The Big Questions: Do you support Welsh independence? What is the significance of Tom Daley’s announcement?

This week's questions are answered by the director of UK athletics Tanni Grey Thompson


Schools in your native Wales came out particularly badly in maths and science in the Pisa test results revealed this week. What can be done to rectify the problem?

It is a challenging time for education. We have to balance the number of changes that are being made against the increased pressure on children. Children develop at very different rates and we need to ensure that we get all children to their potential. We should measure attainment, but it is what we do with those figures that matters.

On entering the House of Lords you swore an oath in Welsh as well as English. Is there a limit to the spread of Welsh-speaking in Wales?

It seems that more and more young people are excited about the Welsh language. In my grandparents’ day it was considered a dying language. I have relations who do not speak Welsh but their children were educated in Welsh. I am not fluent, but would love to have been able to speak more. I thought it was important that, as I didn’t have a Welsh title, I showed my Welshness.

Where do you stand on Scottish independence? And Welsh independence?

I love being British and Welsh and I am in favour of keeping the union together but the world is constantly changing. I think we have to be realistic about how we co-operate and find different ways of working together. It is a massively emotive issue and it is hard to think about how we would begin to even separate. I think there are massive unseen consequences. One thing that I have not seen publicly debated is what would happen to our Olympic/Paralympic team. I recognise that this would not be high on the list of many politicians’ priorities, but I would not want to see any athletes miss out.

I am not in favour of increasing the number of government layers but we need to have a wider think about how England interacts. It doesn’t make sense to do something differently in England to the other home countries.

It’s 18 months since London 2012. As a trustee of the Spirit of 2012, what positive benefits from the Games can you point to?

There has been a significant change in how the public thinks about Paralympians and disability sport. In Wales, interestingly, the participation figures are really good but they are a moment in time.

I think we should all feel proud of a great Games that showed the world what we could do. It was not just about the sport, but the ceremonies and the “show”. It was a moment where a lot of people were proud to carry and wear the Union Jack and get behind our athletes. I loved being in the city – people were talking to each other on the Tube and so on.

Exercise aids people’s thought process, a study found this week. But how do we get more people to exercise?

We need to change teacher training in school to teach physical literacy – that is, good core skills rather than sport – so that would have an impact. We have to make it fun and exciting rather than thinking about competitive sport. Those who are good at sport and want to be competitive will often find a way. We must still invest in the talent pathway, but we have to think about the health agenda too.

Police in London are targeting cyclists’ conduct in a drive to make cycling safer. But shouldn’t they be targeting motorists’ conduct?

The police operation is looking at the behaviour of all road users, not just cyclists. Perhaps the most important message we need to get across is that all road users must follow the rules of the road to remain safe and we all need to look out for one another.

When I was training on the road I was twice hit by cars (both going slowly) and my husband has a spinal cord injury from a bicycle accident so I am really conscious that we need to get everyone to think about how we share the roads.

What does the experience of Rebecca Adlington on I’m A Celebrity... tell us about our modern preoccupation with women’s body image?

This is not a new issue – in various forms the debate has been going for a while with the size-zero model and so on. But I think that for someone like Rebecca who has a high profile, to say that she feels under pressure makes it more real. It is hard because there is so much profile around celebrities, such as what dress they wear (and if they dare wear it twice), whether they have cellulite, and so on. Research by the YMCA, Girl Guiding and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation have all highlighted this. I think good physical activity can help women have more body confidence, but it is going to be an uphill battle.

How significant a moment was Tom Daley’s video announcement this week?

Good on Tom! There is a lot of pressure on athletes, and Tom is just a young man who happens to be good at diving. Sport is one area where I am sure that there are more gay athletes, but there is a lot to think about for them in order to speak about it. I think that because there have been other athletes like John Amaechi and Gareth Thomas who have talked about it, then it gives other people the chance. For any of my friends and colleagues, I would like them to be in a happy relationship with someone they love and who loves them. The rest to me is irrelevant but the reality is that there will be some people who will treat him differently.

Baroness Grey-Thompson is a crossbench peer, a member of Transport for London, and a director of UK Athletics

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