Start playing to win, says Blair

The British way of losing gracefully must end, ministers say. School sport needs the killer instinct. By Rachel Sylvester
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The Independent Online
GENERATIONS of British children have been told that it's the taking part that matters, not the winning. But not any longer. Tony Blair, a man who knows about these things, has decided that losing is strictly for wimps.

Fed up with our inability to win almost anything, he is determined to rekindle the "killer instinct" in sport.

Mr Blair is planning to appoint an army of regional sports co-ordinators, who will be responsible for reviving competitive sport in schools.

Ministers want to create a "play to win" culture, which they believe will help make the next generation more thrusting and assertive, both on the playing field and at work. The shift, to be announced by the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, this week, will form a central plank of the Government's sports strategy, to be published in the autumn.

The 600 full-time sports co-ordinators, funded by pounds 60m of lottery money, will aim to give every child the opportunity to take part in competitive sport after school.

State school league tables will be set up in every region and children will be encouraged to compete to win cups and trophies. The initiative will concentrate on six sports - football, rugby, cricket, athletics, swimming and tennis - although games such as basketball or volleyball are likely to be included in the longer term.

Ministers were shocked to learn that the number of competitive matches between schools dropped by 75 per cent between 1987 and 1994 and has decreased still further since then. They believe that this has stopped Britain spotting and developing talent from an early age and has also undermined its chances of winning matches at international level.

Steve Waugh, the Australian cricket captain who takes his team to the World Cup final today, having knocked out England, said last week "the English don't have the will to win".

Tony Blair will admit this week that the lack of the "play to win" culture has damaged British teams' chances. "There has been a decline in competitive sport among school-aged children and we have got to reverse it. If we are going to be one of the great sporting nations of the world then we have to build from the grassroots up," he will say.

A Downing Street spokesman said the balance in school sports had to be redressed. "Learning how to lose graciously is important but our kids also need to learn how to play to win."

Mr Smith will emphasise the importance of sport for the nation's morale. "Winning a sport gives the whole country a lift. We need to do it more often," he will tell a conference organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on Tuesday. "The Government wants to see a renaissance in competitive sport after school to help us spot the talent of the future."

An IPPR report, which will also be published this week, calls for a shake- up of the administration of British sport. Giving a catalogue of mismanagement among sports governing bodies, it says the Government must impose a more professional attitude. Although it acknowledges that sport has become increasingly commercial in recent years, it emphasises that it can also have an important social role.

The document also proposes that there should be a countrywide debate on Britain's sporting priorities, to assess whether football really is the national game.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is now working on proposals for the national sports strategy, to be published later this year. Ministers believe that they can use sport to make Government policy appear relevant to ordinary people.

The Government recently announced proposals to make it harder for schools to sell off their playing fields. English Sport, the governing body, will have the right to veto any proposed sales if it thinks that the local community could be damaged.

However, ministers have been stung by criticism that they are abandoning traditional team games in favour of individual sports. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, has ruled that children will have to play two hours of sport a week as part of the national curriculum - but that they should be able to opt out of team games at an early age if they show talent at another sport.

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