Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Seventh Report

4 Role models in sport

The influence of sport and sporting heroes

111. The interest of the British public in sport and sporting heroes is undeniable. The influence that their behaviour on and off the pitch, court and track—can have is strong and pervasive. The British Psychological Society (BPS) wrote that "due to their success and prominence in the public domain, sports heroes are likely to act as role models to a wide range of individuals, from those who have only a casual interest in sports activities to those with aspirations to achieve greatness."[178] The society's evidence cited a number of factors leading to the absorption and emulation of the endorsements and behaviour of leading sportsmen and -women. For example, in the US the volunteer rate, amongst university students, to assist an AIDS victim carry out a school project went from 0 to 83% once basketball star Magic Johnson had announced he was a victim of the disease.[179]

112. This influence can of course cut both ways. The BPS described the example set by such figures as being received "uncritically" and it said that, for example, "mixed messages" whether conveyed by sportsmen and -women, coaches and managers or by the apparent inconsistency of sports authorities in the way they treat high-profile cases, will "undermine campaigns to reduce or eliminate the use of drugs in sport".[180] Sporting conduct can also have an impact on the behaviour of young people, whether aspiring elite athletes or amateur players. The attitude of elite and professional players to the rules, and to referees, linesmen and umpires, is likely to have an influence on the values and behaviour of younger spectators. The Minister for Sport said that a lot of teachers told him that "what happens on the football field on a Saturday afternoon is replicated in the playground on Monday morning, and some of it is not very desirable as far as sport is concerned."[181] He said that he had written to football club chairmen in 2002 asking them to raise this issue with managers and players.[182] Mr Caborn did point to the role of the media in this area, in that "the vast majority of players" took their role model responsibilities seriously but, unfortunately, "when there is a misdemeanour committed, it gets blown out of all proportion on the back pages."[183]

113. Sporting values—physical prowess, talent and skill within a context of team spirit and fair play— create expectations that, for instance, the more raffish nature of being a popular music icon does not. Our evidence was clear on the influence that sportsmen and -women can exert over people, particularly young people, to participate in sport. Our witnesses were also virtually unanimous in accepting that sportspeople have consequent responsibilities to behave appropriately. Mr Mark Richardson, 400 metre runner, told us that it is crucial to have role models and that sport provides a "fantastic platform for that". He said that sportsmen and -women are in a very privileged position—"they are living the dream"—and had to conduct themselves in a proper manner because of their "very powerful and influencing effect on the younger generation".[184]

114. Mr David Moorcroft, Chief Executive of UK Athletics, also told us "the future of our sport is built on positive role models, because parents have a huge influence and parents will watch a sport and wish, or not, their children to take part in that sport."[185] Ms Sue Campbell, Chair of UK Sport, said that even young people at school will become leaders of their peers from the vantage point of the school first-team.[186] She said that the public funding for elite athletes created a potential call for some involvement in community contribution.[187]

115. Sir Trevor Brooking,[188] Director of Football Development at the FA, said that close and intense media coverage—leading to fairly instant role model status—was "a fact of life in professional football". He said that coverage of controversial matters masked the very large amount of good work that went on and the very large number of excellent role models within the game (a point echoed by the athlete, Mr Mark Richardson).[189] Sir Trevor told us: "The FA, as the governing body of the sport, tries to emphasise to players, particularly when they are getting to first team level and then on into the national arena, to accept their responsibility … Lots of youngsters will look up to them and they have to take that responsibility seriously."[190] Sir Trevor said that, despite the best efforts of The FA, and of professional clubs, in providing education, training and support for all their players, relevant to their perceived responsibilities as well as media pressure (from the first team to the teenagers in football academies), "there are individual weaknesses and you cannot monitor the players for 24 hours of the day."[191]

