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This is the time to take time for a major sports strategy, not rush out plans to meet the emotion of the moment

Posted on 11 August 2012 | 8:08am

These have been two great weeks, and this is an important moment for the country. But my heart sank this morning on hearing the Prime Minister is to make an announcement on school and elite sport. Not because the government should not be doing all it can to capitalise on the energy and positivity and the joy these Games have brought. But because this is the time for a serious, thought through, long term sports strategy, not a few rushed together ideas to get himself on the news.

Tribal though I am, I have felt a bit sorry for David Cameron. His government is presiding over one of the greatest things ever to happen in Britain. But in so far as politicians are being deemed to be responsible, John Major brought in the lottery, Tony Blair delivered the Games, Boris Johnson has been the face of London, and Seb Coe has added all round legend to his already cemented sporting legend status. Meanwhile Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues have seemed tense and rather out of place. As for that stunted picture of Cameron sitting in Downing Street with a remote in hand, wearing a Team GB shirt, watching the boxing … Instead of showing how close to the mood of the Games he was, it showed how distant.

If he intends to reverse the cuts to school sports made by Michael Gove, all well and good. But this is a big moment which requires a big and considered response, not one rushed together overnight because he feels the need to catch up. He should enjoy the weekend, enjoy the sport, enjoy the closing ceremony, then go out and find the best brains in this field, and put together the team to ensure Operation Legacy ensures that these Games change Britain and our attitudes to sport not just for a few weeks, but forever.

Former Tory chief whip Richard Ryder, who is both nice and clever, said recently that the problem with the government was that none of the big figures were strategists, they were tacticians. He said Cameron and George Osborne in particular operated more like news editors than leaders. That is being underlined again today with this rushed out response to a success that has taken them all by surprise.

If the Olympics has shown anything, it is that the country wants big people providing big solutions to big problems. The Games have been successful because of long termism, attention to detail, and hard work. Not short termism, flying by seat of pants, and making it up as you go along.

Doubtless some will say the above is all too political. But this is too important a moment to waste. Sport can transform our country for the better. But the plans to do so need to be thought through, planned to meet the needs of a generation, not the feeling of a moment in time.

  • Totally agree with your thoughts Alastair. If the rumoured announcement proves correct all that is going to happen is more money into second class football, and nothing will change. Nothing wrong with football but we need a fully thought out strategy.

    If all he wants is some feel good publicity why not announce a raft thoroughly well deserved honours and gongs for the successful athletes, organisers and above all volunteers. Plenty of immediate public feel good and time to really think about legacy…

  • Nick

    We are now seeing yet another example of how this government tries to tap into the feeling of the nation in order to try and boost their feeble standing.The comments about sport in schools etc will be long forgotten in the depths of the coming winter and the ever deepening recession .PB’s1 & 2 have more serious things on their minds such as survival ! . An economy in dire need of plan B .A coalition that is looking weaker by the day and an opposition that is looking more and more electable .School sports are the last thing they will be thinking about .It is an exercise in PR that is so patronising it makes me puke !
    As for getting kids away from their mobiles computer games and soaps….. and into running gear !! .Well al I can say is good luck !

  • Tonfshr

    A total overhaul in Britain’s
    outlook towards sport and games is long overdue and I doubt it would be a
    costly exercise considering the impact on child obesity and long term health of
    our nation. Having enjoyed such a wonderful Olympics we should now go on and
    grasp the nettle but I doubt that we will. I just hope Labour has a plan and a
    future Sports’ Minister in mind with some get up and go, someone in the mould
    of Baron Dennis Howell. He stopped the drought, the floods and the snow all in
    one year as I remember.

  • reaguns

    We want something long term, but the government wants to do something bold and memorable now, both for it’s own good which is unavoidable but also to capitalise on the energy now. They mustn’t rush yet they must strike when the irons hot. Surely the solution is announce a commission, a well funded big idea, which will meet to discuss and plan this strategy. Get people like Coe, Jowell, Caborn, involved as well as people like Dave Brailsford, Jessica Ennis, Denise Lewis involved. If it were up to me I’d involve Michael Johnson and John McEnroe – they are American but Johnson is a legend but a lovely, highly intelligent guy too, and Mac would bring charisma and straight talking.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Big Solutions.
    It is not tacticians, it is PR men who run Britain.
    David Cameron has failed. George Osborne and his plan A have failed.
    Nick Clegg has failed.
    Nick Cohen wrote that instead of principles, David Cameron has an opinion pollster Andrew Cooper.
    Every day PM decides what ideas to drop to appease public opinion.
    The coalition has no policies. It only tries to catch popularity.
    According to Ferninand Mount`s The New Few power and wealth have gone into the hands of small elite.
    Inequality is growing. Democracy is not widening.
    The rich have hidden £13tn in tax havens with the help of UBS, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.
    Neoliberalism and austerity are not working.
    Wages in real terms are down 7% in just two years!
    Top 10% in Britain own £4,500bn – bottom 10% just £8bn.
    We have scandals at Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered – all owned by the Rothschilds.
    Rothschilds´ Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and UBS are also under investigation.
    Labour is yet to voice the public anger against the establisment credibly.
    Tony Blair with his £2m salary from JP Morgan is not the kind of adviser Labour needs now.
    Private sector in Britain is on investment strike. Households have too much debt.
    Inflation has been the key factor behind the weak economic performance – not the cuts.
    US and Israel are about to attack Iran.
    Only deeper European unification or the break-up of euro will save the eurozone.
    Nouriel Roubini says 2013 will be worse than 2008.
    We need a new model of capitalism, but globalist bankers are offering us green communism based on “sustainability”.
    Big problems need big solutions.
    But incompetent coalition can only offer us stunts.

