I was woken by the DCMS Press Officer on New Year’s Day to find the media alight with Olympic fever and a story about betting integrity on the front page of the Sunday Times. Hours later, a BBC News crew was standing outside my house to do an interview. It was a definite reminder, not that one was needed, that 2012 is here and that the next nine or so months are going to be very busy indeed.
However, it was a good opportunity to underline how important it is to ensure the integrity of sport and how seriously we take the issue. It’s why a dedicated intelligence unit will be created at 2012 to monitor any suspicious betting patterns and potential match-fixing behaviour.
This proactive approach to issues has been consistent throughout the delivery of London 2012 and is the reason that with under 200 days to go, we were able to announce that the future of six of the eight Olympic Park venues have already been secured – an unprecedented achievement for an Olympic host city.
This includes the Handball Arena, where the Prime Minister and the Cabinet gathered for their first meeting of the year last Monday. This was a fantastic milestone for the construction project and underlined the importance the Government places on the Games and its legacy for the whole country.
One of the most important legacies is sport. Delivering an increase in sports participation is something I am passionate about. Despite huge investment of public funds over the years the number of young people doing sport when they leave school is dropping. This just isn’t good enough. If we can’t catch people early enough, then we have no hope of enthusing people with a lifelong love of sport that keeps people committed to it.
The £1 billion, five-year strategy that we announced last week will change that. School sport facilities will become the focus of local sporting provision by creating stronger links between national governing bodies and teams, coaches and facilities that exist within the community. This will give young people access to the facilities and training to develop a passion for playing sport. At the same time, funding will be made available to open up school sport facilities for wider public use – fundamental if you consider that three-quarters of sports halls and artificial pitches and a third of swimming pools in England are located on school sites.
This powerful approach will set targets for individual sports bodies and reward success by providing funding for what works – a strategy that has proven very successful in elite sport where funding is aligned to medal success and one that I think will deliver the same success at youth and community level.
Underpinning this strategy is the School Games, which last week received a £32 million boost through sponsorship from Sainsbury’s and investment from the Department of Health and Sport England, plus kit provided by adidas. This support from such important backers shows the importance we are placing on competitive sport in schools.
Speaking of competition, I was delighted that the Great British men’s gymnastics team were able to qualify for 2012 last Tuesday with a strong performance at the North Greenwich Arena. Fingers crossed for them, and the rest of Team GB in the summer!
Gymnastics photo courtesy Deerness Academy, Durham. All rights reserved. Sainsbury’s photo ©Crown copyright