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It has been my great pleasure during the past three years to attend games in Coventry and Bath. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is with us. He was a big supporter of the games in Bath
and helped them grow from the previous stage, and I know that economically and in terms of sports and volunteerism, Bath is a much richer place. The comments about the games in Bath and Bristol were superb. I congratulate him on the work that he has done.
The games are part of a strategy to ensure that people enjoy the benefits of sports. Those of us on the Government Front Bench who are involved are committed to them. We know that sport changes people's lives for good. Not only does it give them the individual satisfaction of doing well in a particular sport, but it brings life-enhancing skills and teaches people about teamwork and relating to other people. The friends that people make through sport while growing up, particularly school sport, stay with them all their life. Sport and the power of sport are important to us all, particularly this Government. Sport unites people. One great thing for me is that people do not have to speak the same language to understand, benefit from and be delighted by sport. The passion for sport is one reason why my right hon. Friend and others were successful in bringing the Olympics and Paralympics to London in 2012.
It is appropriate to use sites in the way that my right hon. Friend suggests. As he said, there are logistical issues and detailed discussions to be had with some of the bodies involved, including the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. However, the principle is right, and I was grateful that the hon. Member for Bath and the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), who leads for the Conservatives on this matter, expressed their support in The Daily Telegraph this morning.
I hope that kills off the idea of having a schools Olympics, because we do not need one. We do not want to confuse the situation, but to build on the strengths that we have. As my right hon. Friend said, we have 432 sports colleges and 450 school sports partnerships. We also have competition managers and sports leaders. When I go around looking at school sport, one of the exciting things is to see sports leaders from secondary schools going into primary schools to teach sport and to help the PE teachers to develop sport.
There are therefore myths that need to be busted about participation rates, although the stereotypes about school sport are going. In the past, girls played hockey and netball and boys played football, cricket and rugby, but that has all changed. A lot of that is down to the investment that has gone into school sport and the work of the national governing bodies. We can now see mountaineering, canoeing and a vast range of other sports in schools. The competition element is also back, and that is key. There was a period when competition was taken out of school sport, and sport and society suffered as a result.
It is important that we rebuild confidence in school sport, and we are doing so. It is also important that we have the networks in place to allow our elite sports boys
and girls to get into the school games. As my right hon. Friend said, he started the games off in 2005, and they have grown incrementally ever since. We will be in Tyne and Wear this year and we look forward to being in Sheffield in 2011, when I know that we will have a great games.
There are issues about what will happen after 2012, and the Department is going through them to evaluate the long-term future of the school games. However, I want it to go beyond 2012, and the opportunities are there. That would be such a boost in terms of the sporting legacy of 2012. It would also help with what we are calling the decade of sport, which started with the Twenty20 world cup last year. Every year there would be a major sporting event in the UK, hopefully leading up to the soccer World cup in 2018.
It is great to hold those great events, but they also provide opportunities for our young sportsmen and women to see role models and to have something to aspire to and achieve. Nobody was prouder than I was when I came back from Beijing to watch the Olympians and Paralympians parading their medals at the ceremony in London. The impact of that has gone right down into our communities. Those Olympians and Paralympians are now acting as role models and an inspiration for future generations. We are making sure that we have the structure in place to encourage that.
I want to make sure that the opportunity that my right hon. Friend presents us with is looked on positively. I will be pleased to help in any way that I can with the discussions and negotiations that we will need to have. It is good that we have all-party support, because we can use our collective strength to help the school games to develop even further.
I thank the Youth Sports Trust and Fast Track for their work. There have been questions about the cost and the value for money of the school games, but I am satisfied that they are an important part of what we want to happen in school sport as we try to develop our sports infrastructure.
It is important that we do well in London in 2012, and I am sure that we will. However, I also want us to do well in 2016 and 2020, and we will not if we do not have the sports infrastructure in place to enable our elite sports boys and girls to taste what it is like to be at the games. We took a lot of youngsters who were not competing to Beijing to sample the atmosphere, and the UK school games allows people to do that as well.
My right hon. Friend makes a fantastic proposal, which we would want to support, with the caveats about needing to work with certain organisations. Collectively, however, I am sure that we can cut out the nonsense about a schools Olympics. We have our schools Olympics-the UK school games-and we want to develop them further.