Big Lie on state school sport needs to be challenged for Olympic legacy to be strong
Posted on 3 August 2012 | 10:08am
I am biased. What I say on here, or when speaking in public, reflects a view that is biased towards the left, towards progressive causes, towards causes I believe in and values I hold.
Even when I was a journalist, though I strove to get my facts right, I always admitted that my journalism was a part of my politics, and that therefore a bias in story selection and presentation was present.
But I wonder what goes through Rupert Murdoch’s head when he denies outright any political or ideological bias at Fox News. Fox, in common with most of the many media outlets Murdoch controls, reflects his worldview. Rightwing, pro very free enterprise, anti unions and the left. I always thought their slogan ‘Fair and balanced’ was a really funny joke, but no, they really do believe it, or say they do because that’s what Rupert says.
We have seen in News International’s handling of the phone hacking scandal the dangers of believing your own propaganda – one rogue reporter and all that. And we saw another example of it yesterday when Murdoch tweeted his view that China’s success in the Olympics was inevitable because of the US and UK bias against competitive sport in state schools. A classic case of facts not being allowed to get in the way of a Big Lie that is peddled relentlessly through the papers of the right in the UK.
First, let us put China’s lead in the medals table in some perspective. If we were to make the success judgement one of medals per head of population, Slovenia are Olympic champions so far, and China languishing well down the table. Also, where they have had success it is in large part down to the heavy State intervention that in most other cases Murdoch rejects.
But his views about the UK really do reveal a bias and an ignorance that have to be challenged. There may have been some schools, at some time, that decided competitive sport was not a priority. They were, if ever they really existed, a minority. But when Murdoch’s and other right wing papers were running their campaigns against so-called loony left councils, this myth was repeated so often that for some it became a fact.
The fact that there is a greater proportion of privately educated athletes in Team GB than across the population has everything to do with issues of wealth and investment, and nothing to do with this alleged bias against competitive sport.
I remember when one of my sons was running at a fairly serious level, and he was competing in a national schools event held at Stowe College. Looking at the facilities there, compared with most State schools, the wonder is how schools like that don’t produce far more medal winners than they do. The top private schools have money – helped by charitable status (ludicrous) – that enables them to develop facilities state schools can only dream of.
What worries me about the Murdoch line of argument – and David Cameron and Michael Gove have both made the same point rather more subtly – is that it is used to perpetuate the gap between private and state schools, rather than close it.
If state schools had the kind of facilities enjoyed by the Etons, Harrows, Millfields and Stowes of this world, we would have an even better record in sport than the one we already do, and which we should be very proud of, not least the achievements of state school success stories as varied as Bradley Wiggins and Jess Ennis, Seb Coe and Steve Redgrave. I am not saying they are successes BECAUSE they went to state schools, just very good examples to disprove the myth peddled by the right.
Let us also remember that one of the reasons we are dominant in cycling is because of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, in the form of the velodrome and the operations of British Cycling, a ruthless pursuit for the best talent, and the shaping of it into world-beaters. Like the Chinese are doing. Only per head of population, we do it better. Per pound of investment, state schools punch above their weight.
One of Murdoch’s favourite politicians is Michael Gove, one of whose earliest decisions as Education Secretary was to make huge cuts to school sport investment. Let us hope the Olympics, and the inevitable focus on legacy to follow, leads to a review and reversal of that decision, which is already having a detrimental impact on facilities in the state schools most of his readers and viewers, as opposed to his editors, actually use.