The recent announcement by the Government about the commitment it is making to supporting the creative industries (a five-year strategy, a 26-point plan and a pledge to launch 5,000 creative apprenticeships) filled me with a sense of injustice. The creative industries generate huge amounts of overseas revenue while making a strong statement about Britain and the British, but I just can't help feeling that, once again, sport in this country has been pushed to the bottom of the pile.
It isn't sour grapes; I am pleased for my colleagues in our creative departments. UK universities, which are to be at the forefront of this push, have already made their own commitment to the creative sector and they deserve to have that recognised and remunerated.
It's just that the Government's announcement got me thinking: what about sport? Where's the vision? Where's the strategy? Where is the acknowledgement that sport makes a contribution to contemporary British life?
Perhaps government ministers Tessa Jowell, Andy Burnham and John Denham might like to take a look at the Australian Institute of Sport, France's Clairefontaine football academy or China's Olympic strategy to see what sport means in other countries and, as a consequence, why they are playing us off the park when we take on their teams. Here are countries that know what sport can do for them, and how it enhances their position and status in the world.
Sport is an incredibly powerful socio-cultural and economic force promoting good health, wellbeing, social cohesion and commercial activity. It is certainly on a par with the creative industries in terms of the impact it has on our country. Economically, it is estimated that sport accounts for as much as 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product in this country.
Socially it is used across the world as a way of uniting people and communities, promoting social cohesion and reducing the problems that many societies face. For example, the Football for Peace initiative in Israel has been a hugely effective way of bringing Israelis and Palestinians together.
We don't just need a strategy for the creative industries, we also need one for sport. One that will take us forward, building on the work in which we are already engaged, promoting the strengths and advantages we have, restoring our best sportspeople to the top of their disciplines while tackling many contemporary sociocultural, economic and health issues along the way.
Supporters and critics alike will immediately point to our hosting of the Olympic Games, and to the spiralling costs associated with it, as evidence of our commitment to sport. This is fallacious in the extreme; the London Olympics are more about a legacy for new Labour, and the rising costs are the fallout. Neither has anything to do with British sporting strategy, government-formulated or otherwise. What we actually have is a laissez-faire approach to strategy. There are no long-term plans for sport in the UK. All we have is a series of piecemeal measures that are invariably underfunded and too often confusingly managed.
We need a senior government official - such as Universities Secretary John Denham, with backing from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport - to champion a long-term strategy and to create the necessary conditions for it to happen. The university sector has a key role to play here; we should be servicing the requirements of sport by, for instance, developing a US-like draft system that guarantees a regular flow of high-quality athletes. At the very least, we ought to have the same government support as the creative industries so that we can begin to address the importance of sporting matters through initiatives such as an apprenticeship scheme.
We also need public support, which the education sector has a huge role in developing. We need participation rather than words; encouragement and promotion rather than paranoia and fear. We need an acceptance that money spent on sport is a wise investment, not a waste.
If we are to compete with the best, address some of our pressing problems and reassert our place in the world, we must have a sporting strategy now. I can research the economic benefit of sport until I'm blue in the face, but unless the Government takes a serious approach to funding sport from a grassroots level - through our education system - I will still be here in ten years' time looking at a dilapidated sporting nation.
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