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Baroness Byford: My Lords, this afternoon I feel very much the club player among a glittering collection of former Olympians, but I think that we would all agree that most of us became sports enthusiasts in our early childhood. Equally we would agree that for every national hero there are thousands of players who compete simply for the love of the game and do not wish to become national achievers. As my noble friend Lord Monro said, it starts at the grassroots, from the bottom up, and is stimulated by the local community in what it has to offer. So it is through schools and clubs that we end up with elite sports.

In modern parlance, "sports" covers many aspects. It is interesting that we have a sports Minister and not a games Minister. The dictionary, however, puts it the other way round—defining "game" as a "kind of sport", a "contest for recreation", or a,

But there can be no doubt that sports and games over many years have formed an important part of British life. The Middle Ages boasted of jousting, hunting and archery, the latter of which still attracts many people.
 
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But, since my early childhood, how times have changed within our sporting clubs and activities. Sport then was very much amateur, such as Wimbledon—which is coming up shortly—where all the players were amateurs and there were no professionals. Indeed, that degree of expertise and hope has altered the way in which young people regard sport today. They look to the professional players; they see the vast wages that many of the professional players have, and they look at the sponsor money that comes to those higher achievers.

Equally, sport has produced for the Government a lot of money in its own right. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell the House how much money the Government receive in taxes every year from sporting activities. If we leave aside the gambling aspect, there must be hundreds of millions collected in corporation tax, VAT on ticket sales, income tax on the salaries of professional players, to say nothing of the more oblique income generated for the state from such things as fuel duty on sports-related travel.

Can the Minister also tell us how much money is paid out by the state to support activities, and how much money for national activities comes from the lottery? Noble Lords have mentioned the lottery and I will return to it later.

Money raising associated with sport is not confined to the Government. Many sporting heroes go to inordinate lengths to raise funds for charitable purposes as well as promoting their own sport. As I speak, a dedicated band of famous cricketers is leading the Ashes Walk. It left from the Rosebowl in Hampshire on Monday and will visit every one of the Test cricketing grounds in England and Wales in the time it takes to reach the end of the Ashes series. Anyone can walk part of the way with them for a fee and they are attracting sponsors. The funds raised will be used in particular to promote cricket in inner-city schools.

Although I have a professional tennis-coaching qualification and at one time ran a tennis school, I propose to talk mainly about amateur sport and its impact. Most children at some stage enjoy playing sports that require some physical input, but some children are put off early at schools because they are not included in team games. But most of them will have the chance to play rounders in the playground, perhaps have the joy of being selected to represent the form in an egg-and-spoon race or a three-legged race, or to participate in the more structured competitions between schools and within the house groups of their own schools.

Nor is it always necessary to get that enjoyment in team games. That is something I would like to talk about at greater length because predominantly noble Lords have talked about the bigger team games. I know of many young people who have revelled in cross-country running—something, certainly, that I did not wish to do—cycle racing, dressage or show jumping. There is a whole range of water sports as well as swimming. I pay tribute to the many volunteers other noble Lords have referred to who give of their time
 
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freely, week on week, who help to run pony club camps, Outward Bound—mentioned by my noble friend—and other activities.

I would like to touch on an individual event, which can be a team event; namely, swimming. Recently my granddaughter was very proud that her school qualified for the national finals in a relay event in Sheffield. We went with no hopes of seeing any of them achieve a medal because the school is not known for its swimming. They managed to qualify for the final, in which they did their best but technically came in fifth. Much to their amazement and joy—and there is a lesson in this—they were raised to become third because there were two false starts by two of the teams. The lesson is that you should never give up because you might be a winner at the end of the day, and the lesson for the teams that lost out is that you should not cheat.

Swimming is a sport in which many can participate who are not physically able to participate in some of the other sports that we have mentioned this afternoon. I give credit to all who help with disabled sports because they play an enormous role and have a great importance in the daily living not only of school children but also of people in later life. Our disabled athletes did wonderfully well in their competitions last year.

Noble Lords have touched on one or two items that I find extremely worrying; that is, the question of litigation and the burden of legislation. For many volunteers who organise clubs and raise money, they have to get licences to do this or be qualified to do that. If they wish to have a fund-raising function, they have to seek a licence. Would it not be possible for some clubs to apply for a broader range of events to be qualified under one licence fee, rather than having to do it continuously? Obviously, that would save a lot of money.

Secondly, on the whole question of getting somebody through the approval system when going through the criminal records, if somebody is already cleared and accepted as a suitable person to help with a particular thing, could that qualification not carry them through other things that they might be able to help with? Again, that is a cost and an extra responsibility—but it seems ludicrous if an individual has to have four or five different clearances through the bureau.

On thinking about this debate earlier, one began to realise that sporting activities cut across many government departments, schools, universities, colleges, fitness clubs, fitness centres, Outward Bound activities, and regional and national activities. Our thoughts are focused on the 2012 Olympic Games, for which we hope that London's bid might be successful. But perhaps I am not the only one who fears that the Government failed in the first instance to put their full weight behind the UK application—a decision that may see the games going to Paris.

I also criticise the Government for their stance on discouraging team sports in schools. It was said at the time that if no one can be a winner, no one should be a winner. That is rubbish; we know when we compete
 
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that we are not going to win every time, but if we are not actually allowed to compete in anything, however can we hope to be achievers? Other noble Lords have already spoken about school playgrounds; picking up on that, I must ask the Government if they will stop the closure of school playing fields. Although the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, suggested that many had closed during our term in office, they continue to be closed, and that cannot be allowed to continue.

Sport and the exercise of the body is an important element in the development of a healthy body and mind. Obesity continues to be a problem, but to be a good athlete one needs to have a healthy and balanced diet. This week on Tuesday, I attended the launch of a charity called Farming and Countryside Education—FACE—here in London. Its aim is to tell young people about food, farming and the countryside within their own school setting, whether it is urban or rural-based. In doing so, we hope not only to encourage them to eat healthy food but to look forward to visiting the countryside. I am convinced that schools can and should do more; healthy eating and exercise, in my book, go together. We must give the new generation a better start in life.

Equally this week I was interested to call in at VisitBritain, which had an exhibition downstairs earlier. Talking to that organisation's representatives, I heard them highlighting the opportunities that there are in the countryside throughout the UK to continue to enjoy sporting activities, whether it is walking, canoeing or—much more testing—hill climbing. There are many opportunities out there for us to have a go at.

I am sure that this afternoon's debate will draw together fascinating contributions from so many who have had the joy and experience of sport. We are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for having introduced this debate. He, like others, will look forward to hearing the other contributions.

2.43 pm


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