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26 Jan 2010 : Column 248WH—continued

26 Jan 2010 : Column 249WH

2012 Olympic Legacy

1.30 pm

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Caton, for allowing this debate on the UK school games and the 2012 Olympic legacy. A quiet revolution has been going on in this country in school sports, particularly over the past decade. In 2000, around 25 per cent. of our young people experienced two hours of quality physical activity or sport a week, and by 2009 that had increased to over 90 per cent., which means just under 4 million hours more of sport and physical activity a week in our education system.

When I was Minister for Sport I discovered the real depth of talent we have in our schools. Although we had, and still have, competition managers who do a fantastic job in the school sports partnerships, many said that they wanted to try to find a system in which we could bring the very best of our young people together to perform against each other, and in doing so we would sharpen up the competition.

However, we would also be able to do something else. Those who have been able to go to the Olympics or the Commonwealth games will undoubtedly know that they are totally different from any other sports event. In single sports events one goes to see one event, such as athletics or hockey, but when one brings all the sports together-there are 27 in the summer Olympics-and the athletes live in the camp, eating together and socialising, and then competing against one another, many of them are often put off by that atmosphere, particularly in their first experience of a multi-sports event, such as the Commonwealth games or the Olympics.

Therefore, there was some discussion about how we could reproduce for our young people that type of experience: to come in, have an opening ceremony and then compete. In the margins of that we could bring Olympians in to do mock anti-doping-I hope it is mock-so that the young people get all that experience. The person who epitomised all that is none other than Darren Campbell, a good friend of the UK school games. Darren stated in an article on those games:

He summed up well what we are trying to achieve by giving the young people the experience of participating in the UK school games.

Two important events in this regard came together in 2005: London, as many people know, won the right to stage the 2012 Olympics; and the Millennium Commission, which I happened to chair at the time, was winding down. It had a few bob in the bank that it did not plan to spend, so the longest serving trustee, Michael Heseltine, and I got together and decided, because 2012 was on the horizon, that it would not be a bad idea if some of that surplus money was put to good use by trying to create a platform of a legacy for our young people in schools and taking that forward.

Those two things came together, and the board agreed that some of the commission's surplus would be used to develop a sports event for young people that would run
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up to the Olympics, and hopefully beyond. That was in part how the UK school games came into being. At the same time, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown), was very supportive and chucked a few bob into the pot. There was a suggestion that we call the event the school Olympics, and I can assure you that there was absolute hell on that point, because one cannot use the coveted word "Olympics".

What I want to make clear for the press in particular, and to those of the press who have not come to the debate, is that they tend to criticise us, including the Sports Minister, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), and claim that we do not have enough competitions in schools and do not do enough to provide the facilities for competition, but I have never heard such claptrap. First, as I have said, the participation rate among young people in education has increased here more than in any other country. Secondly, we have competition managers. Thirdly, we are developing new types of structures, such as the UK school games. The latter is not a glorified sports day; we are trying to give the very best to our young people in order to equip them for the international stage and to give them confidence and experience. Together, experience and confidence result in a winning team.

I therefore say to the press, "Instead of carping, come to the UK school games. Come and see what our young people are doing. Come and experience it." It will be in Gateshead this year and in Sheffield, the centre of the universe, in 2011. I shall speak later about 2012. The press ought to start reporting on our young people. Since Glasgow in 2006, many have gone into the Olympics. Many performed in the Beijing Olympics, and have gone on to the international heights in their sports.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I pick up on the point about newspapers. Only one national newspaper gives school sport significant coverage, and that is The Daily Telegraph. It is not often that we on these Benches congratulate that newspaper. That sort of investment in reporting is important for our sporting superstars of the future. Perhaps my hon. Friend should congratulate The Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. However, it is not only The Daily Telegraph; it is also Gareth Davies, who is an institution in his own right. I compliment him on what he writes about the UK school games; as my hon. Friend says, he keeps school sports and grass-roots sport in the national newspapers, and all credit to him. If one or two journalists followed Gareth Davies, I am pretty sure that readers would be much more enlightened about what is happening within the school structure, and how we are preparing young people to perform on the international stage.

That is how the UK school games came about. It started in Glasgow in 2006. It has grown from 1,000 athletes in five sports in Glasgow to 1,600 athletes last year in Wales. I see that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is with us today. With his colleagues from Bristol, he put on a fantastic games in 2008. As we have gone down the country-from Glasgow to Coventry, to Bath and Bristol, to Cardiff and Wales-we have been left a legacy of young people who have volunteered to officiate.

