How the lottery can build for the future

Click to follow
The Independent Online
APART from building a new Wembley so that a dwindling number of England football fans can be more comfortable while they boo John Barnes, the problem of what we're going to do with all the lottery money that is rapidly making a higher heap than anyone thought possible promises to create enough controversy to keep us going until the end of the century.

At the moment we seem to have more victims than beneficiaries. Charities are complaining that their donations are being diverted into the lottery which is also the far less justified whinge of the football pools upon whom it is beginning to dawn that they might have to work a little harder to preserve the amount of gravy that has been flowing in their direction for the past 50 years. Compensation for the charities should have been the priority, but instead of forcing the pools to face up bravely to the fact that it is the nation's turn to elbow its way to the trough, the Government, typically, have looked after the rich first by granting them a 5 per cent tax reduction. Any gambling organisation alarmed at the lottery competition must be aware that within a short space of time the new Saturday night fever has unearthed 10 million fresh punters.

People who have never ventured into the land of dreams are queueing to get their numbers into the drum and to buy the new scratch cards. If even a minor proportion can be persuaded to spread this appetite into other forms of having a flutter the industry as a whole will have benefited. All that's wrong with the lottery is that we should have had one years ago. It is the best move this government has made or is likely to make and it would be appropriate for them to listen to those whose persistence helped to prepare its way into our lives.

We who have been adding our feeble voices over the past 10 years in support of a lottery are aware that no man, or collection of men, did more to bring it about than Denis Vaughan, an orchestral conductor who wanted nothing more than to see the wider appreciation of the benefits of the arts and sport. His reward has been a succession of digs in the ribs from those who have captured centre stage now that it's a big success. Vaughan warned that the government should be stopped from getting their hands on the lottery proceeds by making it a charitable foundation.

The Treasury, however, cream off 12 per cent before anyone else gets a penny. He warned that the lottery organisation should be carefully handled to minimise the running costs. They handed the job to Camelot who, it was said, wouldn't make a penny for four years. Camelot are en route to a profit of over £100m in the first year.

What about the arts and sport? A small row broke last week about the earmarking of £45m for a "Crystal Palace" over London's South Bank, which is hardly going to get any kids off the streets. A similar amount is being sought by Cardiff for the building of an opera house so ugly Pavarotti wouldn't use it to park his car in. We mustn't get catty about other people's developments but as long as the rules insist that the lottery cash can be used only for capital projects we are going to get bogged down by architectural blueprints at the expense of genuine initiatives to spread the gospel of sporting activity. In what seemed more an exercise in being seen to be doing something, the first £3m was allocated to sport recently by a committee of worthies. Grants were made to improve schools and sports club facilities and all are very welcome.

We are, however, talking about a fund capable of pumping $10m a month into sport. That volume of money surely demands more attention than the mere scrutiny of a list of applications for cricket nets and extra showers. Vaughan has always maintained that arts and sport should be used to assist the fight against crime and drugs by creating quality leisure time and activities for the young. Improved facilities will obviously help but a purposeful campaign needs to be created and co-ordinated to ensure they are used properly. Schools are the ideal place for that to occur, particularly as recent revelations show how much school sport is still suffering. Ten days ago, a survey of head teachers found that time allocated for PE had fallen for all age groups over the past four years and that Britain was left floundering at the foot of a table of 14 European countries. Given the Prime Minister's much publicised interest in promoting school sport, this is a disgrace and further evidence that the national curriculum is not allowing sport to play its traditional role in education.

There is little point in building an abundance of sporting palaces while stunting the interest of their potential users. It is not up to the lottery to make up for the lack of government funding but there is no more urgent use for this windfall than to provide sports coaches and leaders in and around schools and the framework in which they can operate. Many are already striving to do this without waiting for a helping hand. A fascinating experiment in school sport was held at Chessington, Surrey, last Friday. The brainchild of the sports consultant Mark Barker, it involved four London secondary schools in a multi-sport challenge that could bring a viable new look at school sport.

Barker has recognised that curriculum pressures and the lack of playing fields has conspired to reduce the appetite for traditional team games like rugby, cricket, football and hockey and that it was unrealistic to apply further political pressure in this area. Far better, he argues, to introduce sports that can be played in school gyms and playgrounds and organised within existing PE times. The team ethic, he claims, works well in any sports and every child, able-bodied or not, can benefit from the experience.

His idea was to create multi-sport teams of up to 100 pupils per team in four mixed-sex London schools - Chessington Community College, Holland Park, Featherstone High School, Ealing, and Walworth School - and match them in an experimental contest. The sports were five-a-side football, netball, basketball, table tennis, badminton, cycling, archery and chess. Barker, who raised the funding from the Rothschild Trust, the Foundation for Sports and Arts, the London Sports Council, Reebok and sports equipment firm Evans of Longton, reports that the event was a resounding success. "There seems to be real promise of creating a worthwhile approach to the vexed problem of promoting a team sports culture in secondary schools," he said.

Support for that sort of initiative nationwide would be a much more inspired investment for our lottery money. As the poet Richard Lovelace might have put it - stone walls do not a sports policy make.

FREEDOM lovers and Kung Fu fighters everywhere would have welcomed Croydon Crown Court's decision to reverse Eric Cantona's two-week prison sentence and substitute 120 hours of community service.

It was suggested that Cantona spends the bulk of this time teaching football skills to the underprivileged. The court, however, didn't stipulate whether the England team should travel to see him in Manchester or whether he's coming down to Wembley.

Comments