Here we go again. After one year of relative inaction, the government sycophantic friendly media is gearing up the hype for the One Year Anniversary of the London Olympics. But bringing Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and the rest of the gang back into the Olympic Stadium does not a sporting legacy produce. Nor does hyping up the sporting exploits of a bunch of South African ex-pats plying their trade under the Union Jack amount to much of a sporting legacy. No more than does throwing up a bunch of soulless housing towers in and around the old industrial wastelands of Stratford and the lower Lea Valley wipe out decades of East London deprivation. All of this 'activity' is nothing but transient glitter in order to mask the fact that community sport is being decimated by government cuts, and that the obesity time bomb is ticking louder and louder with a mighty explosion almost certain to rip apart the already over-stretched, under-funded National Health Service. All the better to privatise it, I hear the Corporates and their Tory ministers whisper. And of course, the whispering is getting louder every day.

 

In the existing tower blocks of Tower Hamlets, more kids are not playing sport. Neither are they getting more exercise. Under successive governments they are simply slipping further and further into economic deprivation that in itself mitigates against any hope of a healthy life. There are precious few jobs for any youngsters these days anywhere in Europe, and the lower down you find yourself on the socio-economic ladder, the less chance you have of hauling yourself up. So jobless and without prospects, the game that young people tend to play these days is a sad and dispiriting amalgam of 'Call of Duty', internet pornography, and post-code gang allegiance; and all fuelled with a mind and body sapping junk food diet. This is the reality of huge swathes of urban Britain, a reality that Lord Coe, Cameron and his millionaire Tory cabinet prefer to ignore. But good news, the riots will come again soon, so at least the kids will get some temporary exercise until that is, they find themselves rotting away in some god-forsaken Young Offenders institution. It's a bleak scenario a million miles away from the razzle- dazzle of the Olympic Stadium.

There is a sort of bright light on this grim, grim horizon. It is the unexpected uptake of cycling across Britain. I'm not so sure of the class composition of this newfound healthy alternative. I half suspect it is largely the youthful urban middles classes rather than the population as a whole, but nevertheless, it is to be welcomed. So too is the talk of dedicated cycle tracks. But at the moment this is little more than talk. Most cyclists must brave the distinctly unfriendly road system which is distinctly hostile to cyclists. Every time a cyclist gets on a bike it may well prove to be the very last thing they do. Death awaits at every corner on our mean and congested roads. The only solution is to construct a nationwide network, borough by borough, county by county, of dedicated cycle tracks. Start now, not in twenty years time. It will create jobs, it will encourage activity and a healthy outlook. It will tackle pollution and above all else, it could, if intelligently planned, be socially inclusive.

 

Sporting legacies don't just happen. Pathways between schools, clubs, counties and Centres of Excellence have to be thoughtfully and thoroughly planned. If any one part of the route is missing or inaccessible the whole route breaks down. British cycling could be a model for the rest of British sport to emulate but only if the elite cyclists and their Governing Body put their weight behind a grassroots cycling revolution. Joined up thinking is necessary. It starts with cycling to school on car-free cycle paths. It continues with cycling to a cheap and accessible sports centre where government funded coaches provide a range of sporting and leisure options. It continues with clear exit-routes to more dedicated community clubs.

From there, for those that want it, there must be government sponsored pathways to elite performance centres. Without that government sponsorship, we can be sure that, like the world of the Lawn Tennis Association, only the wealthy middle and upper classes will be able to afford to pursue their sporting dreams. As things stand at the moment, there is little prospect of the likes of the Williams Sisters emerging in Britain in any sport other than perhaps boxing and football. As for rowing, sailing, fencing, shooting, most racket sports and all equestrian events, the unemployed need not apply. Don't worry, the private schools will continue to provide our crop of British gold medallists. What has our Lord Coe got to say about all this? Not a lot I suspect. This isn't just about the money, says Mr Sebastian Coe. Oh yes it is Mr Coe. It's precisely about money and class and privilege. Always has been and is very likely to continue so for the foreseeable future. Where will all this be when I'm 70?, asks our Lord Coe. Precisely where it is now and possibly a lot worse, unless there is a conscious change of political will. Don't hold your breath, there's no profit in wealth re-distribution and social mobility.

End JPK Copyright, 22/7/13

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 July 2018 17:02 )