Olympic legacy: BBC and newspapers must play their part by focusing more on women’s sport, insists the shadow health secretary
Labour has demanded that the BBC be inspired by London 2012 and rectify its “negligible” coverage of women’s sports between Olympics as the party sets out a radical agenda for the country following the Games.
The opposition says it wants the legacy of Britain’s success to be a challenging of the attitudes and practices it believes are holding Britain back from leading the world in health and fitness. Britain is currently third in the medal table but it is 18th in the world league of physically active nations, with 63% of the population failing to do 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week. As part of an attempt to build on public exuberance around the Games, the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, today spells out policies being examined by the Labour leadership for its manifesto, including getting half of the country taking part in regular physical activity.
Part of the challenge, he says, is to use the success of British women, including Nicola Adams and Laura Trott, the gold medal-winning boxer and cyclist, to encourage more physical activity in Britain. That, as Burnham writes on our website, will require the BBC and other media to correct their sporadic coverage of female athletes between Games, adding: “The traditional excuse – no one is interested in women’s sport – has been smashed to bits.” Burnham also believes in targets for the number of hours children should play sport at school.
Olympic medallists yesterday supported an announcement from the prime minister that the Treasury was rewarding their success with an extra two years’ funding for elite sports. Jessica Ennis, who won gold in the heptathlon, said: “It’s fantastic that the government has made a big commitment to invest in British Olympic sport. Funding from the national lottery and government has helped and supported me throughout my athletics career and allowed me to attain my goals.” An £80m pot plus an additional estimated £87m of national lottery funding a year will provide money for elite sport until the 2016 Games in Rio.
Yesterday the prime minister announced that a new draft PE curriculum, to be published in the autumn, will make it compulsory for pupils to take part in what Downing Street called “recognised and recognisable sports” such as football, hockey and netball.
But as the parties look to capitalise on the national mood, in the runup to conference season, Burnham lays out the Labour leadership’s vision with proposals for:
? The government to keep intact the structure that allows coaches to be shared around schools by saving money through training, and paying the young and unemployed to take on the crucial role of leading activities.
? A policy of encouraging wage restraint at the top of football, “the national sport”, and, in turn, lower ticket prices to avoid the game losing touch with its audience.
? A target of children doing at least five hours of exercise a week.
? The opening up of school fields and sporting facilities to children after the end of the school day, whatever the risk of vandalism.
? A national effort to put the needs of the cyclist on Britain’s roads ahead of the driver.
? The setting up of Schools Sports TV – a website recording all the statistics from competitive matches with schools uploading video of matches.
? Clear responsibility for encouraging physical activity being given to a Whitehall department to ensure it is no longer the “orphan” policy brief of government.
Speaking to the Observer, Burnham said: “I support the government’s efforts to cement gains made in elite sport. After the low point of a solitary gold medal in Atlanta, elite sport was turned round with a combination of clear goals, funding certainty and cross-party support, and we mustn’t drop back.
“We need to bring the same focus and clarity of purpose to the bottom of the pyramid, capturing the enthusiasm British success has engendered in the wider population.” Burnham said that unexpected success in the Sydney Games had spurred the Labour government to take sport seriously, and he believes the same could happen again, despite the decision by the education secretary, Michael Gove, in 2010 to slash funding for school sports. Burnham said: “In truth, we struggled in the early days of the Labour government to get sport on the agenda. The Education Department fiercely resisted the two-hour policy.
“Sydney changed everything. People felt the power of sporting success for the first time in a long time. It silenced Whitehall’s nay-sayers and led to the rocket boosters being placed on the emerging School Sports Partnerships policy.
“London needs to provide a similar moment of change for the coalition and prompt a rethink on school sport.”