The agreeable world of Wallace Arnold: Sports that are vital to our national character

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The Independent Online
WHEN our doughty Sports Minister, Mr Iain Sproat, roped me in to serve as Chairman of the Conservative Advisory Body on Compulsory Sports in Schools, he obviously knew a thing or two about my illustrious sporting past.

At my major public school, Basters Academy for Boys (now celebrating its centenary, incidentally, having been established in 1894 by the Royal Guild of Basters, Stuffers and Toastmasters), we delighted in compulsory sports of every hue. Our school chant, 'Baste up, the Basters] Baste up, the Basters] Baste up, Baste up, Baste up, Baste up the Basters]', with lyrics by the celebrated school laureate, the Reverend A O Sturgeon, could oft be heard resounding around the playing fields from morn' till eve.

We rejoiced in the rough-and- tumble of all the conventional school sports - football, cricket, rugby, boxing, yodelling, cockfighting, rounders, punching, bear-baiting and hair-pulling - but Basters also rejoiced in its very own team sports, including New Boy Croquet, in which new boys were encouraged to take an interest in croquet by acting, on a compulsory basis, as balls, and the tremendously character- forming Pin-Willy-Down, involving the inexpensive apparatus of several long pins and a length of balsa wood.

And the long-forgotten art of forming character, together with keeping 'in trim' is what compulsory sport is all about. I took pains to remind my committee - David Mellor, John Browne, Lord Parkinson, Tim Yeo, Michael Mates, Nicholas Fairbairn - of this when first we convened over a congenial slap- up five-course meal with all the trimmings in the larder of the Beefsteak Club. Happily, the Food Minister, my old friend and quaffing partner Nicky Soames, was at hand to deliver a brief but pithy lecture on the physical benefits accruing from compulsory school sport. 'Too many of our state school pupils are grossly overweight through lack of formal sporting education,' he said forcefully. He chewed on the matter for a while before adding: 'I might just manage another slice or two of Yorkshire pud, if it's going begging, Wallace.'

It was left to me as Chairman to expatiate on how compulsory sport contributes so much to the formation of character. 'We as a Government,' I kicked off, 'are committed to encouraging those values that only hard-fought team games can promote. I am talking of such sound, old-fashioned values as mutual tolerance, good clean fun and a healthy respect for one's opponent - values those snivelling bastards on the Socialist benches know nothing about.

'Unlike the Socialists,' I went on, 'we on the Government benches believe strongly in a spirit of healthy competition - and when the disgraceful spectre of a challenge to our Leader is finally expunged this autumn we will concentrate all our efforts upon it.' I took out my clipboard and ran through the finer details of our proposals for School Sports. Might I offer readers - many of whom may be wavering in their lifelong allegiance to the Conservative cause - a preview?

First, we will give the highest priority to team sport in our inner- city schools. Inevitably, our highly successful 1985 Playing Field Enterprise Initiative - in which we bravely opened up 5,000 school playing fields to private-sector retail development - means that the range of team sports available to the majority of inner-city schools is now confined to shove-ha'penny, origami, arm- wrestling, and, in our more spacious establishments, press-ups. But the press-up has played a vital part in the formation of our National Character, as Cecil, Tim and David were among the first to attest.

Our second major initiative involves a complete overhaul of secondary school sports education: henceforth, teachers will be required to supervise an extra 1 3/4 hours of sport per day. This, in turn, will render many classrooms redundant for up to two hours per day, so that their sell-off to the private sector, to be announced later this month, will prove beyond argument.

Heady days indeed. Mr Sproat seems delighted by all my key proposals. 'We will end up with a leaner, fitter, more vigorous society,' he said. We all applauded these sentiments, save those among us who had sadly fallen asleep, owing to over-indulgence at the dinner table.

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