Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 555)



  540. If we are to encourage international events, irrespective, if we knew that within the amount of money it costs, the hypothecation of VAT was part of that, that would encourage a much more ambitious bidding arrangement. Let me just move on. We recommended a Minister for the Commonwealth Games, you have not yet recommended a Minister for the World Athletics Championships and I have not heard anything about a Minister for the Olympics. Is it your assessment that having a Minister for the Commonwealth Games has been a good thing or a bad thing? If it is a good thing, what are your recommendations to the future international events?  (Mr Smith) Let me have a first go, then Kate may want to add a word or two. First of all, I think that having Ian McCartney in place, with an oversight role, for the Commonwealth Games has been enormously beneficial. That has been very much because a whole range of different government departments have interests in the progress on the Games, particularly, of course, the Home Office and DETR, as well as ourselves, but a range of other departments as well, particularly given the Commonwealth focus of the occasion. Having Ian in place to co-ordinate what is happening across different departments has been extremely useful. In relation to the World Athletics Championships, it may well be that in due course, when we come nearer to the holding of the Championships, if there are cross-departmental issues to be resolved that could benefit from a ministerial cross-departmental champion, then it may well be that a similar sort of role for someone might be advisable. I do not think we are at that stage yet. The focus at the moment is making sure that we get all the building blocks in place to ensure that we can build a high-quality stadium and make all the necessary preparations for beyond that, and that is what we are working extremely hard on already.  (Kate Hoey) I think that we have already said how important Ian McCartney has been in this whole process. As far as in London is concerned, the World Championships in 2005, I think that as we get nearer there may well be a need, but particularly the work with the BOA and with the World Athletics Championships is going to be very, very crucial and the involvement of the Mayor is going to be very important as well. I think that may be something that is new for London, which we will be able to use. As far as the Olympics are concerned, we are certainly going to need more than a Minister to deliver an Olympic Games; we would need to have a prime ministerial involvement in the Olympic Games. Clearly, in terms of the Olympic Games, the scale of it is so huge and vast that we would have to look very carefully at it, and that would be part of the decision-making as to whether we are going to have an Olympic bid.

  541. Let me try to tease out the Olympic bit. Here we are, the BOA has no money, but sends a document, leaks some private leaks to journalists—leaks or whatever, something happened last week—does not send it to UK Sport or Sport England, so they do not participate in any of this whatsoever. Here they are, the two senior bodies of sport. To anyone out there it seems utter confusion as to what is going on in sport, and therefore, before anything else happens, maybe a Minister for the Olympics should be appointed now, because from what I have been able to read so far of the bid from the BOA, it is inside the M25, except for the business of the yachting and so on, which is extraordinary. We have London-Gatwick, London-Heathrow, London-Luton. I am sure I have left one out there. You can have a bid along the North Thames gateway, along any part of London, it does not have to be west or east, but they are beginning to put down agendas as though they are cast in stone already. They are not going to pay a single penny for the Olympics. So it seems to me that we have already started the process wrongly; that if we are not careful, it then becomes political between three or four different organisations, and that is not the way to represent British sport internationally, is it?  (Kate Hoey) I think that in fairness to the BOA, it is important to point out that we are only one of the two countries in the world where the Government gives no direct support to our Olympic team, therefore they raise huge amounts of money in sponsorship which is very, very important to them and will continue to be important for the next Olympic Games. So I think it is being very unfair to say that somehow BOA do not bring any money ever to the table; they do actually. In terms of staging an event like the Olympics, it is clearly something that the BOA would be involved in, in the facilities, the infrastructure and all of that; they also have another role to play in terms of the actual delivery of the Games themselves.

  542. Do you not think it is extraordinary that the UK Sports Council was not part of this?  (Kate Hoey) I am all in favour of transparency. I personally do not take the view that the BOA do, which is that this document, which we have all seen, is somehow going to raise prices or whatever in terms of land values. Actually, I think that anyone who has got any development sense will be already pretty aware of where any Olympic Games or any future Olympic Games were to be held, so I would be in favour of them making it available. I would actually like generally to have a real public debate on this, not just in London but in the country. You do not have that public debate unless you have as much openness as possible, and that would be what I would like to do.

