I should like to welcome you all here today, and on your behalf thank Alec and his colleagues in Sports Division for all their hard work in getting this event together.
Here we are in mid-July, a key time in our national sporting calendar and a symbolic time to meet.
Not just because it's between Wimbledon, and The Open, the British Grand Prix and the Lord's Test, but because tomorrow is the deadline for the first formal step in our Olympic Bid.
Craig Reedie Chairman of the British Olympic Association has already formally notified the IOC that London is bidding, and as you all know he did so with the wholehearted support of the British Government and the Mayor of London.
Barbara Cassani, Chair of London's bid who you'll be hearing from a bit later, I know will drive the bid forward with energy and purpose.
Our Bid will be a good one. In two years time we may not win, but the quality of the bid will not be the reason why.
The Olympic Bid is central to our vision for sport in the UK. It is not an add-on, an afterthought, or a distraction from our general commitment to sport – it is integral to that vision.
We want to use the Olympics to mobilise enthusiasm for sport – not just watching but participating.
To drive sport participation amongst those who play sport for fun as well as to drive elite standards as high as they can go. We also want to see the Olympic challenge as a way of unlocking ambition and talent of thousands of young people.
Why should Government care about sport?
Government is just one player among many. There are clubs and governing bodies. There are private sector and council sports centres.
But we care about sport for three very good reasons:
- We care because taking part in, sport is a fulfilling end in itself. We care passionately about giving everyone the opportunity to enrich their lives with the pleasure sport can bring, regardless of their income or their social circumstances
- We care because sport can bring enormous health benefits, in a society that is increasingly unfit and overweight; I was looking at figures last week and understand that the UK is now the most obese nation in Europe. And we care because sport can deliver so much of our agenda in terms of education, social inclusion and building a sense of solidarity in our communities.
Government is therefore committed to sport.
Not because many of us are fans, although we are, but because we recognise the good that sport can do. Against that backdrop we have a clear strategy for sport, of which the Olympics is just a part.
Our Strategy is to create the conditions that allow for sporting opportunities to be on everyone's doorstep. To identify talent and provide a ladder of opportunity, through high quality coaching, in high quality facilities, so children, young people and individuals can take their talent as far they can.
To get there we need to reform the structures that deliver sport so that they provide good value for money and services that people actually want and need.
Already Sport England has been transformed into a leaner and more flexible organisation, saving millions on bureaucracy which will be put direct into real sport, not committee sport. We are now beginning the same process with UK Sport, with the full involvement of the devolved administrations to create post-Athens arrangements supporting our elite athletes to see us through to Beijing.
In that context I would like to pay warm tribute to Sir Rodney Walker, who has led UK Sport with such unstinting commitment. Sir Rodney will be standing down in September and I am most grateful for all that he has done to support our athletes over the years.
But Government alone cannot deliver what people need. That is why we are determined to work in partnership:
- With modernised Governing Bodies, capable of delivering a real increase in the number of people getting involved in clubs
- With local authorities, who after all can sometimes be overlooked, central to the delivery of local services
- With schools and colleges, who are increasingly enthusiastic about the role of sport in education. For example, I was in Newcastle the other week, visiting a formerly failing school, now right next to a brand new sports facility partly funded by Sport England. 4 years ago only 9% of pupils at GCSE got 5 or more A-C grades. Last year it was 61%. The teachers I spoke to were in no doubt that the proximity of first class sports facilities had been instrumental in achieving this – through better behaviour in the classrooms and a dramatically improved truancy rate. It's a story that is repeated up and down the country.
- And with the private sector, who have shown how good quality facilities can boost take-up
That's our commitment and how we intend to drive our commitment forward, but there are still myths that abound about the Government's commitment to sport. Let's just look at them.
- That we spend less than before
- That we are intellectually and emotionally opposed to competition, especially in schools
- And that we sell-off playing fields because we put housing, roads and shops ahead of sport
Each of those is untrue. Completely false.
I see that only this weekend, a senior figure in the Sports community has argued that there is no sign of the extra billion we are investing.
If he can't see it, it can only be because he's not looking.
He's not looking at the School sports co-ordinators bringing quality sport back to thousands of schools. Not looking at the thousands of sports facilities funded by the Lottery, by Local Authorities, and by the exchequer. Not looking at the elite preparation of our athletes for next year's Olympics.
Is there really no sign of the extra money?
Lets look back. Since 1997 we have:
- doubled the Department's Exchequer grant for sport
- introduced the £60 million Capital Modernisation Fund for Sport
- invested £130 million in Space for Sport and the Arts
- joined with the Department for Education and Skills to announce the biggest ever investment in PE and school sport at over £450 million
- injected £750 million in school and community sports facilities
- announced a multi-million pound Olympic bid to underline our commitment to sport
- And all that is additional to the annual Lottery spend for sport which is still around £180 million.
