‘This is a Golden Age for Sport in the UK’
To say the UK is now in a ‘Golden Age’ for sport would give the impression that it is in a peak period where all factors are at their best; where sport is in a state of utopia. This, undoubtedly, would be a great thought for the UK however to say that every aspect of sport is in a ‘Golden Age’ would be a much generalised view.
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Policy continuity from the government indicates this is indeed a ‘Golden Age’ for sport in the UK. The Wolfendon Report (1960: 18) formed the idea that young people should have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of physical activity, and this still remains a strong reason for government involvement in sport. Other policies, such as Game Plan (2002: 20), had a long term goal of increasing sport participation, especially among disadvantaged groups, and to sustain levels of success in international competition. These have all contributed to the drive to make sport in the UK better. However, policies such as these are dependent on having a government in place which encourages sport and leisure. Currently, there is a supportive government with the Prime Minister (2006) declaring that he “will set out in the pre-budget report how we can do better with a new focus on sports and fitness for our nation’s children… [And] will urge a national debate around taking sport and fitness more seriously.” But what if a different government takes power? Will sport always be seen in the same light?
Presently, the UK is celebrating a large amount of sporting success in boxing, football, formula 1 and many others, but one of the great success stories of late was the performance of British athletes in the 2008 Olympic Games. This was significant for sport in the UK for many reasons, in particular the amount of funding which has now increased as a result of this surpassed performance. It has created great promise among up-and-coming athletes who wish to achieve similar sporting success. When British athletes are performing well it makes the government in charge look equally good, and with the nation feeling happier about the state of sport, they are less likely to be voted out of power. On the other hand, the continuation of government support in this way is heavily relied on by the ability to deliver success and more importantly to deliver medals. For example, when no British male artistic gymnasts qualified for the Olympics in Athens 2004, this had an adverse effect on other gymnasts. National squad camps were cut in terms of numbers and frequency, and many upcoming elite athletes experienced funding cuts. This suggests that sport in the UK is in a state of instability.
The main argument for saying the UK is in a ‘Golden Age’ for sport is the securing of the Olympic Games in London 2012. Sport will be the focus of most people’s attention not only leading up to, but during London 2012; it is a chance for the government to promote its values on the grandest stage of all as Gordon Brown (2006) states “we should also make the build-up to the 2012 Olympics the centrepiece of a national campaign on sport and fitness”. Not since the 1948 London Games has the UK held such a prestigious event, and with other upcoming events such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2012 Rugby Union World Cup and a possible 2018 FIFA World Cup it would be hard to argue against the UK being in a ‘Golden Age’ for sport. However, are the London 2012 Olympic Games really going to benefit everyone equally? It could be perceived that it may in fact have a detrimental effect on sport in the UK. This may occur if young, inexperienced athletes are ignored at the expense of promoting the athletes competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Furthermore, too much pressure on young athletes to succeed could be damaging as Matthew Robertson (2008) argues the case of possibly sacrificing ethics for medals in the build up to Beijing 2008 by the Chinese Government. Therefore, it is possible to predict that after 2012 and the following Olympic Games, where current athletes will no longer be competing; the UK could end up taking a backward step with performances dropping.
The hosting of the London 2012 Olympics promises great things, none more so than the legacy it will leave behind. The original budget for the games lay at £3.4 billion, £1.5 billion coming from the National Lottery, the remainder coming from the private and public sector, DCMS and others (Olympics ‘could cost and extra £2bn, 2006). Funding towards sport is now historically higher than ever and this money is to be used in creating an Olympic park, improved transport, making the games sustainable, technology, security, ticketing and accommodation which all aim to make London 2012 a great sporting success. The facilities which are currently being built will be left behind after the games for the local community, sports clubs and elite athletes, whilst the playing fields that surround these facilities will be tailored to suit the community (Olympic Park: Legacy, n.d.). Not only will these be new facilities, but they will be world class which will increase their opportunity to participate and also aid in the development of their talents. Alongside this, there is a prospective for further income to be generated through the sports industries and further money to be spent within the fitness industries. £1 billion has also been put aside for regeneration of London’s most run down areas (Olympics ‘could cost and extra £2bn, 2006). However, if the Olympic Legacy does not deliver in terms of regenerating the area this may have a negative effect on sport. Its apparent importance in society may be destroyed and it may end up more looked down upon than its current state. Therefore, the effects of hosting the Olympics in the UK and its hyped up legacy suggests an increase in opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity.
