Election '97: Labour wants sports gold

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The Independent Online
Labour has come up with the ultimate election promise - Britain would bring home Olympic gold under a Blair government, the party's heritage spokesman said yesterday.

"Within a decade we could see Britain back where it should be - among the top 10 in the Olympics. I'm not saying number one or number two, but at least in the top 10, the place that we used to hold some time ago," Jack Cunningham said.

He was pinned down to a specific pledge by Tom McNab, the British Olympic coach, at the launch of Labour's sporting plans. Mr McNab had gone along, with a bevy of other sporting stars, to support the party's plans.

Acknowledging that things, to coin a phrase from Labour's campaign song, could only get better for Britain's sportsmen and women, Mr Cunningham blamed the Conservatives.

"We have examined the reasons why. We are not short of talent. We can fairly point the finger at the failure of the Tory government to nurture sporting achievement," he said.

Labour, he went on, would put Britain back in the world sports superleague. Furthermore, it would fight to bring the World Cup and other major international events to Britain.

Among the guests at the launch was the runner Brendan Foster, who won numerous medals under the last Labour government including the gold in the 10,000 metres at the 1978 Commonwealth Games.

Mr Foster was joined by Tessa Sanderson, who threw the javelin at five Olympics and won gold at Los Angeles in 1984. Also present were Shaun Edwards, former captain of the Great Britain rugby league team, Brian Moore, former England rugby union player and Judy Oakes, the international shot-putter.

Ms Sanderson said afterwards that she had voted Conservative at the last election but that she would be supporting Labour this time.

"Britain is very talented at sport. There are a lot of kids out there at grassroots who aren't getting the opportunities and I think Labour will try to do that," she said.

Labour has promised a range of measures, from a new emphasis on children's play to a new youth sports unit in the Department of National Heritage.

In a new document, Labour's Sporting Nation, the party called yesterday for an end to the sale of school playing fields, a more strategic approach to grants for sport, a better British Academy of Sport than the one offered by the Conservatives and a taskforce for football.

Iain Sproat, the sports minister, was not impressed. "Funnily enough they said nothing about these issues until after we announced our comprehensive plans. It is time for sports fans up and down the country to show Labour the red card," he said.