Coalition seeks Olympics credit whilst selling off school playing fields and cutting sports funding

The draft of a recent article of mine talked about the Olympics and made reference to the sale of school playing fields and to cuts in funding for school sports.

When I read through the article, the references seemed out of touch with the general enthusiasm for the Olympics which I by then shared, and I removed the rather sour side-reference, although I brought up the same subject in a subsequent tweet. As a secondary factor, I had no statistics to back the references and no time to look them up.

The Guardian has now provided us with the figures in two articles:

The title of the first tells its own story. School playing fields: 21 sell-offs have been approved by coalition. This has happened despite the coalition’s express commitment to protecting playing fields and their criticism of Labour when it was in government for its parallel hypocrisy.

The second article, Michael Gove’s political own goal on school sports, tells of the axing of £162 million a year funding for the School Sports Partnerships which provides money to fund staff involvement in after-school sport and for arranging inter-school matches.

The erstwhile Labour government is in no position to criticise since it both allowed sell-offs and diminished the role of sport in schools by marginalising its place in school timetables; Labour was also enthusiastic for the dire all-shall-have-prizes attitude which frowned on competition as being somehow discriminatory.  At the same time, Labour put ever-increasing pressure on local authority budgets whilst imposing house-building quotas on them. Add together the reduction in sport, the shortage of money, and the need for building land, and flogging off playing fields seems the obvious answer, particularly for the (rather too many) local councillors whose ability to add up ends when they run out of fingers.

The coalition has done nothing to improve the position – indeed, by requiring councils to sell council houses to their occupants, they are increasing the simultaneous incentives for them to raise money and to sell off any land they can lay their hands on.

It seems hypocritical to boast of Olympic success whilst hacking at the roots of future Olympic standards, particularly at state schools. The class-warriors are making much capital of the high percentage of British Olympic sportsmen and women who were privately educated, using that, in their usual style, as the basis for an inchoate attack on private schools and privilege.

They would do better to focus their attacks on successive governments who have seen school sport as an easy sacrifice. I expect hypocrisy and double-standards from a party led by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. I expected something better from Michael Gove. Not everyone will agree with my views on the individuals, but few will seek to argue that either government did or has done anything useful to raise sporting skills in state schools – quite the reverse.

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