Lottery lunacy and schools for scandal

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The Independent Online

Despite what you may read to the contrary in the more hysterical zones of the media, the two main scandals in British sport are the continuation of the remorseless rundown of sport in schools and the villainously languid way the proceeds of the National Lottery are being distributed. There are subsidiary outrages to both the above; not the least of which is the revelation that, in Olympic year, there have been cuts of 30 per cent in the world-class performance programme. Funding to elite athletes hasbeen reduced from £52m in 1998-99 to £36.3m in the current year,as Alan Hubbard's Inside Lines reveals on page 2.

Despite what you may read to the contrary in the more hysterical zones of the media, the two main scandals in British sport are the continuation of the remorseless rundown of sport in schools and the villainously languid way the proceeds of the National Lottery are being distributed. There are subsidiary outrages to both the above; not the least of which is the revelation that, in Olympic year, there have been cuts of 30 per cent in the world-class performance programme. Funding to elite athletes hasbeen reduced from £52m in 1998-99 to £36.3m in the current year,as Alan Hubbard's Inside Lines reveals on page 2.

Needless to say, the Government is heavily implicated in both the schools and the Lottery distribution to which the word constipation easily applies. The latest figures reveal a blockage of £3.7bn in the flow of Lottery funds to the causes gasping for them - what's worse is that most of it has been there for two years.

Sport is a principal victim of this Whitehall conspiracy to deny the smooth passage of Lottery proceeds to their intended targets. One of those targets was the promotion of sport among the young with the twinfold intention of improving our standing in world competition and, perhaps more importantly, creating healthier citizens who would be less of a drain on the National Health Service.

That both the Lottery and the schools are being prevented from assisting in this task almost amounts to treachery. The previous government set a bad example in both areas but the present lot came in on a crusading wave that promised, among other things, a new and more imaginative future for sport. Those pledges could have been heard echoing mockingly as a background to two recent revelations.

The first came from a study by Sport England, the new name for the Sports Council, which exposed the alarming fact that millions of youngsters spend far more time watching television or playing computer games than taking part in any exercise. This will not come as a shock to many households in which children reside but it is startling to learn that the number of infants spending the recommended minimum of two hours a week on PE has fallen by two-thirds in just five years. Only 11 per cent of school-children between six and eight were involved in school sport for that length of time last year compared with 32 per cent in 1994.

A sample of more than 3,300 children aged 5 to 16 found that on average they spent 7.5 hours on sport and exercise, both in and out of school, in the previous week, compared with 11.4 hours watching television and 4.4 hours playing video games. Older pupils spent more time in part-time jobs than on exercise.

As a result, many kids are not learning the basic skills that would enable them to develop or enjoy sporting involvement or even to keep fit, leaving them at risk of serious health problems in later life. Sport England's chairman, Trevor Brooking, said that children leaving primary school now were technically the worst generation he had ever seen in terms of fitness and familiarity with the basic knowledge of how to play games.

The British Heart Foundation said they were deeply concerned by the survey, which included complaints from head teachers that PE in primary schools was being squeezed out of the curriculum because of the other targets they'd been set. I didn't realise that when Tony Blair thrilled us with his pre-election pledge of "education, education, education" it was coupled with the slogan "unfitness, unfitness, unfitness".

Meanwhile, back in the vaults at Westminster gleams £3.7bn of unspent fruits of our contribution to the Lottery. We are assured that most has been earmarked but, even if you believe that, there is an admitted £1.7bn yet to be allocated. There is no sign that the bureaucrats sitting comfortably on this great heap of money are in a hurry to part with it. Not only won't they spend it themselves, they won't allocate it to those who could immediately use it for the sure and lasting benefit of the nation.

It would be easier to comprehend if the shameful ignoring of the sporting necessities of the nation was consistent with the Government's nature, as it was with the last administration. Massive emphasis has been made by Tony Blair's lot on the great value they place on sport but so far this has amounted to little more than a costly and embarrassingly snivelling bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

The practical consideration of creating a stadium where such an extravaganza would be staged, or indeed adding one where an Olympic Games could be accommodated, has been lost in a tragi-comedy of political bungling. If ever the expression "more money than sense" applied, it is to this Government's sporting philosophy.

To those sportsmen and women and sporting bodies who are gasping for support from that indecent amount of Lottery money festering in the Treasury's control, I can offer no other reason for the delay than that the Government has other plans for it. It might have been earmarked for sport and the arts and other good causes in the original conception of how the Lottery could best serve the nation but I fear they are going to snaffle it to bale themselves out elsewhere.

If you don't think this Government is capable of such deception, you haven't been paying attention lately. When they do pounce on it they will do so with a plausible argument designed to cloud the only reason for introducing the Lottery in 1993 - that was to support and encourage the sporting and cultural life of the country.

Unfortunately, when John Major's government introduced the Lottery they failed, accidentally on purpose I presume, to ring-fence those ambitions by protecting it against future Whitehall interference. It was a shame, particularly, that they didn't employ the invigilation of the man whose persistent lobbying led to its creation. Denis Vaughan, a renowned orchestral conductor, not only foresaw the potential success of the Lottery, he also predicted the folly of leaving it in government hands.

I said at the time that there was no one better to keep the fiddles in check. The fiddles are out of control but Vaughan is still on the scene, at great personal cost, still nagging for it to be done properly.

He was instrumental in forming CAARE, the Council for the Advancement of Arts, Recreation and Education, which has meticulously laid out and costed plans for using those idle billions to endow the coaching of sports and arts from the age of seven. This would compensate for what schools are unable to provide and would improve the quality of life and health throughout the land.

How far this is at variance with the Government's objectives we shall no doubt soon learn.

 

Racial abuse seems to be football's latest designer complaint and provides a handy plea in mitigation when there's a disciplinary charge against you. But to make out that this is a new manifestation of unpleasantness in football, or even in sport generally, is ridiculous. Players and fans have long probed for ways of upsetting the opposition and a man's background is often a tender and inviting target.

In the 1950s when I was a cub football reporter, I covered Newport County, whose inside-left was a crafty Lancastrian called Les Graham. During a game at an English club, I saw Les angrily pursue an opponent. Afterwards, I asked Les what the trouble had been. He answered: "The cheeky sod called me a 'Dirty Welsh bastard'. So I chased after him and shouted: 'Hey you - less of the Welsh'."

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