Appropriate demands

116. Ms Campell said it was clear that athletes, not least as recipients of public funding, should be role models in terms of their conduct within the sporting arena. For example, remaining 'drug-free' was a contractual obligation under the terms of an athlete's personal award from either UK Sport or Sport England (and equivalent terms were included in the funding agreements for publicly-supported sports governing bodies). Ms Campbell said, however, that some athletes would not have the aptitude to perform in a non-sporting forum, for example, speaking at a school assembly.[192] The British Athletes Commission supported this argument and called for more thought, organisation and resources to go into initiatives designed to exploit the power of sporting achievement by visits from athletes to schools and other youth organisations.[193]

117. The FA saw the issue of role models as part of a much wider agenda whereby football "as the nation's game" can touch "hearts and minds within every constituency" and "has a great ability to assist in key Government priority areas".[194] Evidence from the FA and the FA Premier League gave a great many examples of national and local programmes through which football clubs and players made contributions back to the community.[195] The Professional Footballers Association pointed to the standard contractual obligation on professional footballers to put in six hours per week community work (and there are similar obligations within rugby).[196]

118. We note the research quoted by DCMS which indicates that sporting heroes are likely to exert more influence on young people than anyone other than their immediate family.[197] If sports governing bodies do not take strong steps to tackle instances of poor and/or aggressive attitude towards the rules of their sport, and towards the officials charged with implementing those rules, then the messages being sent out from sport will be extremely damaging to the next generation of sportsmen and -women and also have a negative effect on the wider values being absorbed by impressionable young people. Given that observance of the rules is integral to good sporting conduct, especial efforts to ensure such conduct on the field of play should not be seen as an external burden on sport but rather it should be an objective of every responsible governing body, and sporting participant, at the elite or professional level.

119. There seem to be, however, implications of the public profile of sportsmen and -women that do create wider expectations than simply good conduct on the field of play. It is impossible to over-estimate the impact and influence of sportspeople on young people who admire, follow and emulate their heroes' activities on and off the pitch, court and track. We urge sporting authorities, managers and coaches to bear this in mind in all the advice, training and wider guidance provided to their athletes and players.

Promoting sport and physical activity

120. The Government's public health agenda has recently developed a significant dimension focused on the benefits of more active lifestyles (particularly amongst young people). The example set by current sportsmen and -women is obviously going to contribute to any efforts to encourage the public into grassroots, as well as competitive, sporting activity. Sport England is responsible for the delivery of this agenda and its mission is to make England "an active and successful sporting nation" and "to create opportunities for people to get involved in sport, to stay in sport and to excel and succeed in sport at every level."[198] Sports themselves have a particular interest in the promotion of grassroots participation as volunteers and players are likely also to be 'consumers' of the professional or elite sport (as well as including potential future champions).

121. Major sporting events such as the Olympics, world cups and grand slam tennis tournaments are notorious for producing short term peaks in levels of participation in the sports in question in one form or another. Sport England's key initiative to use the power of sporting personalities to extend this effect is Sporting Champions established in 2002 with a budget in 2003-04 of £300,000. The initiative is a programme of visits of sports stars and emerging talent, from a wide range of sports and disciplines, to schools and other youth organisations in England (with an analogous programme in Scotland). Each visit involved a combination of speaking and Q&A at assemblies and in class groups; coaching and demonstration; showing cups, caps and medals; signing autographs; and presenting awards. In 2003, 339 visits were undertaken, reaching over 90,000 children, with a feedback rating of "very good" recorded at 66.5%. The initiative has recruited 398 English 'champions' representing 69 sports. Sport England reported that considerations was being given to using the initiative to maximise the impact of its other programmes aimed at promoting sport in schools, colleges, school/club crossovers and the Gifted and Talented programme.[199]

