Monday, 22 November 2010

More doom and gloom

Morning all. What a horrible few days: Ireland's gone bankrupt - and the banks are getting away scot-free (minimum wage to be cut but corporation tax staying at 12%: I genuinely think this is just cause for violent protest), and the Tories are up to more awful tricks. For a government which claims 'we're all in this together', most of the cutbacks seem to be hitting the poor and the young.

Today's attack is one that's close to my heart - school sport, because I've been volunteering at grassroots and élite youth sport for several years now, as a coach, referee and child protection officer. That's a weird feeling: I spent my schooldays trying to avoid sport in any shape or form, eventually compromising by becoming a cricket scorer: trips away, shiny coloured pencils, free scrumptious teas and no physical activity whatsoever.

However, Michael Gove has decided to abolish the School Sports Partnerships, run by the Youth Sport Trust. They organise sports participation and competitions, set up sport classes in schools which lack qualified PE teachers and run major competitions. It's one of the great things Labour did: before they took power, 25% of children received the legal minimum 2 hours per week of sport. By 2010 it was 95% - a stunning achievement. Now it's being abolished, solely to save £162m: a bargain compared with the costs to the NHS of a generation of kids getting fat and wheezy.

Fencing is one of the key sports in the SSPs, which deliberately widened the activities available to attract kids who weren't into netball or football. It's been great for the sport too: from an exclusive bunch of toffs who weren't ever going to do well globally, British fencing has acquired a flood of motivated, fit kids of the kind who'd never get anywhere near a piste under the old system (i.e. often black, working-class, state-educated). The results are starting to show: the teens in the system now are terrifyingly good and will definitely be winning Olympic medals before long.

It's an especially bad idea because the Olympics are coming to London in less than a year. So the world's sporting heroes, sports fans and media are going to descend on the global sporting showcase while Gove deliberately makes sure that there won't be any effective legacy at all: merely another generation of fat couch potatoes.

Gove's sop is £10m for a 'Schools Olympics'.

My Cabinet colleague Jeremy Hunt has got a marvellous proposal for a school Olympics.”

That's a bit weird: there already is one. It's called the UK School Games. It's been running for 5 years and it recreates the Olympic experience - team village, top quality venues, medals, Olympians wandering round talking to competitors, drug tests, the lot. It makes me wonder if Gove actually doesn't care what's going on - he just wants to abolish anything his predecessors did.

David James, the former England goalkeeper, has an excellent piece on this reactionary cut - read it here.

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