With this week’s abandonment of the school sport target and news that 21 school playing fields are being sold off, the news from government is not great
Boris Johnson put the wind up the government yesterday when he said that not only should students have two hours of sport a week – a target the government has just scrapped – but two hours a day. He made the comments at a press conference to discuss the London 2012 Olympic legacy. But how much of a sports legacy for young people is actually being created by the Olympics?
With this week’s abandonment of the school sport target and news that 21 school playing fields are being sold off, the news from government is not great. Someone involved in legacy development that I have spoken to said the government had utterly failed to increase the opportunities, time or facilities for sport in East London schools.
The Mayor of London was insistent when Spear’s asked him about the sporting legacy that he was continuing Kate Hoey’s mission ‘to bring together nice grass roots organisations and government’ to promote access to sport. He mentioned temporary pools being set up for schools and volunteers who have passed criminal record checks helping out at sports clubs. He also noted, however, that many permanent pools had been removed from schools.
The Games are ‘a huge opportunity to expand sporting participation’, he said. ‘The government totally understands the appetite for sports.’ If it were up to him, there’d be two hours of sport a day, he said, and off he went, amusing the press corps, riling the government and ignoring all similar challenges.
Boris Johnson can talk as much as he likes about satiating our new-found sporting appetite, but the truth is that not one school in Hackney has a playing field on their site, according to a spokesman for the Hackney Learning Trust. They may have outdoor basketball courts for varied use, but when they want to play sports on grass they need to go to Hackney Downs or Hackney Marshes (currently carpeted over for the Olympics).
Hackney does have further good provision for outdoor sports, including Clissold Park’s tennis courts and skate park, a rugby pitch at Shoreditch Park and six full-sized grass football pitches and an Astroturf pitch, with brand new changing rooms and a climbing boulder, at Mabley Green. However, these have to cater for more than ten thousand students.
Three of the four permanent sporting venues in the Olympic Park – the Velodrome, the Aquatics Centre, the Multi-Use Arena – have already had their futures secured, and we are waiting on the Stadium. The hockey and tennis centres within the Park are being taken over by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, as will the White Water Centre near Waltham Abbey where the canoeing took place.
Stephen Bromberg of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, whom I spoke to after the press conference, was keen to stress that they would be open on the lines of their current venues: ‘Of the venues we run, Lea Valley Athletics Centre, around 80 per cent of the time is given over to community use and you can hire the outside track for 500 kids and it works out at about 9p a child for an hour. We will be pricing things very keenly.’
Regular and elite users will subsidise schools programmes and sports development: a normal patron will pay £49 to use the White Water Centre.
Asked about opportunity for sports, Bromberg said that compared to when he grew up near Stratford, his kids now have ‘access to amazing facilities’ there. He stressed that we can’t rely entirely on the Olympic Park to provide sport for kids: ‘We see it as part of a whole package of things they’ll do at schools, at youth clubs, at Scouts and Guides, that kind of thing, to get people pumped up about sport and physical activity.’
These venues will be open for everything from community and school use to elite competitions, and there is a ‘price pledge’ to keep a swim in the Aquatics Centre or a court in the Multi-Use Arena no more expensive than local leisure centres. But they are for occasional use, not daily, and are no substitute to easy, free access to a pitch for school sports. They are icing on a rotten cake.