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School sport vital to Olympic legacy

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Eleanor Oldroyd Eleanor Oldroyd | 07:30 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Walking through London's St Pancras station the other day, I had a little frisson of excitement. There, on the concourse, is the first official London 2012 Olympic Store, for all your souvenir t-shirt, baseball cap, mug and mascot needs.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to go to an Olympic Games will know exactly how the siren call of the Olympic Store works.

At first, you walk serenely past, untempted by the range of branded leisurewear and collectibles. By the end of week one, you might have fingered the odd t-shirt and considered whether your mum might like a tasteful porcelain breakfast set.

As the closing ceremony approaches, you are in a state of panic, grabbing armfuls of cuddly mascots and key rings from the rapidly emptying shelves, even (in extreme cases) contemplating buying the CD of the official Olympic song, which you had so derided during the opening ceremony.

My booty from my Olympic reporting career looks like this; a collection of pins from Barcelona 92 and Lillehammer 94; framed posters from Atlanta 96 and Sydney 2000 (hanging in the hall at home); similar posters from Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010 (still in their cardboard tubes waiting to be framed); and a motley collection of cuddly stuffed mascot toys from Athens, Beijing and Vancouver, gathering dust in forgotten corners of my daughters' bedrooms.

I have been rather hoping that the souvenirs they will get from London 2012 will prove a little more durable.

Since London won the bid on that memorable day in July 2005, there has been much talk of the Olympic legacy. Part of that, of course, is making sure that the venues and stadia being built for the Games will be put to good use afterwards and that we're not left with a herd of white elephants, as previous hosts have been.

But another part is ensuring that our children are inspired to make sport part of their lives, for the rest of their lives. Not every girl is going to have the talent and dedication to be the next Rebecca Adlington or Jessica Ennis, but if she wants to be able to go and swim or run, she should be able to find somewhere to do it, and someone to teach her.

But how do we deliver that legacy? At the moment, no-one seems entirely sure. It seems logical to assume schools should play a central part in helping our children to get active.

When Education Secretary Michael Gove announced last autumn he was scrapping ring-fenced funding for School Sports Partnerships (SSPs), the howls of protest were deafening.

The 450 partnerships allow schools across the country to combine resources to provide a wide range of sporting activities, in PE lessons and after school clubs, for secondary, primary and special school pupils.

Sports mistress Betty Green giving some tennis training to young school girls at Northwood College, Middlesex in June 1934

Sport has always been a key ingredient in school life. Photo: Getty

They have helped to deliver the last government's promised minimum of two hours PE per week to more than 90% of students.

It is all very different to how things were in my day - thank goodness.

Back at my secondary school, if you did not like - and, crucially, were not much good at - hockey and netball in the winter or tennis and athletics in the summer, you did everything you could to drop out. No-one tried that hard to stop you either. I did exactly that, regretting my move ever since.

Now, it is not an option to be a school sports refusenik.

This week, for 5 live Sport, I am visiting a school in Worcestershire to find out how a thriving SSP actually works.

Caroline Siddell was named PE teacher of the year in 2009 by the Sunday Times newspaper. She is passionate about finding a sport for every student.

South Bromsgrove High offers the usual range of team games - rugby, football, netball, lacrosse among others - but also roller hockey, cheerleading and ultimate frisbee.

She has about 100 pupils in her cheerleading class, which operates every lunchtime. Traditionalists might throw up their hands in horror but there are also opportunities to compete against other schools in the Partnership in team sports like basketball, rugby or football - provided you make the team, which I never did.

Siddell reckons that perhaps 50 out of 1,500 pupils will regularly participate in competitive team sports - but there are enough other options to make sure that even those seriously challenged in the ball skills department find something to do.

Clearly something good has happened in our school PE departments since I left. And the outcry created by the threat to disband the SSPs was a clear indication of how highly they are valued.

Student Debbie Foote, 17, from Lincolnshire took a petition to Downing Street, signed by more than half a million students, parents and teachers, while more than 70 Olympians and Paralympians, including Olympic champions Darren Campbell and Denise Lewis, signed a letter to the Prime Minister, organised by badminton silver medallist Gail Emms.

And in December, the Department for Education announced that the SSP programme will continue unchanged until the end of this school year, then on a reduced scale until the summer of 2013.

A partial triumph, then, for the protestors.

Emms will be part of our distinguished panel at South Bromsgrove this week as we discuss the importance of school sport, with only 18 months to go before London 2012.

We will be joined by an audience of students, teachers, parents and representatives of local sports groups to focus on how the Olympic legacy can still be delivered to our children, in a climate of nationwide financial restraint.

You will be able to hear our debate in 5 live Sport on Thursday from 2000 GMT. You can have your say on the telephones after 2100 GMT.


  • Comment number 1.