  • Richard

    Some of Blair’s overspend of £8 billion plus, applied to school sports, etc would have made a  huge difference. £1 million spent on each of 1,000 youth centres around the country would have meant much, much more. (Such money could have made a major contribution, with £100 million a year for running costs, to helping motivate kids on estates etc. A gambreaker maybe.)
    There is not a true Labour  bone in your body if you cannot see the fallacy of this £8,000,000,000 profligacy. Lauding Blair and Lord Smug is sick making. Criticising Cameron for staying out of the way is petty point scoring. ( He may not of course have your connections to get his hands on all the tickets he would have liked: he is up the bottom of neither Blair nor Smug).
    You will be spoilt for choice of event today and tomorrow. Will you wave at the cameras so we can see which event you are enjoying?
    Which blazer have you had cleaned for the closing ceremony, your British Lions’ one or your British Legion one?

  • Elite sport – that defines the problems and precludes the solution.
    In a class of 30 pupils, moving the highest achiever from 90% to 99% achieves nothing. Moving the majority from 45% to 55% is real change.
    Opportunity, participation and enjoyment will bring change – gilding the lily for the elite will not – it will bring only baubles.
    Lives will be changed by setting the heather on fire, exciting people to get on bikes, swim and run not bolstering elitist equestrism.
    Building schools for the future – facilities locally, open to all at sensible times so people are not prevented from participating is a simple step and nudge towards change.

  • Ian B

    It seems to me that there are a number of things going on here which might just about be linked but are certainly not identical.  Speecifically, funding for “elite” sports and bringing competitors through to international competition stage is not the same as pushing a general health strategy based on exercise.  And in respect of the latter there are some people who simply don’t want to do it and I see no reason to force them to by making it a mandatory part of the curriculum.

    Secondly, one of the things which has struck me these past two weeks is the range of sports in which we have been performing well. Speaking as the parent of someone whose daughter was a fencer, quite a small amount of funding for coaching and facilities there could start to make a difference over the medium to long term. I hope that any government strategy does not just focus on the high visibility “glamour” events.

  • Michele

    What an absolutely laughable peek at Dave watching telly.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/keep-the-flame-alive/9466379/David-Cameron-I-cut-school-sports-target-because-pupils-were-learning-Indian-dancing.html
    Had someone just nipped out to Tesco for that hurriedly-positioned set?

    As for the article’s headline, why is he claiming he made cuts, covering others’ backs?  Is it his idea of being leader-ish? 

    Onwards, as for his ‘reasoning’ –  is this an example of logic? :

                    David Cameron has said it was necessary
                    to scrap the requirement for two hours
    a week
                    of sport for pupils because too many schools
                    were fulfilling the
    target with activities like ‘Indian dancing’.

  • Michele

     I’d imagine that if Johnson and McEnroe helped any of our Olympic sportspeople in the future they would be excommunicated from US.

  • Michele

    Further to mine a few minutes ago, I must say I’d wondered why Newsnight ended with Indian dancing last night durrrrrrr ……

    hadn’t made the connection …. blip blip dim spark and blip … it was about Dave’s objection to it being taught as part of PE lessons.

  • Libdem

    ‘Only deeper European unification or the break-up of euro will save the eurozone’
    Problem with the former is it means Germany, the Netherlands, Finland funding everyone else….think the electorate will accept it?
    Problem with the latter is that if the euro breaks-up there’ll be no eurozone to save.

  • Sportsthinktank

    You are entirely right Alistair with this analysis. To be fair this govt protected the Elite funding (largely) to help us maintain our medal haul and Community sport will get the same Sport England lottery cash. It was their crass school sport cuts which undermined them at these Olympics and they should have known this would happen. For £162 m they cut would have been a small price to pay – after all most of these athletes putting us 3rd in the medal table have come through a system established by Labour and funded thanks to John Major’s Lottery..

    But THE most important part is not to rush into an announcement to get the media off his back. Having seen this happen too often we have established a cross party http://www.sportsthinktank.com to create evidence based sport policy maming – it would be a great mistake to listen to all the anecdotal stuff that fills Cameron’s world.

  • Anonymous

    Can I just say that I also object to Indian dancing, or any other form of dancing, being part of PE lessons. We already have drama classes and school musicals – get the dancing in there. Maybe its different for girls. We did football every week for PE, which would have been the democratic choice, then an edict came through that we had to do 6 weeks of basketball and other rubbish, we pleaded with our teacher and he warned us that if we didn’t do the basketball he’d make us do the 6 weeks of dancing that he’d also been asked to give us! Think I’d have joined the sick notes for that.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe, but I don’t think so. It wouldn’t be zero sum, it would just be improving sport – athletes could get more interest and more money if they have good competitors, we want mcenroe/connors and ovett/coe clashes, also if they did well they might get called back to do the same for the US!