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Yes, many of the spectators really enjoyed what they saw at those first-class events, but that is on the day. The hon. Gentleman gave me a note the other day about the spin-offs. There have been eight sports festivals in the sub-region, with family fun days; and there were 156 new school sports competitions, engaging 15,000 young people of whom 9,000 were new to school competition. It also involved the recruitment and training of 270 volunteers; that is a legacy that we should treasure. It also brought £2.4 million into the local economy. It shows what impact the UK school games can have on cities.

That development has been taking place and it has left a legacy. This year, the UK school games will be in Gateshead, in the north-east. I hope that there will be a greater number of sports. In 2011, it will be going to Sheffield; and we may have as many as 12 or 14 sports and nearly 2,000 athletes. That is close to the figure that we see in other multi-sports event, such as the Commonwealth games. That is the type of experience that we are able to give our young people. As I said, we have seen many of those young people competing in international events.

Eleanor Simmonds was the youngest ever British Paralympic champion, and that reminds me that I should also say that we have integrated the Paralympics in many sports, as well as the able-bodied Olympics being integrated. That has been a huge success. I have to pay tribute to a number of people who have made that happen, particularly the governing bodies, which have been first class in supporting the UK school games. Many of those bodies are now saying that the UK school games is influencing the way that they schedule the competitions for their particular sports, which are coinciding with the games around the September period.

I also pay tribute to the Youth Sport Trust, which is a first class organisation in its own right, for what it does in schools. It has embraced the UK school games as an integral part of the development of the school sports partnership. As ever more young people are playing more sport and participating in physical activity, it has been able to start building a pyramid with excellence at the top. Under the leadership of Steve Granger that organisation has done a first class job.

Fast Track has brought to the UK school games the professionalism that it brings to all the work it does. We have seen some of the top officials coming into the UK school games, aided and abetted by Fast Track, which is a very professional organisation.

Young people, such as Emma Wilkins in 2007 and Craig Hamilton in 2008, took medals at the UK school games and went on to join the squad with our Olympic champions, Rebecca Adlington, David Davies and Jo Jackson. That shows that, as young people come through the UK school games system and through the competition management and development system of the school sports partnership, they move on to the highest level internationally in their sport, representing our country somewhat better equipped than they would have been had they not had that experience.

Where do we go in 2012? It will be a fantastic year, there is no doubt about that, with the Olympics, the Paras and the build up to that. But looking a little bit beyond that, what will happen to the facilities? What happened in Beijing? More than 20,000 a day went to
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see those facilities after the Olympics in Beijing. People want to experience those facilities. What would be better than holding the four days of the UK school games there after the Paras close? More than 2,000 young people, who are at the top of their sport, will be able to experience the place where the great athletes of the world will probably have broken records and will definitely have won gold medals, a lot of which I hope will be from Britain. Those young people will be able to perform in those facilities before they are reconfigured in legacy mode.

It is important to ensure that part of our legacy includes giving as many young people as possible the experience of performing. The Olympics is a once in a lifetime-perhaps a once in two lifetimes-opportunity. The last Olympics held in Britain was in 1948. Not many hon. Members in this Chamber were born in 1948, but I was-

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I was.

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman says that he was born in 1948.

What a great experience it will be for those young people to perform in those facilities. They will have those memories for the rest of their lives. That is part of the legacy. What will be even better is for all those young people around the UK who have seen great athletes on television performing in those facilities for three or four weeks to visit and see their peer group perform there too and, in doing that, experience the facilities for themselves.

It would be even better than that if we told every secondary school in this country in the next few weeks that they could have 60 to 70 places, allowing young people to come to London and watch young athletes in their peer group perform, and thereby experience the facilities. I do not think that that is impossible. In fact, discussions are taking place now with the commercial world-businesses-to see whether we can get sponsorship for every secondary school, which is some 3,000 secondary schools, throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. We will tell 60 or 70 young people from those secondary schools that they can come to London and have some type of competition-as the hon. Member for Bath did on a small scale for a number of schools in relation to the UK school games. That could be replicated across the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that one of the problems with the Olympics-it is a fact of life-is that is has a draw-down factor to London, because inevitably that it where the action will take place. Some of the regions feel a bit left out. We have done our best to ensure that the impact has been nationwide, but it is always difficult. Inviting every secondary school to send 60 or 70 young people to have such an experience will be something that lasts them a lifetime.

Discussions are going on about the possibility of staging the UK school games in 2012 immediately after the Paras. We would then be able to ensure that we allowed young people to come down to London to watch them as well. Discussions are taking place with the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, the Olympic Delivery Authority, the Mayor's
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office and the new committee that has been set up to consider the legacy. I hope we will have a positive response from them.