  543. Can I come back to the single Minister and perhaps a single Ministry which we might have to think about. I was present at the Americas Cup in Fremantle where Fremantle was transformed from a small town to a major international village, with massive facilities put in. I said to the mayor at the time, "What's coming next year?" He said, "Next year?" He had built all these facilities. If you go to Fremantle, very sadly they are no longer there. When we went to Manchester, the only way that Manchester can really work is to bring in world-class events month after month after month. They do that with the cycling. They cannot do that with the athletics terminal because it will go to Manchester City Football ground. Do you think that we need a much more engaged government that is not necessarily a department of CMS or DTI, but it is actually centrally in Cabinet, so that we are winning these things, bidding, putting up the money to go there, so that we can say to Manchester, "By the way, there's this coming up, we think you should bid"—not just sport, whole international events?  (Mr Smith) Of course, in relation to what individual cities wish to do, in terms of regeneration and so forth, there is already such a role in Cabinet for the Deputy Prime Minister. In other respects, though, the encouragement of the cities to consider cultural or sporting bids is something that our Department does, and we are launched now on a programme of encouraging cities across the country to bid to be the European Capital of Culture in 2008. That is something which quite a number of cities have indicated to us they are interested in bidding for, and we will be in close touch with them throughout that process. In relation to the 2005 World Athletics Championships, we worked very closely with UK Athletics, and indeed with the Borough of Enfield, in putting forward a bid to the IAAF, and we are now working very closely with them to make sure that it can be a very successful games. I very much hope that everyone else, from whatever side of this Committee, will get behind that project which can be, I think, of enormous success and benefit. It may well be that in some cases where you come towards the concluding stages of preparing for an event, and where a range of government departments are involved, having a dedicated Minister who can cross departmental boundaries is helpful. I am not convinced that you need a specific Minister just challenged with doing this sort of work on a permanent basis.

Mrs Golding

  544. Good morning, Secretary of State. Good morning, Minister. Are you satisfied with the performance of Sport England and UK Sport in supporting requests to bid for and stage international events and indeed any sporting event? Are you satisfied with their performance?  (Mr Smith) Certainly in relation to the Commonwealth Games, both UK Sport and Sport England have been extremely supportive; they have put very substantial resources into them, and I have every confidence that they will continue to do so. In relation to the World Athletics Championships, give or take the semantic argument which we were having just a moment or two ago, the earmarking within the budget for funding for the stadium is already there, as indeed is the commitment also within their budget to provide funding for the holding of the Championships themselves. So there is real commitment there from both Sport England and UK Sport, and we very much hope they will continue to take that approach to other international events.

  545. Secretary of State, you have now talked about two very major events. There are other international events.  (Kate Hoey) I was going to say that. There are a huge number of small, so-called minority sports events that we host, that we stage and that we do very well in. I think UK Sport, with its sub-committee that it now has on world-class events, has a much more proactive and looking-ahead attitude, so that it is not just about a sport deciding that they automatically want to host a championships, but there needs to be some discussion on whether the benefit of hosting that is actually in the long-term interests of their sport and not just about a one-off event. I think what they have done is they have been bringing their group together, meeting regularly and looking at how again those governing bodies can have much more influence in the international world.

  546. What do you mean by "bringing their group together"? Who is this group?  (Kate Hoey) They have got a staging events sub-committee. I think UK Sport talk about that in their evidence. That brings together the varying governing bodies to talk about how they can best benefit from staging an event, but also learning from the difficulties—for example, what lessons can be learned from things that went wrong or did not go so well with having the World Cricket Championships here. They are having the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Belfast later this year. How could they learn from some of the other events that have been staged in this country? I think that is really the role of UK Sport; it is very much strategic, an overview, sharing the experience. I do genuinely think UK Sport has got a grip of that, within the limited money that they have made available or that we have made available to them.  (Mr Smith) Indeed, I am just checking here through the list. There were, in the year 2000 alone, 15 different international events which received support from UK Sport financially, ranging from the small amounts to things like the World Indoor Bowls Singles Championships, through to more major events like the World Track Championships in cycling. Those have been very successfully supported by UK Sport.  (Kate Hoey) I am sure you yourself will be aware of the support that was given to the European Angling Championships—the Coarse Fishing Championships—last year.

  547. Yes, but not the European Fly Fishing Championships.  (Kate Hoey) I attended. I opened the World Coarse Fishing Championships.

  Chairman: Minister, I think I had better tell you here and now that you are never going to trump Mrs Golding.