    I regret to say that I have little faith in the UK's ability to deliver a long lasting and sustainable school sports legacy. This is not because of a lack of willing on the part of people like Caroline Siddell and others mentioned in the article. No, it is because I have little faith in the various tiers of government who should be involved, to provide even a fraction of the funding necessary for such a legacy.

    I hope that I am proved wrong

  • Comment number 2.

    A crucial element to children playing sport is enjoyment.

    That always seems to get missed out with people talking about investment, funding, organisation etc.

    You can throw as much money at something as you like but I would suggest that the reason you got out of sports at school as a child Eleanor was one of the reasons I did- the fact that it was so regimented, part of school establishment and something organised by adults.

    The great Australian cricketers played cricket in the backyards of their homes under endless sunny skies. Thats where their natural skills were honed.

    Zinedine Zidane learned how to trap a football playing with other kids in Marseille slums, an escapist activity from the poverty around them. The same goes for Pele in his childhood, Maradona in the slums of Buenos Aires.

    The problem with articles like this about 'school sports' is that it all seems to be jolly hockey sticks, muddy fields and uniforms, which for me is not what the enjoyment of sport is all about, it's a very old-fashioned British attitude to sport and perpetuates old failings. It's not all about pumping money in and getting a structure in place.

    The experiences of Tom Daley are also a cautionary tale - passionate and committed to his sport of swimming, he ended up bullied by his peers and had to change schools.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Siddell reckons that perhaps 50 out of 1,500 pupils will regularly participate in competitive team sports - but there are enough other options to make sure that even those seriously challenged in the ball skills department find something to do."

    1450 other pupils not participating regularly in competitive team sports, but are doing other physical activity.

    It seems non-sensical to me to invest money in school sport, why not invest it in Physical Education and help those 1450 children to improve their physical literacy skills?

    As you read this think of the physical activities you, your friends or those you know do regularly...

    Martial Arts
    Gym/Gym Classes

    Yes those 7 activities are where over 6 million of us are physically involved at least 3 times a week.

    As a PE teacher I know that the National Curriculum PE (2008) does not mention the word sport at all, so who wants us to use it in the context of School Physical Education & why?

    ps if you're wondering about the multitude of team sports its just over 3.5 million of us physically involved at least 3 times a week

  • Comment number 4.

    The Olympics provides a showcase for sports in general on door step to inspire our children by access to tickets & TV coverage is key. The disapoointment is that rather than letting the actual & potential players of these sports in the UK (such as young swimmers who are members of clubs) they will have to join the queue and fill in an application form.

    The physical legacy 'should' be improved access to sporting facilities. Even London and the South East needed improvements in this area but this also needs to be managed with access to people further afield. The mistake was not to spread the events wider but I doubt the IOC would've sanctioned a UK Olympics.

    Financial impact - sadly the world and local economic downturn has seen a reduction in funding and sponsorship in all but the most high-profile sports. The Olympics will NOT make money for sport in the UK only the IOC. So clubs and sporting bodies need to revert back to the use of volunteers and semi-pros to promote and coach in their respective sports. Any volunteer usually has to choose between earning a living & their sport this is a starker choice now more than ever.

    PE needs to be PE and allow the teachers to use whatever means necessary to involve children and reduce the opt out rate if this is linked to Olympic / popular sports so be it.

    I look forward to 2012 but don't expect a magic wand to waive over our society and sporting culture!

  • Comment number 5.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 6.

    Anything that promotes sport in schools is good, but there also needs to be opportunities for children to participate in those sports outside school, otherwise when they leave school they simply drop out. Many team sports like football, rugby, hockey, cricket, netball etc seem fairly well geared up for this, but the more individual sports are not. I'm involved in road running, and I don't know a single club in my area that has a junior section. The only option is for kids to go to the local track & field athletics club, but we know from experience that most of them are only really interested in kids with talent, not kids who just want to take part for fitness, health or enjoyment reasons. The end result is that most road running clubs have very few members under 30, and most road races are dominated by veterans. I know there are kids out there who want to run as I see them at the parkrun events I help organise every week, but it's simply not practical for us as a small club to have a junior section because of all the red tape involved.

  • Comment number 7.


    While I agree that just throwing money at a situation isnt going to make us world beaters, the simple fact is that without investment, we are going nowhere.

    The best Olympic nations are those that consistantly invest the most. The access our young people have to sporting facilities compared to America and Australia for instance would be laughable were they not so poor and this is reflected in the medles tables. When China decided they wanted the Bejing Olympics to to be dominated by home athletes, they stumped up the cash and the broke the US domination. In fact our own success in 2008 can be directly linked to the continued investment in sport and the better facilities, better equipment, better coaches and the more motivated kids it has created.

  • Comment number 8.

    BamBam75 - I agree that investment can equal medals unfortunately, money is in short supply so govt investment in sport is a low priority. However much I love sport the investment in the Olympics was a misguided
    PR exercise to attract tourists & worldwide TV.

    Putting that money directly into the country's sports facilties would have yielded so much more and international events would've gravitated to our shores eventually.

