Print
House of Lords
Speeches

Baroness King of Bow (Lab): I begin by declaring an interest as Channel 4’s diversity executive and I am incredibly proud of Channel 4’s legacy as the Paralympic Games broadcaster. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, about Channel 4’s achievement in changing attitudes towards disability, not least the “Meet the Superhumans” trailer, masterminded by Dan Brooke. It was nothing less than a game-changer. So, too, was the entire legacy promise of London 2012. No previous Olympic Games had ever put legacy at the very heart of the bid. Our legacy promised,

“nothing less than a healthier and more successful sporting nation, open for business, with more active, sustainable, fair and inclusive communities”.

The key question was posed by one of our veteran 2012 medallists, the rower Greg Searle. He said: how do we turn all the national pride generated in all corners of the country into producing not just the next generation of Olympic gold medallists but the next generation of good citizens? How do we inspire a generation, make Britain a more active sporting nation and, through the Paralympics, give every disabled child the same chance of engaging in sport as their able-bodied counterparts? Our report considers those huge questions, and how we can fulfil the legacy before it is too late.

I will start with the most obvious and urgent legacy: a healthier, more active nation. Why is it so important? The answer is simple: it is a matter of life and death. Is this an exaggeration? It is not, especially if you live in Tower Hamlets. I will come to that shortly. The obvious starting point is the well documented obesity epidemic facing Britain. Data from the Health Survey for England show that by 2050 fully one-quarter of young people under 20 will be obese. Today only one-third of boys and one-quarter of girls achieve the recommended 60 minutes’ physical exercise a day. That means that two-thirds of boys and three-quarters of all our girls are setting themselves up for health problems in later life, including but not at all limited to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In other words, they are setting themselves up for premature death.

I am sorry to say that in Tower Hamlets we have already reached the future predicted for England in 2050. Today, on average, women in Tower Hamlets already die 18 years earlier than their counterparts in Richmond. Men in Tower Hamlets can worry a bit less: they die only 15 years earlier than their counterparts in Richmond. You lose approximately a year of life for every stop on the District line as you move from Richmond to Tower Hamlets. In Tower Hamlets, more than one-quarter of all children leaving primary school are clinically obese. If you add together the children leaving primary school in Tower Hamlets who are both overweight and obese, the figure is over 40%.

There are two things that will stop those children dying younger. It is not rocket science—we know what they are. One is increased activity and the other is better nutrition. I will leave better nutrition for another day, although I confess to being slightly obsessed with it, because too often I spend the morning at the school gates in Tower Hamlets watching children eat crisps for breakfast and drink fizzy cola. I will concentrate instead on increased activity and grass-roots participation in sports. That is why the committee’s recommendation to improve PE teaching is so important. In our report we state that,

“PE needs a greater emphasis in the school day … Improving PE is fundamental … and we call on the DfE and Ofsted to take more active roles in making this change happen”.

I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said on this issue. If we need to lengthen the school day, let us lengthen the school day. Surely it is better than shortening children’s lives. I also endorse the excellent report by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, calling on the Government to give PE greater priority in the school curriculum.

It is absolutely critical to improve the link between primary school and secondary school sport. My noble friend Lady Billingham has already spoken about the sad demise of the school sport partnerships. The problem with the current system is that money goes to individual schools but does not support the sporting infrastructure between schools that promotes competitive sport.

A related problem that we have already heard about in some detail is the negative impact on team sports of the “No Compromise” approach. The focus on medals above all else has damaged funding opportunities for team sports. Team sports are the ones that kids are most likely to play—football, netball, volleyball, basketball, rugby and hockey —the sports we all remember playing as kids. They are the sports where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of grass-roots participation. They are the sports kids want to play. These sports will arguably do most to keep the London 2012 flame alive. How perverse would it be for our elite medal quest to reduce the sporting participation of British kids and shrink our sporting talent pool?

I understand that our approach has had huge success and I would be the first to say that I was filled with enormous pride at our medal haul. To come third in the world behind only China and America is extraordinary. The mountain we climbed was perilously steep, as we have heard, from being ranked 36th in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 to coming third overall in London 2012. But the one thing that would be even more extraordinary and make me even more proud of this country would be a 2012 legacy that inspired a fitter, healthier country. It would be seeing Britain climb the league table to become the healthiest and most active country in the industrialised world. It would be to see our children living longer and having more active and meaningful lives.

That is the thing about sport: it creates this magic thing that politicians and policy wonks call social cohesion. We all remember the Oldham riots, where Asians and whites fought running battles in the streets. What was the one thing, the only thing, that the council could find that represented a bridge between the two communities? It was football, and that is because sport is a universal language.

London 2012 also made sport more inclusive, particularly for disabled athletes, as we have heard, but also for women. Women in the Olympics have come a long way. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, is similar to many great men in history. His achievements were, well, great—and his belittlement of women was even greater. At the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, which de Coubertin arranged, 245 men took part, representing 14 countries, competing in 43 events. No women took part because de Coubertin said their presence would be,

“impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect”.

You wonder what he would have said about the Paralympics; it does not really bear thinking about.

In 1912, women were allowed to compete in swimming for the first time, but none of those competing was from the USA, because the USA banned its women from entering events without long skirts. I am not talking about Saudi Arabia; I am talking about the USA. That illustrates how far we have come. We have come so far, in fact, that, today, the words “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect” would probably be a fair way of describing our men’s football team in London 2012, but not our women. I salute all the British women who performed so magnificently and I look forward to the Minister securing equality of funding for women’s sports.

On the subject of fairer funding, we should also look at who gets to represent Britain in the first place. Elite sport is dominated by those who are privately educated—that should not be such a surprise, because everything is dominated by those who are fortunate enough to have a private education—but it is still staggering, even though we know that that is real world, to find, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, first pointed out to me, that more than 50% of the medals won in 2012 went to British athletes who were privately educated. Why should we get so exercised about that? Well, it is about the talent pool, stupid, because that means that more than 50% of our sporting talent is drawn from less than 7% of our population—the 7% of British children who go to private schools.

I have raised some of the problems affecting children growing up in very disadvantaged areas. These problems, which lead to nothing less than premature death, require structural change. One small yet decisive structural change in government that would support London’s 2012 legacy is our committee’s proposal to have a Minister for the Games Legacy. I have one simple question for the Minister: what could harm could it do? It could no harm, yet it could secure immeasurable good. It would make current plans more coherent; it would give added impetus at a government level. It would cost nothing—zilch, zip, nada—not even a newly minted 12-sided pound coin, not even a threepenny bit. If it is so cheap at the price, why are the Government so resistant to considering it? It would be fantastic to get a considered reply and not just a restatement of government policy, although experience tells me that that is probably the most the Minister will be able to achieve—but I live in hope.

As our report states, and as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who so ably chaired the committee, stated, we hunted for white elephants but we did not find them. What we found, despite the resounding success of London 2012, were myriad missed opportunities. Some were modest, some were galactic—such as the missed opportunity immediately to harness the enthusiasm of the volunteers—but the biggest missed opportunity would be a failure to nurture increased sporting participation. Given the link between sport and social cohesion, between sport and good citizenship, and between sport and living longer, it would be an unforgivable failure of the promise of 2012 if that legacy was not realised. I therefore urge the Minister to heed the report, which states:

“We are unconvinced that the Government’s current oversight arrangements represent a robust way to deliver the legacy”.

For that reason, I ask the Minister to give a more positive response to the committee’s well researched and evidenced recommendations than we have thus far received.