Mrs Golding

  548. I must say that I am pleased that at last they seem to be getting their act together, because when Sport England appeared before us first of all, they seemed to have a shortlist of sport beyond which they were not prepared to go or to consider. They certainly seem to have changed, and I hope this Committee has made some contribution to that, but they still have an attitude of "If people come to us and ask." Surely they should be more outgoing, encouraging people if they are considering it; if they have got a sport that they think could host an international event, they should be much more outgoing, rather than waiting for people to come and ask?  (Mr Smith) I would certainly very strongly agree with that as an approach that we would hope both UK Sport and Sport England would take. Indeed, it is part of that can-do approach which I referred to earlier on. I have to say that a fairly crucial difference has been made by the rejuvenation that we were able to put in place following the recommendations of this Committee for UK Sport, because it is the establishment of UK Sport as a Lottery distributor with its own stream of money as well as its Exchequer money that has enabled them to take a much more proactive approach than perhaps they were doing, along with Sport England, before.  (Kate Hoey) Of course, at the moment there is also a review going on into Sport England generally. One of the first quinquennial reviews is looking at the whole way Sport England works, whether it needs to be changed in the way its strategic focus has widened. I think everybody will find that extremely useful.

  549. Secretary of State, you did say that they were the sovereign bodies. I hope they will not be too sovereign, and that you will get a bit more body into them and see that they do the right thing for British sport.  (Mr Smith) Whilst I sympathise with that approach, I must, of course, always bear in mind Mr Faber's injunctions that I must not trespass on the arm's length principle.

  Chairman: That rather says that, does it not?

  Mrs Golding: An excuse for doing nothing.

  Mr Keen: It looks like I am the last one to ask questions at the end of what is possibly the last session of this Committee in this Parliament. Can I say how very much we appreciate the Chairman's running of this Committee as well. I do not know whether global warming will affect the environment in the Gorton constituency and whether we will ever get the Fly Fishing Championships there, but we will do our best

  Chairman: If we can stop North West Water from building its accursed Northside Park Business Park, we can use the reservoirs.

Mr Keen

  550. I am sure the Secretary of State will take note. Christopher Fraser was asking questions about the comparisons of capital costs of the various stadia that were used for major events recently. He seemed to be getting at the fact that Wembley seemed to be costing an awful lot more than the other ones did. The Minister of Sport gave the direct answer that the reason why it was very expensive was because it had a hotel and office complex attached to it, and that is attached to it because of sustainability. Picketts Lock seems to be the opposite, in that it is being built as cheaply as possible because there is not a lot of money left to allocate to it. How will that be sustained, then, if there is nothing other than athletics to sustain it, I would presume?  (Mr Smith) First of all, in relation to Picketts Lock, it is not anyone's intention that it should be built as a cheapskate, cutting-of-corners exercise. We want a good, high-quality stadium. Certainly my expectation is that what we will see from the architects tomorrow is precisely such a stadium. Secondly, the long-term legacy for athletics is precisely why UK Athletics have seen Picketts Lock as something that is of enormous promise for them, because this is not a case of a stadium which has to be built in one mode and then spatchcocked into another mode for some other sport; it is a stadium which can be built for the World Championships and then scaled down to a limited extent so that it is a long-term legacy stadium for athletics, coupled with a high-class performance centre which will be a first conjunction of a stadium facility of this kind, together with a high-class performance centre, with the long-term existence of both the warm-up facility and the throwing facility. That combination is something which is of enormous potential benefit for athletics, both, I regard, for elite athletes who will come to train there, but also for community athletics which, across the whole of north and east London, are at the moment very short of good facilities.

  551. I think that that is very much what UK Athletics have found, but what is going to happen to the other athletics venues? If it is going to cost an awful lot to sustain a stadium of that quality, which you tell us is going to be Picketts Lock, what effect is that going to have on other venues around the country and athletics training centres—Crystal Palace for one, Gateshead for another?  (Mr Smith) First of all, Sport England have already made a very public commitment to improving the facilities at Crystal Palace, and that will, for south London, be a very much enhanced facility. In terms of the National Athletics Centre at Picketts Lock, I think UK Athletics envisage as well as the London Grand Prix held there, and also I think they hope the AAA Championships, but there will be a range of other championships which will be able to be held elsewhere in the country, such as Gateshead, Birmingham and Sheffield, where there are also good-quality athletics facilities. All of that does not take account also of the desire on everyone's part to develop the sport of athletics so that there are more events that the public will want to come to, so that athletics has an increasingly high profile within the sporting calendar. That is something that we are already beginning to see following the success of the Olympics, and I hope following the Commonwealth Games and the World Indoor Championships and the World Outdoor Championships we will see further boosts to the standing and profile of athletics as a sport.