With a record of delivery like that, I reject any charge that this Government hasn't put its money where its mouth is.
When the Sports Lottery Fund has been under pressure, we've lightened the load – for example by absorbing the £40 million a year cost of school sport co-ordinators into core Exchequer funding and then raising this to over £100 million a year by 2005/06 through new DfES investment. All, I might add, consistent with the Lottery principle of additionality.
So the cash is there. But we know that if it's going to work, we have to be in it for the long term.
I can promise you now; we are.
Myth no. 2 - competition
I believe, and the Prime Minister believes, that competition, winning and losing, is the essence of sport. It's good for our kids. It gives sport point and purpose. It generates enthusiasm and determination.
And yes, it builds character. Learning how to work as a member of a team. That the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To win with grace and lose with dignity. Good fun, and good lessons for life.
That's why we are investing in school sport:
By 2006, we'll have a new network of 400 Specialist Sports Colleges, and a school sports co-ordinator in every single school making sure sport happens in schools and between schools and involving local clubs to ensure children who catch the sports bug have somewhere to go when school is over, and somewhere to take their talent once they've exhausted the opportunities available at school.
That means 20,000 trained, high quality and dedicated teachers, our PE army, who will drive up that increase in sport and physical activity that we all want to see.
And they'll be playing sport on some of the 2000+ new facilities, paid for with cash from the New Opportunities Fund.
This is a wonderful opportunity to revitalise sport in our schools. And competition is at the heart of that plan.
Lastly, on playing fields.
How many times have you heard sad tales of yet another lost playing field?
And yes it is tragic when sports grounds are lost to the developers, and sport facilities disappear. I know a Government that encouraged thousands of such losses.
But it's not this Government. It's not our Government.
We changed planning policies.
We brought protection of sport back into the process.
And we believe it's working.
But we have become bogged down in a trade of statistics, with critics clinging to a world of jumpers for goalposts and small boys in the park.
No-one is denying that open spaces are important. Of course they are. But the debate has been all about supply. And we've ignored the demand.
Here's the truth - children don't want to play sport on badly-drained 1950s scraps of land. They want showers, fences and floodlights. They want quality facilities.
So before just publishing another set of statistics and engaging in an almost ritualistic trading of truths I asked Sport England to investigate the loss of playing fields.
They've looked at 2001/2002 in detail. There were 643 cases of so-called "lost" playing fields.
Here's a couple examples:
- The national cricket academy at Loughborough, where a coaching centre has been built on a slope between cricket pitches. In theory that counts as a lost playing field, in practice - as you'll all recognise - it is no loss at all, but a major sporting gain.
- Then there's the school in North London that sold a little-used playing field and used the money to build an all-weather hockey and football pitch; a new hard–court multi-games area, and a new gym. As a result there will be more young people spending more time doing more sports.
And these stories were repeated all over the country.
In fact, in 2001/2002, the 643 applications for sale which were approved generated 447 new sports facilities worth in total over £270 million, 113 new playing fields as like for like replacements and 134 improved fields.
Let me underline that, let me repeat it. £270 million. That's more than the sports Lottery proceeds for a whole year. £270 million invested in sport. Not in building supermarkets or flats. But invested in sport.
That is responsible, focused and forward looking. It's something which will allow more people to improve their health, their technique and the quality of their lives.
It's dealing with today's issues with an eye on the future, not a foot in the past.
I'm not denying that some fields are sold that we would prefer weren't – where a sporting case was made for their retention. Around 50 were in 2000/01. But the hysteria whipped up on this subject has no basis in fact.
We need to keep constant vigilance on this. I will not stop people developing better sports experiences for communities just because of a few myopic press briefings.
£270 million. In one year. It's investment on that scale that we need to deliver 21st Century facilities for 21st Century citizens.
21st Century Facilities
People now have a lot more money than their parents or grandparents ever had, and as a result have far more choices for their spare time than their parents and grandparents ever had.
They are not going to palmed off with mud and mire, poor playing surfaces, no lighting, mediaeval changing rooms.
They want wide choice – team sports and individual sports; indoor and out; competitive and just for fun. They want high standard coaching – or maybe no coaching at all. They want pleasant surroundings and they want to be able to change in warmth and comfort.
So we will continue to fight for sporting gain wherever we can get it, and we will not be deflected by sentimentalists lost in a misty past, who can only see the value of playing fields, rather than the full sporting value those playing fields should properly represent.
We are absolutely determined to boost the range, the quality, the volume of 21st century facilities.
You know about our £750m of Lottery money from NOF for school/community facilities.
You know about the £60 million of capital funds that we are using with the NGBs to improve club facilities
You know about the £450 million we are ploughing into school sport.
