Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

On your marks for an unsporting Olympic legacy

He's panted sweatily across the finishing line in numerous events in the last two years, failing spectacularly in various tests of honesty, compassion, justice and clear-sightedness.

But this week, in true Olympic spirit, David Cameron has put all that behind him and shown that, when it comes to opportunism, he's King of the World.

He couldn't even wait until the Games were over to start making bold announcements about the Coalition's new initiatives to ensure a proud sporting legacy.

His waxy apple-pie cheeks shining in the glow of the nation's newly accumulated pots of gold, the Prime Minister put all our minds at rest by promising that the Government funding, which had been diverted from other causes in the run-up to London 2012 towards sports we might get Olympic medals in, would continue to be diverted for the next four years. The whole whacking £508m.

There was some disquiet from groups who realised this meant killing off further attempts to encourage young, socially up-against-it people to find their salvation in music, books, local arts projects or even less gold-giving sports. But, as those people were not elite sportsmen, they were thus easily ignored.

"We will fund any sport where we think there is a realistic chance of a medal in the 2020 Games," Sports Minister Hugh Robertson patiently explained, with only the merest hint of an exasperated sigh, to those disappointed volunteers teaching roomfuls of happy, expectant kids foolishly enjoying low-performing sports like volleyball and handball.

Meantime, the PM was also brilliantly utilising the feelgood national mood to tell off state schools for having a bad attitude. Elite sport needs loads of money. When it comes to sport in state schools however, what's crucial is that Dave tells people to pull their socks up like he was taught to do at Eton. The answer: competitive sport should be enforced in primary schools.

Never mind that six and seven -year-olds develop at vastly different rates and can be put off physical activity for life if they're the small skinny one who always gets picked last, or the slow one who can't keep up. Let's not mess around waiting for children to find a sport they can love, let's sort the wheat from the chaff from the moment our babies toddle past the school gate.

The Tories have always been, like, totally into sport.

Michael Gove might have torn up the Schools Sports Partnership, and approved the sell-off of 21 school playing fields, and abandoned previous targets to include a minimum of two hours PE a week and discarded commitments for secondary schools to provide a certain amount of playing space - but wow, if you could have seen the joy on the wee fella's face when Zara Phillips secured silver for Team GB jumping over a miniature Tower Bridge on the beautifully groomed High Kingdom!

The Olympics were a genuine delight, but already our success has become a curse. Our brief gold fetish is being used as an excuse to pour billions into equipment and training for rarefied sportspeople, while millions fight to avoid toppling into poverty.

As our high streets fade into ruin, our libraries shut, our kids' school clubs close and our disabled and terminally-ill neighbours are sidelined like street litter, let's hope another gold for Chris Hoy in four years is enough to cheer us all up.

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