    I heard Lineker asking Brailsford if he could apply his techniques to improve the football team or if it was specific to cycling.

  • I confess I’m not someone that takes an interest in sport, although I do enjoy cycling immensely myself, I like to go out for leisurely rides with friends, there’s none of this charging about at high speed.

    Anyway something that has interested me about the Olympics has been the failure of the government to capitalise on them.

    I think the reason behind this may be that the public at large feel this government is not part of the public itself. People feel that the Olympic games have been good because we, the people, have made it so. The many volunteers and the organisations that have worked so hard. All those sports coaches and brilliant athletes who have dedicated years of their lives to becoming superb in their sport.

    But in this story the current government does not have a place. Some of the key figures in the government are not really seen as being part of the general public. You can probably guess I’m talking about the two posh boys.

    When people are saying to themselves, “haven’t we done well” they just aren’t including the two posh boys are any of their friends in that “we”.

  • Mel

    Yes, Alistair, we need sport – sport for all and sport for life – sport for the people – not just a protracted exercise in feeding the national ego by cultivating an elite. You can have both, to an extent, but our goal as a nation is not to grab as many tokens as possible but to challenge obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lethargy…this is where the REAL gold is and its worth thousands of lives and millions of pounds.

  • Dave Simons

     Sorry Tricky but you consistently destroy your own case by the embittered tone of your voice. It’s like listening to a pub bore who’s had too many and doesn’t know it. I doubt if a single point you make gets taken seriously, which is a shame because statistically some of them must be good points.

  • Richard

    Good boy Dave, all attack, attack, but no substance. You have no answer to any of the points made. Thinking for yourself is very good for you: try it, grow a pair of your own and in the meantime stick to Party sites where everybody agrees with you! You will enjoy that. 

  • Dave Simons

    Not so much attack as advice, mate. I’ve been thinking for myself for decades but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to agree with you. As for substance I refer to previous posts to other bloggers who merit replies with substance. You just lower the tone of the debate, something Michael Foot once accused Norman Tebbit of.

  • Anonymous

    They should be a graph, where the rate of times Cameron mentions “Olympics” per interview in coming days, weeks and months, be drawn.

    And where have been the rest of his mates? Georgie Porgie for instance? Wotsername shoes, the home sec, has turned up now and again, but is has been the Cameron and Boris show, free to view on telly, just press the red button if they are not on the beeb channel you’re presently watching – they will no doubt be on one of the others.

    And I hope Boris makes a complete and utter prat of himself tonight – I have heard the odds are quite short for it.

  • Anonymous

    They should be a graph, where the rate of times Cameron mentions “Olympics” per interview in coming days, weeks and months, be drawn.

    And where have been the rest of his mates? Georgie Porgie for instance? Wotsername shoes, the home sec, has turned up now and again, but is has been the Cameron and Boris show, free to view on telly, just press the red button if they are not on the beeb channel you’re presently watching – they will no doubt be on one of the others.

    And I hope Boris makes a complete and utter prat of himself tonight – I have heard the odds are quite short for it.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a classic case of political blood sucking, Nick.

    And it is said that bloodsucking weakens the host, which in this case is sports. Action not reaction, Cameron lad.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a classic case of political blood sucking, Nick.

    And it is said that bloodsucking weakens the host, which in this case is sports. Action not reaction, Cameron lad.

  • Michele

     ‘We’?
    Care to look up which subjects really are available and compulsory in secondary schools (and which aren’t, unless at a specialist stage school such as BRIT).

    Perhaps you’re talking about what happened in the past, which is why you have so often been asked about first hand recent contact 🙂

    Judging by the glimmer on all the dancers on Friday evening by the end of their minute or so of performing I’d suggest Indian Dance is very good for burning calories and raising heartbeats, especially for teenagers who’re driven to school and back (I plead guilty to the former).

  • Anonymous

    And yes my PE experience was very much in the past!

  • Anonymous

    Well… I’ve discussed it elsewhere and softened my position somewhat. I know that some people hate football in the same way I hate basketball, and probably a lot of girls hate netball and hockey who might like indian dance. As long as its a suitable exercise that helps them get fit, burn calories etc then I suppose its probably worth doing. Ideally pupils would have lots of options for different activities, but I won’t pretend thats easy.
    However the gist of what people have been getting at with the talk of sports partnerships and all the rest is the benefit of competitive sports both for the kids and for the countries chances for medals, in which case Indian Dancing isn’t much of a help. Its not in the olympics. Of course in a sense its more “sporty” than for example golf or shooting. I think its not dancing or indian dancing I object to per se – if its something people can do competitively and its vigorous exercise then it can be good. I would once have scoffed at ballroom dancing, but now I have a friend and an uncle both of whom took part in competitions and managed to acquire very glamorous girlfriends as a result! I don’t suppose I’d have a problem with Indian dancing if I could use it to meet the next Shilpa Shetty!