their minister tries to sell their latest scheme. Often, the only thing that isn't dry is the coffee. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to discover that Wednesday's gathering for The Gold Challenge legacy initiative was not a bit like that.

The nursery pavilion at Lord's was heaving, the scattering of time-served and slightly cynical hacks lost in a sea of bright T-shirts, emblazoned with the logos of pretty much every charity you could think of. NSPCC, Oxfam, Combat Stress, St Mungo's, Cancer Research and Red Cross were but a few of the organisations represented.

Instead of a presentation from a lectern, we had a table tennis, a boxing ring, judo mats, archery targets and an invitation to participate. Plus there was a mass of people gathered, appropriately, to sell mass participation.

We have been here before. Sport England have been trying, with mixed results, to get more of us doing more sport more often, with an eye to the much discussed legacy opportunity of the 2012 Olympics in London.

This time, they might just have the right key to unlock us from our collective apathy.

Hundreds of thousands - possibly millions - of people have pledged support for their favourite charity, pulled on a vest and slogged around our streets in their running shoes in everything from huge city marathons to local 5k jogs.

They have e-mailed pals and pestered for sponsorship, posted their details on donation websites and made a commitment for a cause. Some of them said never again but, for others, it has been habit forming. The Gold Challenge hopes to tap into that spirit.

The central premise is that people looking for a challenge and with a charity to support will sign up to have a go at up to 30 different Olympic and Paralympic sports. What is required is not just a token throw of a javelin or a waft of a badminton racket but a commitment to at least three hours of proper coaching in each sport.

The Gold Challenge launch at Lord's

Once you have signed up, you then take advantage of the opportunities on offer, organised by the national sports governing bodies and backed by the British Olympic Association. You raise a wedge of cash for charity - up to £20m is hoped for - and, if things go well, at least 100,000 more people will be doing Olympic sports by the end of 2012 than are today.

Critics say this is not terribly strategic, amounts to little more than a lot of have-a-go sessions and is not going to reach those most in need of a few hours of sport for the sake of their own health.

In truth, with such a relatively modest participation target, it cannot be expected to contribute hugely to the numbers hoped for in the overall 'People Places Play' mass participation strategy launched recently.

In theory, there should be a few winners out of this. Sports get to see their numbers go up and might even find a proper athlete or two; the 100 charities linked to the scheme raise some money for their various causes; and a positive step towards delivering on the legacy promise of 2012 is taken.

With the fantastic databases of the charities to call upon, the 100,000 people willing to take up the challenge should not be too difficult to find. What might be more tricky is digging out the disenfranchised and stirring them into action.

The real legacy challenge is to motivate those who couldn't care less about sport, don't want the Olympics and for whom charity begins at home.


  • Comment number 1.

    I find it odd and dispiriting that you lump together: "those who couldn't care less about sport, don't want the Olympics and for whom charity begins at home." As though somehow not wanting the Olympics and the other two things are natural companions. I care deeply about sport and that is why I DON'T want the Olympics. The Olympics has become a huge, bloated leviathan that has long since parted company with its founding values. With sports like Golf and Professional Tennis and so forth being brought in, the Olympics simply means another oportunity for the heavily exposed to grab more media attention. What meaning can Olympic Golf or Tennis have when those sports already have their established majors and so forth? Granted the Olympics can give a brief shop window to less media friendly sports, (to the BBC that simply means filling in time until the athletics start), but the main focus in the media always falls on the established sports and the established stars - unless GB happens to win a medal in something and then it grants its fifteen minutes of fame whilst waiting for the Paula Radcliffe show to begin. The money spent on a spectacular jamboree could have been invested in grass roots participatory sports - indeed far more could have been achieved across the whole nation, for less investment than required for a metro-centric event like the London Olympics. Those who supported the bid and continue to see the upcoming games as a wonderful thing seem to assume that only non-sports fans were/are against it, but that is far from the truth. To deliberately imply some equation between non-sports lovers, dislike of the Olympics and lack of charity is rude and ignorant and sadly typical of the narrowness of outlook shown by many in the sports media.