And today I can announce a further £100m of Lottery money, again from the New Opportunities Fund, to be committed to facilities for grassroots sport and physical activity.
This is a direct expression of our determination to use the Olympics and the ambition the Olympics will unlock to boost community sport and activity levels.
The Olympics, all too often, motivates the elite few hundred while the rest of us mere mortals settle down on the sofa with a takeaway pizza.
Our aspiration is to use the Olympics to galvanise enthusiasm from Sir Steve Redgrave right across to the youngest – and oldest – playing at grassroots level.
I want our bid to generate that passion and inspire those dreams.
And I want there to be places where people of all ages can join in a range of sport and fitness activities.
Not just for dreams of glory, but for the enjoyment, sense of community and, most importantly, the health benefits that being active brings.
So the £100m from NOF will be invested in community sport right across the UK. In England this will be matched by £31m from Sport England to create a £108.5 million partnership fund and will lever in millions more from outside.
I expect Sport England's new regional boards to work in partnership with local authorities and the private sector to begin to develop a new national network of facilities.
Designed for communities, built for the future.
These centres will provide top class venues for those already engaged in sport, and be inviting places for those making that new year's resolution to get off the couch.
They will be designed to attract people who do not visit traditional sports centres and encourage them to get active and to stay active.
We have to get more sophisticated in our design of facilities, ensure that they are places that appeal to people and make sport and activity fun rather than a chore.
The private fitness sector has boomed in this country over the past 10 years. I want the public sector to learn from that innovation and bring quality facilities to every participant, however wealthy.
These hubs of sport, health and fitness will match the needs and aspirations of people in our towns, cities and rural areas in every region of the country.
Some will be innovative multi-activity centres for everything from toddler gymnastics through skateboard parks to salsa dancing for third agers.
All will enrich community health, educational and environmental well-being.
Next year will see a fantastic Summer of Sport. This will include football's Euro 2004 in Portugal where we will hope to see several British sides competing and in August, the marvellous spectacle of the Olympics in Athens.
But I don't want next Summer just to be about watching sport. I would like us to use these occasions to highlight sporting and physical activity for young and old alike, right across the nation.
2004 also sees the 50th Anniversary of Roger Bannister's historic sub 4 minute mile. What greater inspiration can we ask for?
The BBC is planning to build its 'Sport Relief' fundraising drive around the theme 'Go the Extra Mile' and I want us to see how we can extend this into a real summer of sporting activity.
I'd like every school in the country to join in this initiative helping Sport Relief and being part of increasing the profile of sport.
I want parents involved too, everyone can play their part doing something extra to mark this special Summer of Sport.
It could be formal involvement in more sporting activities. But it could equally be walking or cycling, simply getting involved in any way that suits.
In doing this we achieve our two aims – getting people involved in sport for its own sake, but also to make them healthier.
Let's get the heart of the nation beating a little stronger.
We can use the exciting events next year to get everyone more active and start working towards those Game Plan targets.
As part of this initiative I want to see more of our sporting champions visiting schools.
They can engage young people in a way no politician or Government strategy ever could. I have seen the delight and enthusiasm on the faces of pupils who have just seen an Olympic medal – or heard a star from their town give a talk about what sport means to them. Real motivation.
I also want us to make a real effort to engage those in the community who are currently not involved in physical activity.
I can't emphasise enough the hugely valuable role local authorities play here. I'd like, for example, to see our sports and leisure centres hold open days next year as part of this summer celebration.
We need to get more of the community inside our sporting facilities, enjoying them, having fun, but also creating for themselves a healthier lifestyle.
We have got to start addressing the need for this cultural change in society and what better a time to start than with a real effort next Summer to focus on sport and all its benefits.
Together we can drive this forward, and today I invite each of you – all of you – to play a part.
I know there is still scepticism out there. There's probably some in here. But what we're trying to build is a healthier, fitter nation, on strong and sustainable sporting foundations. We want to build a ladder of opportunity for our young people – from playground to podium.
This is a Government that loves sport. Governing bodies have responded to the need to modernise and, bit by bit, we are changing the culture.
Government is waking up to the power of sport to deliver their targets.
Sport is waking up to the need to give clear evidence of outcomes – the sort of evidence that has Treasury officials sitting up and taking notice.
And collectively, it has dawned on us that by working together, we can achieve our different aims in one policy.
We are not there yet. We need to trust each other and recognise that we will not always agree on things.
But a disagreement on a single issue should not undermine that trust.
The decision to back the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games should be seen for what it is – sports people and politicians who know that together they can use the event for the great national good. Not just in 2012, but in the years between now and then.
The two are complementary. The Olympics must fire us all.
Our ambition. Our commitment. And our desire to deliver to change the sporting culture of this nation. This is a great opportunity. Let's take it.
These documents are available online in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format.