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5.26 pm

Nick Harvey (North Devon): I welcome the opportunity to debate such important matters this afternoon and to consider the Select Committee's excellent report, which was described in characteristic style by the Chairman.

The background to the debate is the failure of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to provide a long-term strategy for sport in this country. The Government's withdrawal of Picketts Lock as the venue for the world athletics championships should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has studied the Department's performance in recent years. It merely represents another missed opportunity for British sport.

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The first aspect to note about the handling of the bid for the world athletics championships is the damage that it has done, not only to the Government and their Ministers, past and present, but to this country's sporting future. The United Kingdom's failure to recognise sport and make it an integral part of the country's culture, health and social fabric is laying waste all sorts of opportunities to promote sport and fitness in this country.

Our failure to provide a venue in London, thereby sacrificing the 2005 championships, was not only embarrassing for Ministers but harmful to many others. It has almost certainly jeopardised any bids that this country makes in the foreseeable future. The world athletics championships are the third biggest sporting event in the world. London would have hosted 3,000 athletes and officials, and the event would have been broadcast across the world to an audience of millions. We should make no mistake: London is more than capable of staging such an event, given the right planning and preparation. Manchester is successfully preparing for the Commonwealth games next year. The relatively small Canadian city of Edmonton held the last world athletics championships, and Kuala Lumpur hosted the last Commonwealth games.

London is larger and more populous than both Manchester and Edmonton, and more economically successful than Kuala Lumpur when it held the Commonwealth games. It can arguably harness a bigger and more enthusiastic sporting audience than any of those cities. If London's bid had been coherent and well thought through, I have no doubt that it could have been successful.

However, if we are now an international laughing stock, judged incapable of holding the world athletics championships—the third biggest event—we have surely lost any chance of hosting the Olympics or football's world cup finals. The Department's actions have not only injured the Department itself but flattened any hopes that the British Olympic Association or the Football Association might have had of hosting either tournament.

The withdrawal of Picketts Lock has also been damaging to the country's athletes. A home venue gives athletes a competitive advantage, and the world athletics championships would have brought significant financial benefits to our sports people. However, those unique sponsorship and training opportunities have been denied to them by inept organisation and, if the report is to be believed, by deals struck in smoky kitchens.

The most fundamental problem is that the loss of the championships has robbed the country of the chance to witness something spectacular and inspirational, and robbed us too of a generation of sporting heroes. School playing fields continue to be sold off, and the two-hour mandatory minimum for school physical education is missed in three age groups out of four. Our children lead more sedentary lives than ever before, yet the opportunity has been missed to present sport in its best light—as competitive and healthy and as an inspiration.

The failure to stage an event of such importance is indicative of a greater failure to provide an overarching sports strategy for the country as a whole. On the one hand, Ministers hope that this country will be able to support Olympic and football world cup bids. On the other

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hand, however, they do not believe it to be Government's responsibility to co-ordinate, back or underwrite them. As recently as last week, an answer from the Minister for Sport indicated that the responsibility for such matters resided with the governing bodies of the individual sports.

The message is therefore divided: we want the events, but it is down to individual cities, regions or sports bodies to take responsibility for organising them. Surely the lesson to be learned from this fiasco is that in the future it must be central Government's responsibility to take matters by the scruff of the neck. They should decide whether serious bids are to be made and, if so, to see them through.

We have been told that the money saved from the abortive bid—it is not really money saved at all, but money lost and time wasted—will be ploughed back into athletics. Yet we are also told that the demands on Sport England must now be met from an ever-decreasing pot of resources. Our ambitions for the future must be matched with greater resources, and they will probably have to come from Government.

A decision must also be made about our priorities. Do we want high-profile world events, or should we concentrate on grass roots development? With Sport England's pot declining from £325 million a couple of years ago to a projected £180 million in 2003, we cannot, at the current rate of progress, attempt to do both.

The Minister for Sport described last week how disappointed he was that the IAAF had rejected the offer to hold the championships in Sheffield, which he said would have provided an outstanding venue for the 2005 championships. However, that invites the following question: if Sheffield was such an ideal location, why did the Department throw its weight behind an expensive but seemingly superfluous facility in London? Either Sheffield was adequate as a venue, or Picketts Lock would have been another expensive white elephant. It would have followed other white elephants such as the millennium dome, which was also the Department's responsibility, so perhaps the Department should consider establishing a zoo.

The flawed bid to hold the championships at Picketts Lock was, we are told, likely to have cost between £90 million and £120 million. That was before Carter reported on problems with transport, location and accommodation.

The hastily prepared bid to hold the championships at Sheffield—where many of the facilities already exist, and where the greatest cost would have been increasing seating capacity to 43,000, compared to 60,000 at Edmonton—would have cost about £25 million. In either case, there is no doubt that such events cannot be solely supported or underwritten by Sport England.

The chairman of Sport England, Trevor Brooking, said last week that he saw no way this country could ever bid for an Olympics or a world cup without the Government being involved directly and financially. I agree that there is no way that the most recent Olympics in Sydney could have passed off so successfully without the backing of Australia's central Government.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): The stadium company is now bankrupt.

Nick Harvey: It is neither fair nor sensible that individual cities or regions—or individual sports

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governing bodies—should bear the sole and exclusive financial risks of hosting one of the three big multi-venue events. As the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) noted from a sedentary position, the high cost of the Olympics has affected the profitability of the stadium company, which is now bankrupt. However, no gains could have been made if the Australian Government had not been willing to accept the risk and the liability throughout the duration of the games. They will have to oversee the legacy, which—for now—is a bankrupt stadium.

It is true that some of the benefits that such tournaments bring—improved infrastructure and a wider range of facilities—accrue solely to the city that hosts the event, but there are many other aspects of holding big international events that benefit the profile and economy of the entire country. That is why it is right for central Government to adopt a hands-on approach and take responsibility for such ventures. However, what this Government have done is to make the Football Association a gift of £120 million, instead of investing the money in a national home for athletics.

That sum has gone to the country's richest sport, which reaps huge rewards and profits from television receipts. Moreover, if the report is to be believed, the terms of the deal were altered fundamentally at a private meeting in the house of the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), at which no appropriate civil servant was present.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as he has referred directly and inaccurately to me. A meeting did indeed take place between Mr. Ken Bates and me. A civil servant was present and took a full minute of the meeting. The record rests in the Department.

Nick Harvey: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I do not know whether he is specifically contradicting the report's account of where the meeting took place, but I am grateful to him for commenting.

There seems to have been no viable, credible or coherent business plan in place to support the Wembley project. At the very least, we can say that Sport England should have made that a precondition for agreeing to any grant. We are not yet privy to the Carter report on Wembley, which needs to be placed in the public domain before we can arrive at absolute conclusions about this saga.

In addition, it is clear that no further money has been invested in athletics, either at its grass roots or its apex; so football has £120 million of lottery players' money gathering interest in its coffers. That money was given on the basis of fulfilling criteria that were initially flawed, later changed and recently removed altogether.

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