122. Ms Guinevere Batten, Olympic rowing silver medallist and representative of the British Athletes Commission (BAC), argued for more account to be taken of practical considerations in initiatives such as Sporting Champions which do not always take account of the demands on athletes in training.[200] Sport England's evidence said that mentoring and some training is offered to the sportspeople participating in the scheme but it seemed clear that more could be done. The British Athletes Commission suggested that more use could be made of recently retired elite athletes, pointing to the demands that elite athletes already face in training, recovering from training and travelling overseas.[201] Mr Adam Pengilly, British bob sleigh team, recognised that training to work with children, for example, might have benefits for athletes in terms of broadening the "obsessive" attitude that athletes were sometimes seen to have towards their sports.[202] Ms Batten pointed out a number of simple issues which needed consideration such as travel times between the home, or training venue, of the sporting champion and the school in question; as well as the risks to the athlete's preparations posed by exposure to the concentration of viruses inevitable in a school environment.[203]

123. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) emphasised the results of UK Sport's review of sporting conduct amongst which were the findings that while sporting standards in cricket and football were perceived to have fallen, those in tennis were regarded as having risen (with 92% of spectators believing that professional tennis players acted in a fair and sporting manner). The LTA also pointed out that while 70% of sports supporters thought that sportspeople were good role models, 85% of tennis supporters thought that professional players were good role models.[204] The LTA said that it supported the Government's sports and public health agenda and was proud to support initiatives such as City Tennis Clubs and Sport Relief aimed at greater inclusivity in tennis. The LTA had committed £1 million to the City Tennis Club scheme which is aimed at deprived inner-city areas with an under-provision of tennis facilities and linked to relevant schools.[205]

124. The FA suggested that football's status as Britain's most popular sport indicates that there is the potential for it to make a significant contribution to the Government's target for encouraging further physical activity and healthy living amongst the population. Currently 7 million adults, and 5 million children, regularly play amateur football and it is the top participation sport for females. The FA invested up to £50 million per year in the grassroots game working in partnership with local authorities and local education authorities and schools, local professional clubs, Football in the Community and other local organisations.[206]

125. The FA said that, together with the Premier League, it contributed £40 million per year to the Football Foundation, matched to date, by an annual lottery award. In total, for every £1 of public money invested, the Foundation has secured an additional investment of £5. The Foundation has objectives that span sport and wider social objectives:

  • to put into place a new generation of modern facilities in parks, local leagues and schools;
  • to provide capital/revenue support to increase participation in grass roots football ; and
  • to strengthen the links between football and the community and to harness its potential as a force for good in society.[207]

126. The FA said that English football already operated "by far the most redistributive structure applied by football in any European country". This was in some contrast to the DCMS' spending which, on the analysis of the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR), was £103 million in 2003-04: the lowest of any major European country and less than half the per capita investment made by France.[208] We look forward to detailed announcements from DCMS on how it will be tackling its new Public Service Agreement targets—set out in the 2004 Comprehensive Spending Review—to increase participation in sport amongst children and priority groups and halt the year on year rise in obesity amongst under-11 year-olds.[209] We expect to see enhanced levels of investment in the key grassroots sports where the highest levels of participation can be achieved in the most cost-effective manner.

127. The example of professional football clubs and players clearly plays a large part in creating an appetite to participate in the grassroots game. It is important that the means exist to satisfy this hunger, for football and other sports. The FA said that the single most important issue in the grassroots game was an estimated £2 billion worth of investment needed in facilities to meet the current level of demand to play football in society. In addition to this financial demand there was a need for a fresh look at playing field protection. Around 75% of football is played on publicly-owned land. The FA said that, on average, one playing field comes under threat from a planning application every day and that "The DCMS and other relevant departments do not appear to be doing enough to ensure that PPG17 [the relevant policy planning guidance] is properly enforced, and consequently vital grassroots facilities are being lost."[210]

128. We raised a number of issues around the protection of playing fields in March 2004 (in the course of commenting on the DCMS' overall performance in 2002-03). The Department's response was that in 2002-03, 90% of planning applications that involved playing fields were neutral or beneficial to sport. Benefits were identified as including all-weather pitches, multi-sport centres, swimming pools, floodlights, changing rooms or replacement pitches.[211] The FA said, however, that football had the most to lose from the erosion of publicly-owned playing fields and unmarked, "jumpers for goalposts", open space. Ways of avoiding PPG17 strictures altogether, such as land re-designation, and the issue of site-size thresholds (ignoring the rise in popularity of mini-soccer) may also play a significant role in this debate.[212] We recommend that the DCMS, Sport England, The FA (and other relevant sports governing bodies) sit down with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and establish an effective audit process that will be able to settle arguments over the real outcomes for sport from the implementation of planning policy in respect of playing fields.

