The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the SPARKS Children and Sport Luncheon – 5 June 1995

Below is Mr Major’s speech at the SPARKS “Children and Sport” luncheon held on 5th June 1995.


Sir Alexander, Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen. For many reasons, it’s a great privilege to be with you today.

First, I greatly admire SPARKS and the work that it does.

Secondly, as many of you may know, sport is a subject very close to my heart and – indeed, in the case of Chelsea and Surrey – close enough to break it from time to time.

And thirdly, this luncheon enables me to set the stage for some sporting announcements the Government will make shortly.

I have never believed that the quality of life should revolve simply around material success. That may be important, but it’s not all-important.

Of equal importance to the quality of life for most people is the availability of sport, of all aspects of the Arts, and the maintenance of our built heritage. It is all too easy for these areas to be overlooked.

Three years ago, as part of an attempt to redress the balance, I set up the Department of National Heritage. I did so to protect, enhance and develop those areas – because I believe they play an important part in the way of life in our country. Today, I wish to focus on sport.

I don’t need to tell the supporters of Sparks about the value of organised sport. Your letterhead reads like a roll of honour of British sport. But sadly, I believe children play less sport than they should. I would like to change that because I believe sport is good for children and good for our Nation.

Britain largely gave organised sport to the world. We invented many of the sports. And, even where we didn’t invent them, we codified and made them popular in every part of the world. We should be proud of that. Today, sport is as much part of the world’s heritage as of our own. But its genesis was with us.

The pleasure of sport is open to all ages – but most open to those who learn to love sport when young. That is why – and you may feel the same way – I can’t readily accept a situation in which most 14 year olds are offered only an hour and a half a week of physical exercise in our schools – while surveys tell us they spend a day and a half a week watching television.

This is a trend I intend to reverse. And, since I am where I am, with your help I can do something about it.

Some people regard sport as frivolous. I don’t agree. It’s part of a rounded life for millions.

A love of sport is also one of the gifts we can give to children. It’s good for both their physical and mental growth.

It allows them to let off steam.

It lets them enjoy the sense of growing strength and skills. It’s a binding force between generations.

But all this is to be too dispassionate about sport. Above all, it produces pure enjoyment for those who play and those who watch. Frankly, for me, it needs no other recommendation than that.

But competitive sport does teach something else very valuable as well. For every time it delivers both a winner and a loser. Sportsmen must learn to be both.

Sport only works if both parties play by the rules, accept the result with good grace, and never shout at the referee. And those, too, are lessons which are valuable in later life, even if it doesn’t always look that way when you watch the proceedings of the House of Commons on television.

And there is a wider social case for sport too; playing sport with others provides social skills. It opens doors. It offers the equipment for a more fulfilled life, both when taking part and when looking on.

Many young people have always had good access to sport. But others have been less fortunate. Inadequate sporting provision takes something from young lives – and dangerously so, for it removes one of the best means of learning how to live alongside others and make a contribution as part of a team.

I have an ambition to share with you all. And I’m going to need your help to deliver it. I want to put sport back at the heart of weekly life in every school. To re-establish sport as one of the great pillars of education alongside the academic, the vocational and the moral. It should never have been relegated by the educational theorists to be just one part of one subject in the curriculum. But it has and, over time, that must be reversed.

If we are to bring about the sea change that I want to see, we in Government will need the help of men and women of goodwill everywhere, parents, teachers, coaches, sporting bodies themselves. I can tell you today that we will be publishing shortly a Policy Statement that will set out in the direction we wish to go, both in school and beyond.

It will be a detailed programme. But it will also be the platform for further development beyond our immediate plans. It will sustain the place of minor sports that bring much enjoyment, but it will also ensure that our great traditional sports – cricket, hockey, swimming, athletics, football, netball, rugby, tennis and the like – are put firmly at the centre of the stage.

Our policy plans will reassert our commitment to competitive and team sport in school and beyond school. They will encourage schools, governors and parents to match sporting provision in their school against the best – and help them to do so. But we know, also, that sports education is only the first step to a lifetime’s enjoyment of sport. We need to ensure that sporting opportunities continue after school.

At present, too many teenagers find it difficult to transfer their sporting interests to the world outside school.

So we will aim to improve links between school and club sport. To give improved access to high quality coaching and to promote sensible arrangements to share facilities and equipment.

There is much in this for clubs as well as schools. If a club wants to see its sport grow, and the standard at which it is played improve, it will need to build up its pool of talent. Active links with local schools are clearly the best means of achieving this.

More school sport, and better links between schools and clubs, will be two key themes of our policy. But there’s another aspect too.

I take as much pride as anyone in seeing British sportsmen and women leading the world. That was why I was so keen to see the Olympics come to Britain. The Barcelona Games were a giant fillip for Spanish sport – and we must work to get high quality world sport here in the future.

But the first ingredients we need to win are the men and women themselves. I don’t want to see them having to go abroad to learn how to exploit their talents to the full. We need fully developed programmes of talent spotting and talent support right here at home. And then we can see our sportsmen going out and showing the world how to do it – Cape Town, and Atlanta, and, please Heaven, Bridgetown, Barbados and Adelaide too.

Sport in schools; sport in clubs; and a new deal for elite sport. These are not three separate themes – they will run together in our policy programme. We will soon set out in detail how the Government intends to deliver these objectives. But, as we do, I know one thing. The existence of resources from the National Lottery has transformed for ever the prospects of British sport.

Indeed, when I decided to create the National Lottery that was among my aims. It was a way to provide the resources for sport – and indeed the Arts – that would be unlikely ever to come directly from the taxpayer.

The £300 million a year that the Lottery in full flood will provide for sport will revolutionise it over the years ahead. So, too, will the huge and growing contribution of the corporate sector.

Many businesses, such as the ones who provide SPARKS with sponsorship, already commit considerable time and money to sport and to charity. They do a fantastic job. We hear all too much today about the claims of corporate greed. I wish we could hear more about some of the amazing corporate generosity in this country and the tens of thousands of charities that British companies support.

I wanted to take the opportunity today to underline the importance I attach to our forthcoming plans to improve sport in Britain – and by that I mean sport for all, girls and boys and those with disabilities too. Few people have brought more pride and honour to Britain than those superb disabled athletes who have won such a hatful of medals in the Olympic Games.

Sport is fun. I hope it’s not old fashioned to say that. Fun, fun, fun. And we want as many people as possible to enjoy it. It’s fun to be the best. And so we also want to develop the skills to make us the best. These are our ambitions for the years ahead.

The children who suffer from the illnesses which SPARKS is doing so much to combat will not all be able to participate in sport. But almost all can take pleasure from it. And, for these children, and for people of all ages, it is a relief from the hardships they face. They have a right to that pleasure. I hope we can increasingly provide it.

So today, let me end by paying special tribute to the excellent work which SPARKS carries out. Their sort of voluntary generosity and concern for others stands foursquare in the British tradition.

If by being here today we can further raise the profile of SPARKS and increase its capacity to carry on with its support for innovative medical research, then all will have been worth while. I, for my part, would like to thank you all for the excellent work which you do and to wish you every success for the future.