    A healthier population should be a governmental goal to reduce the future burden on the health service as we all live longer and to enrich our lives. The foundation for this should be physical and health education not Sport. Once you leave school it is really up to the individual unless you're lucky enough to be a professional sportsman or women. They as role models should motivate our youth.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hainba- I agree that with hindsight, the country may have been better off not winning the right to host the Olympics (although I still see it as a privilege, that will hopefully even turn a profit) and instead continuing the levels of investment in the grassroots that saw us do so well in Beijing. But now that we have the Olympics and all the associated costs, why not just suck it up at least protect sports funding up to 2012? Without wishing to get too political, surely the government could make some savings elsewhere in order to protect this very worthy cause.

  • Comment number 10.

    Maybe if those with more money to give away than the government eg football, cricket, RL, RU etc. gave even just 5% of their vast revenue resources from SKY (amongst others) then school sports would have all the funding they need and probably a bit more besides.

    Looking long term this would also improve the sporting standard and fitness level of every child in the country and just might bring the clubs closer to their communities and even improve their fan bases.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good blog Eleanor

    I don't usually comment on these blogs but, as this is a subject close to my heart, I thought I must.

    I am an athlete training for London 2012 and the SSP in London have been making great strides to increase participation. The job they have done is commendable and is worthy of government funds.

    Comments like the Olympics are a waste of money infuriate me! If you actually were on the ground and saw the regeneration of east London and the significant amount of happy kids faces, you'd see the money has been well worth it! We will never see another Olympics here so why don't we enjoy it!

    Freddawlanen "Maybe if those with more money to give away than the government eg football, cricket, RL, RU etc. gave even just 5% of their vast revenue resources from SKY". Sky do actually play a major role in school sports through the Sky Sports Living For Sport. I know first hand as I'm one of the athlete mentors.

    Hainba "The Olympics provides a showcase for sports in general on door step to inspire our children by access to tickets & TV coverage is key. The disapoointment is that rather than letting the actual & potential players of these sports in the UK (such as young swimmers who are members of clubs) they will have to join the queue and fill in an application form" I fully agree with Hainba that's why I set up Olympic Heroes which works with local authorities to inspire children to participate in sport and make positive life choices. On the ground I see the Olympic legacy making a difference with children everyday! So let's be positive :)

  • Comment number 12.

    BamBam75 hindsight is a wonderful thing but I hope we make the most of this opportunity individually and as a country.

    But this recession has brought a reality check to all of us and particularly to amateur or semi-pro sport.

    I was brought up and taught sport outside of school by genuine volunteers who loved their respective sports. We have to return to that culture and look for quality not quantity I guess.

  • Comment number 13.

    JumpingJJJegede, it's good to hear that SKY are doing something, but I guarantee that their "investment" in school sports is equivalent to less than 1% of what they pay the PL each year

  • Comment number 14.

    oops, I've no idea why I posted half way through a sentence.

    not that I'm having a go at SKY, my gripe is with the sports mentioned, they can afford to pay their "stars" many, many times the average wage, yet their minimal involvement in local communities is clearly as much for publicty as it is for any other reason.

    If the PL for example, gave 5% of it's SKY income to school sports that would equate to well over £30m per year, enough to give every young kid a chance of expert coaching, or maybe the clubs could use their own expert coaches in all schools and not just for a week per year.

  • Comment number 15.

    #14 - fair points about the need for NGBs to invest in grassroots sport - they do need to, and to a point, I think that they are.

    The problem is an ever diminishing pot of money, which can't go around. It's a difficult area. For example, in terms of salaries, the ECB pays England cricketers (and indirectly lots of the others, through their payouts to the counties) with a pot of cash which comes from TV money, which is on the back of international coverage).

    I agree that the PL could do more, but to fair to them, they do already back the Football Foundation, which is the largest sport-related charity in the UK and has done a lot of good at grassroots level.

    If we're talking about generating a participation legacy from 2012 (in which no other Olympic host has ever really succeeded), it's pretty simple - we need to have networks of well funded, well supported sports and sports clubs (probably still led by volunteers as hainba points out) which are ready to go before, during, and after the Olympics.

    These networks need to be supported by blanket marketing and media support (local and national) so that every kid (young and old!)can find out in an instant exactly where they can go to partake in archery, volleyball, table tennis, or modern pentathlon.

    Handball is a great example of a sport with no participation culture in this country. I'm all for the teams at 2012, but where do I go if I'm 12 years old and want to give the game a try?

    PS. Hats off to JJ for getting out there and inspiring!

  • Comment number 16.

    children have 1 chance at an Education and we have an obligation to make sure its the best- this includes opportunity to take part in physical education and sport -SSPs /sports colleges have given a lease of life to a tired subject. I have the utmost respect to radio 5 for taking this subject and showing the range of views and different sides to the subject from elite to academic to leadership to behaviour- with champions like you our children have the chance


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