Promoting wider objectives

129. The British Psychological Society referred to a "halo" effect where sporting prowess, in other words skill in one particular area, is seen as conferring authority and expertise in another quite different area or range of other areas.[213] This presumably is the basis of sponsorship of events, teams and individuals by non-sporting businesses keen to associate their telephone services, airlines or beverages with an exciting and successful sport or sportsperson. The Government, however, is another customer for the benefits of these 'haloes'. The FA, the FA Premier League (FAPL) and the PFA all supplied evidence of a long list of initiatives, at both national and local levels, where the power of sporting role models, and of the game itself, was being harnessed to promote a very wide range of non-sporting objectives, including:

·  the promotion of numeracy, literacy and other parts of the curriculum, community involvement, disabled access and rehabilitation after drugs and/or crime; and

·  the discouragement of racism and other forms of discrimination, social exclusion and crime.[214]

The FA Premier League said that a study had valued the annual contribution to local communities from the Premier League and its clubs at £70 million (redistributed to good causes and reaching nearly 4 million people).[215]

130. The DCMS said that the behaviour of sportspeople is emulated by young people and that the "Government firmly believes that the value of sport goes way beyond personal enjoyment and fulfilment. It is a powerful tool that can help the Government to achieve a number of ambitious goals". In addition to improved health, national pride and identity (the more traditional virtues of sporting prowess) the benefits of sporting participation were said to include:

·  improved confidence;

·  diversion from drugs and crime;

·  teaching self-discipline and teamwork; and

·  encouraging dedication, determination, time-management and overcoming adversity.

The Government said that, despite the unlikelihood that a majority of youngsters would progress to champion status, the life skills acquired through the participation in sport would help young people undertake tertiary education, take up employment and pursue successful careers in other fields.[216]

Sport and education

131. In addition to these 'side-effects' of sporting values, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) runs a scheme aimed at tapping more directly into the mystique of sport in order to motivate school children. Playing for success is a Department for Education and Skills initiative, established in 1997, in partnership originally with football (the FA, Premier League, Nationwide League, clubs) and English local education authorities. Other sports have come on board since 2000 including rugby, league and union, cricket, hockey, ice hockey, tennis, gymnastics and basketball. The scheme provides out of school hours study support centres within football clubs and at other sports' clubs, grounds and venues. The centres use the environment and medium of sport to help motivate selected pupils (identified by their schools) providing them with a boost in literacy, numeracy and ICT skills.[217]

132. In 2004, 89 football and other sports clubs were signed up to the full scheme (including every Premier League club) and 83 have opened centres to date. Around 90,000 pupils have benefited so far, and over 40,000 will benefit each year when all centres are open. Funding is based on a three way-partnership between Government (Department for Education and Skills and local education authorities through the Standards Fund), the sports clubs and business sponsors. The DfES allocation to the scheme for 2004-05 is £9 million. In 2002, the Football Foundation committed £1 million over three years (subject to matched Government spending) to support centres in football clubs outside the FA Premier and Division One leagues.[218]

133. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has carried out a number of evaluations of the initiative which have found increasing significant educational and developmental gains amongst attendees over successive years in numeracy, reading comprehension, ICT skills, study skills, self-image and general attitude to education. The scheme reached its target group of underachieving pupils with improvements regardless of gender, experience of deprivation, ethnicity or fluency in English.[219]

134. We were able to discuss this programme with Somerset County Cricket Club during a visit to Taunton on another inquiry. We were struck by the enthusiasm of representatives of the club, and of the local schools, for this scheme, and by the liveliness of participating school pupils.