  • Comment number 2.

    If only someone in government would look at things as a whole for once instead of little bits here and there, by that I mean that being active in sport will improve health, so the NHS should get involved more in financing sport, playing more sports in schools will improve discipline and engender team spirit, so the education department should do the same.

    Sports clubs; no matter what sport; should always be at the heart of a community, so football, rugby (both codes), cricket, athletics etc. clubs need to get more involved too, maybe if the government offered financial incentives to them if they actually went into schools on a regular basis and offered their "expert" help, they'd get more involved.
    If they had the brains, they might realise that by "hooking" the youngsters on sport they have a ready made fan base for the future too, or am I just dreaming of Utopia here?

  • Comment number 3.

    I sit me or does every male witha brain want to marry Konnie Huq! Gorgeous!

  • Comment number 4.

    People can find out more at

    Great post. I think you've really tapped into the ethos of the Gold Challenge and what we're trying to achieve.

    Whilst we recognise it's a big challenge to try and get people actively involved when - as you say - they 'couldn't care less about sport', it's something that we think we can do. The 5 Sport Challenge really does make the Gold Challenge accessible to all, and there are some fantastic sports that will provide a great entry-way in a more active lifestyle. All it takes is one great experience to make someone fall in love with a sport - and that's what we're trying to help make happen.

    Thanks for the coverage, and we hope to see you registered on our site soon...

  • Comment number 5.

    Someone tell GoldChallenger that is really bad netiqette trying to piggyback on other people's blogs :) and sometimes makes you look really silly.

    As the OP said

    "In truth, with such a relatively modest participation target, it cannot be expected to contribute hugely ..."

  • Comment number 6.

    At 2:01pm on 25 Nov 2010, phillip wrote:
    I sit me or does every male witha brain want to marry Konnie Huq! Gorgeous!

    Errrr, yes mate, I have a brain too but believe me is it just you (and Charlie Brooker).

    I was signing in anyway to comment on how marvelously inappropriate it was to have her front a campaign to promote sport.

    She spent 10 years as the least sporty Blue Peter presenter ever. Whilst others (Matt Baker, Liz Barker and Simon Thomas) were gamely sky diving or swimming in the Arctic, the closest Konnie Huq came to having a go at a sport was being a co - driver (otherwise known as "the passenger" ) in a rally car.

    She couldn't even out-run the protester who grappled with her and the Olympic Torch - then she made a mealy -mouthed 'apology' that she understood the protester's cause....but clearly felt the PR opportunity of carrying the torch was too good too miss.

    Her presence really irritates me because this otherwise looks like a really good idea

  • Comment number 7.

    Gimmicks do not help participation. Having been a keen sportsman my whole life I can say the barriers to real participation are almost entirely financial. Many talent kids simply don't have the financial backing to pay membership fees or fund coaches etc. While I do not want to dismiss what Gold challenge are trying to do I'm afraid it is misguided and will inevitably fade away to nothing in a matter of years if not months. If we want sport to be a fundamental part of our society then we need to make it just that. Stop excluding people who aren't rich, stop treating sport as a unimportant part of the curriculum, and make cutting funding for sport a last resort not a first step!

  • Comment number 8.

    What I would like to know is where we will find all these coaches to teach such a diverse range of sports, there can't be too many coaches in curling, javelin etc.

    Like some previous comments have touch upon if the government wanted to get young people involved then perhaps they could invest in local clubs, usually run by volunteers, who are struggling in the current financial situation. Ten years ago when I was at school sports time was slashed to incorporate extra time to take a tenth GCSE to help boost the schools ranking in the league table and selling off the playing fields to build a new IT suite. Perhaps we need to look at educational priorities? A lack of freely accessible well maintained sports facilities in communities would be ideal.

    Lastly, I was never any good at sports but I still enjoyed playing them. Nevertheless the mentality of most sports clubs etc past the age of 16 only want to take you if you are good at the sport.


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