The diversity of people within the UK is something which people portray in an unproblematic way, but not everyone has the same chance to participate as others. Firstly, age is an interesting barrier to look at when investigating participation in sport. At the moment, the sport and leisure industries are directed towards those defined as generation Y. However, Dr Joe Piggin in a lecture on the 6th November 2009 that by 2029 it is predicted that around 40% of the UK’s population will be over the age of 50 which means drastic alterations will need to be made in order to prevent participation rates from dropping. Similarly gender affects not only the amount of sport played but also the types of sport played. For example, the results from the Active People Survey 1 (Oct 2005-Oct 2006) puts male participation rates, in the previous four weeks, for Netball and women’s participation in Waterskiing as 0%. As women usually have more responsibilities in the house and with children they typically have less time to participate in leisure activities, but these stereotypical views seem to be changing. The introduction of new technology such as the Nintendo Wii has made it possible for people to exercise from the comfort of their own home. This could be seen as a bad thing for sport with this culture replacing outdoor leisure activities including team games, meaning other sports and businesses may suffer due to the convenience of exercising in this way.
Race is another factor which affects sporting opportunity in the UK. There have been many recent campaigns to eradicate racism out of sport such as “kick racism out of football” and the “everyrace” anti-racism campaign in Formula 1. Nevertheless, black athletes are under-represented in sports like swimming and table tennis, but are over-represented in athletic events. Within some sports stacking occurs, for example, in Rugby there are many black athletes in the position of winger, yet not many in the more central roles of the game. There are many reasons which attempt to explain why this occurs, but the fact that is does occur suggests that this ‘Golden Age’ for sport in the UK does not necessarily branch over to everyone. The football premier league is a good example which shows a great variety of race and ethnicities competing with and against each other but at manager level and beyond the current state shows no black managers and very few at higher levels within the club. Similarly gender and, to an extent, age follow this pattern, and the only way in which change can occur at participation level within sports is if the higher positions also cater for the diversities within the UK.
Obesity has risen by 50% in 10 years among 5-14 year olds (Gordon Brown 2006), and sport and physical activity is now seen as a cure to solve obesity. Gordon Brown (2006) declared that “…we also need to become a fitter nation. Sport holds the key” and the sport and leisure industry has used this philosophy to attract large amounts of funding from the government. The government want a healthy nation not only for political reasons, but also to create healthy workforces and to cut down on costs to the NHS from obesity related illnesses. Change4life is a campaign being used to try and cut down on the obesity related illnesses by promoting being active and eating healthy. However, the very point that the UK is suffering from an “Obesity Crisis” implies they are not in a ‘Golden Age’ for sport at all. Creating a healthier nation is the current prime focus, and this comes at the expense of holistic values that can be gained from sport. Instead of a forward step, this could be seen as one backwards mimicking the late 19th century when physical training was introduced in state elementary schools to produce fitter soldiers due to Britain’s poor performance in the Boer War. This approach to health also raises questions whether it will make PE and sport more inclusive, or simply make people and children more cautious and less involved. Instead of focusing on promoting physical activity and interior health, the government’s focus is orientated around weight and BMI i.e. aesthetic issues.
In recent years the amount of volunteers in sport has been declining. This has been combated by the introduction of ‘step into sport’ which encourages young people to get involved in volunteering from an early age using a time-reward scheme. The decline in volunteers could be explained by the balance people now have between work and sport/leisure as Roberts (1999: 2) states “Our leisure is a product, first and foremost, of the modern organisation of work”. With changes occurring in the working week, year and life, people’s opportunities to partake in sport are changing. With an upcoming event in the UK such as the London 2012 Olympic Games, which will be looking to use approximately 70,000 volunteers for it to run smoothly and successfully, this decline in the culture of volunteering may mean it does not run as smoothly as anticipated.
Another major impact on the citizens of the UK in recent times has been the “Credit Crunch”. This has had an affect on the participation rates at grassroots, as the opportunity to partake in sports has declined due to people simply not being able to afford memberships or equipment. However, multi-millions pound businesses aren’t escaping this; a prime example of this has occurred with Newcastle United Football Club and Sports Direct – their main sponsorship and the UK’s largest sportswear chain. Last year profits were down by 50% which was the worst in the history of the company (Sports and Fitness Industry Affected by Credit Crunch: 2008). Customers cannot continue their large spending in the sports industry when the money is plainly not available. With other major clubs susceptible to follow this trend, it puts serious doubt into the UK’s supposed ‘Golden Age’ for sport.
It is understandable for people to think that the UK is in a ‘Golden Age’ for sport but with closer investigation it is not all black and white. There has been some progress in the narrowing of the “gender gap” but there is no evidence to say that opportunities to participate in sport have widened for low income groups, ethnic minorities or people with disabilities despite campaigns such as “Sport for All” which were meant to specifically deal with these issues. Sport is very much revolved around the idea of agency vs. structure; one’s freedom to partake in sport and the limiting factors preventing this. While the UK is probably in its prime for sport compared to recent years, when compared to other countries then this achievement seems less so apparent. For example Game Plan (2002: 20) states that “only 32% of adults in England take 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, compared to 57% of Australians and 70% of Finns.” To conclude the UK must take advantage of the additional funding and current state of sport in the UK, and importantly achieve success in order for this to be called a ‘Golden Age’.
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