Sport and social exclusion

135. The FA also reported a partnership between football, Sport England and the Home Office within a scheme, launched in 2000, called Positive Futures. The initiative was aimed at engaging otherwise marginalised young people living in deprived areas of England and Wales. The scheme's objective is to exert positive influence on participants' drug abuse, physical activity and offending behaviour by widening their horizons and providing access to different lifestyle, educational and employment opportunities. The scheme has a large sporting component (83% of participants) and, within this figure, football plays a significant role (63% of sporting activities). The summary findings of evaluation of the scheme identified sport as "a powerful catalyst, attracting and engaging marginalised young people, and operating as a platform to raise young people's aspirations." The FA said that the Football Foundation had contributed £4 million to complement the Home Office's £15 million and that the scheme had helped some 35,000 young people over the past 4 years.[220]

136. We were deeply impressed by the extent of the commitment of sports in Britain—especially football—to the communities in which they are based and to wider society. We recognise that there are some very practical reasons why sports might invest to attract future generations of players, supporters and consumers and to ensure good relations with government. However, the existing partnerships between sports bodies and public authorities demonstrate that sport is a willing and able partner for the Government on a range of policy issues and indicates that there is the potential for further gains on the back of the effective investment of public resources.

Setting examples

137. It is clear that the vast majority of sporting heroes—and the signals emanating from sport more generally—promote highly laudable examples and values in terms of elite sporting achievement, the general benefits of sporting participation and other personal development goals. The Government has allocated expenditure to initiatives exploiting these links and many sports—football in particular—have given evidence of significant investments, and the meeting of considerable demands, from resources of their own. We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lead a cross-departmental review of the existing array of sport-related initiatives to promote public policy benefits. This review should:

138. We believe that recently-retired sportsmen and -women—with good track records and high public profiles—represent a pool of talent with particular potential for meeting the demands of new 'role-modelling' initiatives.

Ev 129 Back

179   Ev 129-130 Back

180   Ev 130 Back

181   Q 291 Back

182   Q291 Back

183   Q 292 Back

184   QQ 207 and 212 Back

185   Q 212 Back

186   Q 377 Back

187   Q 377 Back

188   Mr Trevor Brooking, former England international and West Ham football player (and former Chairman of Sport England) was announced as being awarded a knighthood on 12 June 2004 (between giving evidence to the Committee and preparation of this Report). Back

189   Q 305 Back

190   Q 307 Back

191   Q 308 Back

192   Q 377 Back

193   Ev 90 Back

194   Ev 74 Back

195   Ev 75ff, 88ff and 131ff Back

196   Ev 140 Back

197   Ev 50 Back

198   Ev 119 Back

199   Ev 120-123 Back

200   Q 351 Back

201   Ev 90 Back

202   Q 365 Back

203   Q 351 Back

204   Ev 125 Back

205   Ev 125 Back

206   Ev 69 and 77 Back

207   The Football Foundation, June 2004 Back

208   Ev 77 Back

209   2004 Spending Review, Stability, security and opportunity for all: investing for Britain's long-term future, New Public Spending Plans 2005-2008, 12 July 2004, Cm 6237, page 155. Back

210   Ev 88 Back

211   Government Response to the Committee's Second Report, 2003-04, DCMS Annual Report: Work of the Department in 2002-03, Cm 6242, paragraph 3. Back

212   Ev 88 and Second Report from the Committee, 2003-04, HC 74, paragraph 24 and note 23. Back

213   Ev 130 Back

214   Ev 75 Back

215   Ev 131 Back

216   Ev 53 Back

217   Department for Education and Skills website, 2004 Back

218   Department for Education and Skills, news release 2004/0112, 24 May 2004. Back

219   Ibid Back

220   Positive Futures: Monitoring & Evaluation Progress Report June 2003, 04/09/2003, Drugs Strategy Directorate, Home Office, 2004 Back

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