It simply isn’t good enough for UK Sport to put all the blame for the allegations of sexism, bullying, cheating and general boorish behaviour currently emerging at British Cycling solely onto the shoulders of cycling’s governing body. Certainly, like all national sports administrations, British Cycling has questions to answer when it comes to all round good governance. But it is UK Sport that have the most to answer. Any national sports strategy and associated funding policy that is skewered obsessively towards international medals is guaranteed to create a dysfunctional and socially regressive climate in the upper echelons of British sport. British Cycling, once the golden girl and boy of British sport has inevitably succumbed to the insane pressures piled on them from UK Sport and their political masters in Whitehall and Westminster. Whilst those pressures persist, we can expect many more examples to emerge of bullying and general dysfunction, not just in cycling but across the entire sporting spectrum.    

 

 

When will governments learn, and I include governments of all political persuasions, that winning a big bag of international sporting medals has absolutely no bearing on the general wellbeing of the nation. And when it comes to popular sporting participation, it transpires that levels of sporting participation has actually fallen since the London Olympics. And furthermore, obesity rates continue to rise to inexorably. The whole strategy of winning medals to create a national feel-good moment is as hollow as it is self-defeating. As British Cycling sinks further into the mire of allegations of wrong doing, the general population becomes just that little bit more cynical about the whole Olympic sporting jamboree. It’s no longer a case of ‘if’, but rather ‘when’ the next sporting scandal will break. It may be doping, it may be match fixing or it may be poor governance, but what we can be certain is that the next scandal is on its way.

If the government of the day really wants to create a long-lasting feel good climate, it needs to focus on the basics of life and do so in a considered and joined-up way. That obviously must start with genuinely affordable housing, clean and breathable air, food that doesn’t make us fat and lazy, and a grassroots sporting policy that encourages us to walk, to swim, to cycle and to generally exercise as a matter of daily routine. None of the above is currently in place in Britain. In fact, quite the opposite. Housing for many people, be it buying or renting, is financially crippling, resulting in a persistent climate of debilitating stress. The air we are forced to breathe is increasingly toxic. The food we are encouraged to eat is saturated in life sapping levels of sugar, salt and fat. And the limited leisure facilities that do still exist in the country are subject to endless cuts and ever increasing fees. All of this makes for an extremely unhealthy nation.

Instead of fixating on the Olympic medal table, which is quickly dismissed by most of us as a total irrelevance the very next day after the closing Olympic ceremony, governments need to have a long-term strategy for the nation’s health and well-being. It won’t come easy and in the early stages it won’t come cheaply. But in the longer-term it will save governments countless billions on NHS costs, housing benefits and social care costs, not to mention the spiralling costs of juvenile criminality and general anti-social behaviour. Housing, food, pollution and exercise are all inextricably linked and UK Sport, with its absurd obsession with medals, has absolutely nothing to say about this deadly matrix of neglect. Sport England increasingly gets it but UK Sport definitively does not.

There was a half decent article in the slimmed down edition of the Independent 6/4/17 (no pun intended) penned by a one Mr Tim Wigmore. In a piece entitled ‘Britain’s aversion to exercise should alarm us all’, Mr Wigmore has this to say;

‘Britain is a nation of Olympic titans. It has won an absurd 56 gold medals across the past two Olympic Games. In an age of diminishing British influence, elite sport has proved a glorious exception. Just do not mistake all those shiny medals for signs of the overall vitality of Britain as a sporting nation: millions would much sooner cheer Olympians than remain physically active themselves. That is the inescapable conclusion of a report published this week by the British Heart Foundation, shocking yet deeply unsurprising. It finds that twenty million people in the UK fail to meet the government’s guidelines to stay healthy by doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity activities each week and strength activities twice a week. The cost of this sedentary lifestyle is an estimated £1.2 billion a year to the NHS.

The findings repeat what government figures have been showing for years. Overall sports participation has declined since London 2012, with the greatest falls among the disabled and the lowest socio-economic groups. Sport is becoming an ever-more middle-class pursuit, closed off to the disadvantaged.’

Wigmore continues in this vein pointing out the absurdities of existing government policy, including the near criminal policy of the selling off of school playing fields. Wigmore also bemoans the loss of competitive sport in schools. But I am less convinced on this point. It’s not so much the lack of competitive sport that is the problem rather the lack of any sustained exercise at all. If every school, primary and secondary, started their school day with a fun run around their local park or school playground with the emphasis on completion rather than speed, then overnight the health of our youngsters would start to improve and good habits would be instilled from an early age. Concentration and learning in the classroom might also dramatically improve. No additional government money would be required, simply a governmental awareness of the growing mega health crisis that we find ourselves in.

 

Wigmore starts his article speaking of Britain’s medal haul as a ‘glorious exception’ to Britain’s diminishing influence in the world. I would argue it is more of a glorious distraction from what really needs to be tackled in 21st century Britain; building affordable housing, regulating the food and drinks industry, cleaning up our lethally polluted air and rebuilding our grassroots sporting infrastructure. It’s an Olympian task but thankfully no medals need to be handed out at the end of play. Just satisfaction that we, as a nation, might all be a little healthier.

End JPK Copyright 6/4/17

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