It is true that there will always be sceptics. One of the problems with running the Olympics is that everybody is focused on that and no one looks beyond it. It will not be music to the ears of some of the organisers that we want to put another event on for four days. I do not know what the major sponsors will do but, through my hon. Friend the Minister, I will say to them that they should seriously consider rolling over support for another four days to the UK school games. I think it would be financially viable for them to do so. I would have thought a quarter of a million kids eating burgers in those facilities is worth a little bit on the bottom line, and a few bob in the coffers to help run the UK school games would be very helpful indeed.

We also need a major sponsor-we are discussing that with a number of organisations-so we can go to the schools and say that transportation will be provided on a certain day and that the young people will be brought down. My colleagues-my ex-colleagues-at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who are responsible for part of the legacy and the organisation, can from time to time be a little bit risk averse, but I am sure they will take the risk averse hat off, put the progressive hat on and say, "Here we have a great opportunity for our young people to be able to perform in these facilities."

I have been involved with the Olympics, so I know the organisation that takes place and how those involved become focused on the end objective-on winning medals and making sure we have a first-class event-and that anything that disrupts that is considered to be an irritant. I say, "Fine. It might be a bit of an irritant, but it's one that you can absorb into that organisation." We can roll over the organisation of the Olympics and the Paras into the UK school games. I believe that is very achievable.

My proposal would put a fantastic feather in the cap of the Olympics, LOCOG and the Government. Why do I say that? Why is it that Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, has instituted the youth games on opposite years to the Olympics? After talking to Jacques, I discovered that the reason was that the Olympics have to some extent lost their way. The event has became fairly commercialised and sport follows business, rather than business following sport. Talking to Jacques, which I did on a number of occasions, he was very keen to ensure that the Olympics come back to how they were when they started and that the event should reflect what the five rings actually stand for-the excellence of sport and all that springs from that.

We could run the UK school games, which are quite unique, on the back of our Olympics in 2012. We were talking to the IOC and asking whether that could be done in the future as well. Could the countries that host future Olympics use something like the UK school games to lift the whole structure of sport and physical activity in their schools, and bring together young people at the highest pinnacle of excellence? I think that that is possible and laudable and that it would go down extremely well. Such a proposal would be a major part of our legacy, which some people believe has not been given the attention it deserves. This idea gives us a great opportunity to do that.

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I ought to declare an interest, because I am the president of the UK school games-I should have done that at the beginning. There is not only a need but a great desire to keep such competitions and experiences for our young people after 2012. We ought to start talking about locking the UK school games and the school sports partnerships operating effectively around the country into the Olympic legacy programme. If we held the games every two years after the Commonwealth games and the Olympics, we could use competitions and school sports partnerships during the fallow year to develop at the regional level.

We have laid a base for a proper discussion about how to develop sustainable competition, to which our young people have responded positively, thanks to all those who have supported the UK school games. My colleagues at DCMS have done a fantastic job, as have the cities that have hosted the games. When we put the matter out for competition, twice as many cities wanted to host the UK school games as we could manage between 2005 and 2012. I also thank the Youth Sport Trust, Fast Track and my hon. Friend the Minister for his support for the games since he took over the mantle of Sports Minister. They have been absolutely first-class, and I thank them. I think that the results that we have been producing through the games year in and year out are a credit to all the effort put in. If the press took a little more notice of the situation, it would be the icing on the cake.

Mr. Foster: On a point of order, Mr. Caton. Can you confirm that there is a little-known rule that prevents Front-Bench spokesmen who participate in debates such as this from giving the full support that I would wish to give to the right hon. Gentleman's excellent proposals?

Mr. Martin Caton (in the Chair): It is true that such a rule exists. You could perhaps take it up with the Chairman of Ways and Means if you would like to see the rule changed, but I am afraid it is a rule at present.

1.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): It is a great pleasure to respond to this debate. As a Minister, I usually find that when I respond to debates, I must knock down the arguments made by colleagues from any party, but I support wholeheartedly what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) said and I congratulate him on the work that he has done as president of the UK school games and in sport over many years, not just during the time when he was Sports Minister. His commitment to sport is well known.

My right hon. Friend is right to point out what is happening in school sport. He called it a quiet revolution, and I agree. There are a lot of myths about school sport that need to be broken down, and the UK school games have helped us do so, not in isolation but as part of an overall strategy on school sport. As he said, the UK school games were and are intended to ensure that our elite athletes have the opportunity to feel what it is like to be in a games scenario.

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