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How Britain came to spend decades in the sporting doldrums
In 1966, England basked in World Cup football glory, Britain’s 1964 Olympians had won 20 medals including four stunning golds while our cricketers were among the best.
However before our 65 London 2012 podium finishes (the most for a century) something went very wrong.
None of the home nations came close to winning a major soccer trophy, our athletes spent the intervening 45 years as laughing stocks while the quest for a UK Wimbledon winner was an epic quest.
Even when we won something - the 2003 Rugby World Cup or the 2005 Ashes cricket - the descent back to the bottom was swift and shocking.
Now everyone wants to stop our couch-potato kids maturing into the obese adults that according to the latest figures are double the national average in East Lancashire - one in five of the population.
The government promises pots of cash while sports administrators worrying about copying Australia whose home Olympics success in Sydney 2000 turned to an embarrassing medal table tenth this year.
Sport has never topped our national or political agenda - the ministers in charge are nonentities or jokes.
The money comes from charities and clubs. The coaches and PE teachers’ time relies on goodwill.
In the 1970’s competitive sport in state schools, never private ones, fell out of “politically correct” fashion for fear of stigmatising puny, unfit or clumsy youngsters.
A long 1980’s pay dispute and industrial action by teachers ended them giving up time for after school coaching sessions and Saturday sports fixtures. School swmming suffered.
That never returned and local clubs folded as the supply of sporting schoolchildren dried up.
In the 1990s, the focus shifted to academic standards in schools - testing at all ages and league tables made heads more worried about SATS scores than games results. Local authority grant cuts meant expensive sports provision and staffing was off the agenda.
Between 1979 and 1997, 10,000 school playing fields were sold as councils and governors tried to make ends meet. Even now they are still being flogged off.
When Tony Blair came to power there was talk about sport at the heart of the curriculum and £162 million was ring-fenced for promoting co-operation and competition in school sports, but the emphasis on literacy, numeracy and exam performance was ratcheted up. This government cut the cash.
Targets for two hours PE and sport were trumpeted but never enforced. They’ve now gone too.
Two good things were National Lottery money, mainly for Elite performers not ordinary youngsters, and the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games giving the North-West its cycling velodrome and aquatics centre.
Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme provided playing fields for many secondaries but primaries, particularly in urban areas,missed out. When many children get to “big school” it’s too late.
Shortage of money, lost playing fields, lack of teacher goodwill, poor school-club links, political correctness, TV and computer games, obsession with academic test results and a lack of political will and hard government cash have all contributed to our sporting decline.
While we won a record medal haul at London 2012, a major change in the mindset, health and fitness of our children is needed to repeat that Olympic success or win an international soccer trophy.
That would be a gold medal achievement!
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