  552. The most regular athletics events are the inter-club competitions on a virtually weekly basis. Many of those tracks struggle to maintain the quality required for that. Will not the amount of money put into Picketts Lock diminish the amount of money that is left to support those grounds?  (Mr Smith) The commitments that are already being worked up for the long-term running costs of Picketts Lock, both from the Borough of Enfield and, we also hope—as I think is seen in the evidence the Committee received from the London Marathon Trust, will, I am sure, enable good-quality maintenance of Picketts Lock as a facility to take place and, as I envisage it, both being used for the high-class performance work which will be ongoing and continuous, but also, I would hope, for a lot of schools' and community use across London.

  553. Moving on to the world stage, we understand that there are changes proposed, or that can be put into being, by FIFA, for instance, and the IOC, in the method of selecting host nations. Are you happy with those changes that are being made?  (Mr Smith) We think that progress is being made.  (Kate Hoey) I think that certainly the IOC has attempted—indeed, I think it has succeeded—in being much more transparent about how it is handling the bid process, because the next decision will be in early July. I still think for all of us who care passionately about what is happening really to our constituents' daily lives in terms of sporting opportunities, we have to be concerned at the huge amounts of money that need to be spent by countries in order to win championships. As it happened, staging the 2005 Athletics Championships and winning that did not actually cost us that much money, and it was not in the scale of an Olympics bid. They certainly have made it difficult. I personally welcome FIFA's changes in terms of how we can perhaps have a more understandable way of choosing who should host the World Cup. Again, it gets back to my earlier point that for too long this country has lost out in terms of its influence in international bodies, and we have not had people in the bodies that mattered, to be putting forward what I am sure would be sensible views and helping to realise that money being spent on the kind of glitz that went on, the present-giving and the wining and dining, is actually not very sensible.

  554. Do you think that Government should take a more proactive role in insisting on changes? I will give you one example in football. The European competitions are increasing year by year in the number of games involved to get through to the final stage. It seems to grow, rather than a decision being taken on where we would like to be in ten years' time and what sort of European competitions there should be. It seems to me that that is really because it is the football bodies wanting to get as much money as they can into their own coffers, rather than looking at the future of the game. Do you think the Government should take a view on that?  (Kate Hoey) Of course, Government does not run football, and we do run the risk, particularly in such a high-media sport, that every time you make a comment on football it becomes a headline. I think that our involvement and our role has to be to try to influence and support, and, certainly as Minister for Sport, to get governing bodies to accept their responsibilities and-long-term development of the sport, and also in terms of getting participation rates increasing. I think we are seeing a change now, in that most of our bigger governing bodies of sport do recognise that they have a responsibility, and therefore that some of the money from television rights should be going down and should be earmarked to go down to a clear development plan. Cricket, rugby and tennis and more recently football in the Football Foundation are making that difference. I think we can only influence in a way that is by sometimes saying things that they do not like to hear, that they do not want us to say, and kind of encouraging them to be responsible and long-term, not to make short-term fixes in terms of instant money which long-term may not be for the best development of the sport.

  555. You have mentioned in response to my question that it is getting the money down to the grass roots, but also on a world scale it is getting the money to the nations that have very little. People have already mentioned this morning about should we not be encouraging major events to go to Africa, and we could help the funding in Africa, rather than competing ourselves against them. As my final question, do you not think that we should be much more proactive as a government in world sport, rather than trying to say the right things to try to influence sporting bodies to take better action? It is so wishy-washy, is it not?  (Kate Hoey) I think that for sport more recently there has always been this debate over many years about sport and politics not mixing. Clearly sport is politics, and politics have to involve sport. Certainly on a European scale the Sports Ministers meet regularly and have very interesting discussions about how we can try to make things better in terms of looking at a number of these issues, and particularly on the aspect of drug abuse in sport which is a huge, huge problem and something for which I believe governments have a responsibility and in which they have a role to play. Like in so many things, sport only really becomes an issue of interest to the media when something goes wrong. There is not a development of a long-term interest in the media generally. It did not take very long for most newspapers to start thinking about other sports after the Olympics. So I think we all have a responsibility.

  Mr Keen: At least there are no drugs or use of drugs in fly fishing.

  Chairman: Secretary of State, Minister, we would like to thank you very much for giving us so much time today. The members of the Committee will remain behind for private deliberations, but this concludes the public evidence sessions on this inquiry. I would like to thank everybody who has participated, and I hope I will not be unreasonably controversial if I wish everybody a Happy Easter.

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