The Olympic Legacy


























Basking in the glow of Team GB's Olympic success David Cameron came over all passionate about the need to encourage the young to participate in sport and become the next generation of Olympians. Many newspapers lighted on the closure of school playing fields as an apparent contradiction to Dave's future Olympic ambitions. After all, the media pointed out, 21 school playing fields had been sold off under the coalition government since 2010.

The Department for Education tells us,

"We will only agree to the sale of school playing fields if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met. Sale proceeds must be used to improve sports or education facilities and any new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years."

In terms of the 21 school field sales acknowledged by DoE, the fine detail suggests that guidelines have been adhered to. However, the number of playing fields sold to date was not 21 but in fact 30. 'In fact' here means, that's the number of sales that the DoE is owning up to this week and no detail has been released on the 9 overlooked sales. Stop press: the number's just gone up to 31 field sales. (August 17th 2012)

It looks likely that in most cases school sports facilities have improved as a result of these sales, that may not be so in every case, e.g. where school mergers have taken place but the fact of selling a school playing field does not necessarily have a detrimental affect on childrens' participation in sports.

Even the number 30 over a two year period seems hardly worth the column inches the press have devoted to the playing fields issue. When we take a longer view, however, we see that 200 school playing fields were sold off under New Labour and during the Tory years, between 1979 and 1997, an estimated 10,000 playing fields were sold off. Even with this larger picture of school asset sales how can we know or judge the degree of detriment or otherwise to school sports as an inspirational medium for future Olympic success.

What we do know

We do know that the Coalition has phased out the School Sports Partnership scheme, saying that it wasn't delivering, they have also ended free swimming for under 16s. We do know that they are cutting £1bn of funding to councils for spending on sports and recreation. And we also know that Call Me Dave has discontinued the New Labour target of two hours of PE for all children, on the grounds that the target was being met by items like 'Indian Dance', not proper competitive sport. The fact is many activities within PE are not offering a spur to future Olympians. We also know that acadamy schools will not be subject to same rules as State schools when it comes to selling playing fields. We also know that the School Fields Advisory Committee (which says yea or ney to the sell offs) has been overridden five times by Mr Gove. We also know that Gove has loosened the restriction to the amount of outside space that schools should be using for PE.

We also know that they are committed to encouraging inter-school competitive sports. The primary school curriculum is being revised to make inter-school competition mandatory. The School Sports Survey suggests that Dave may have a point. Ah, nearly forgot, Dave has now abolished the School Sports Survey, making it difficult to know about school sports participation in the future?

Lord Coe said:

"We do need to find space in the timetable. There's no easy way around that. Space has to be found to make sure that all kids, particularly in the state sector, get good, high-quality physical education."

The Government position is:

"More young people taking part in competitive sport can't be driven by top-down Whitehall policies, as we have seen previously. It must be led by parents and communities creating a culture where competitive sports can thrive." (Tory spokeswomen, quoted in the Independent)

The words of Locog Man and some junior minister at the DfE amount to no more than vacuous verbiage.

The success of Team GB has four sources; the inspiration of ex-teachers and coaches, the supporting club infrastructure, the millions of pounds of lottery funding and the self belief of the players themselves.


So, how much do we know about the sale of school playing fields, we know that thousands have been sold off over the last two decades. We know that the Coalition said they would protect school playing fields but have continued selling them. We do not know what, if any, impact this has had on the provision and participation in competitive school sports. The media seemed to think that these sales were significant but not one report of the matter managed to show any connection to anything, apart from vague suggestions that Gove and Cameron were not really committed to promoting school sport.

There's an absense of thought in this media response, Gove and Mr Cameron must be committed to competitive sport, otherwise they are not Conservatives.

For a Tory, competitive sport is a metaphor for life; winners and losers, the quick and the dead, that's what life is all about for a Tory, compassion for the damaged can be outsourced.