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 in London on Sport – 14 July 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech in Downing Street, London, on Friday 14th July 1995.


Can I firstly welcome you here. Gathered here this morning are many of the people who really matter in terms of making sure that this initiative works. We have people, not just some of the great icons of British sport, whom I’m delighted to see here, the role models that I hope our kids will follow, but we have representatives of the Teachers Unions and it is going to be vital that we can actually resurrect, provide a proper renaissance for sport in schools. We have got many people who are administrators, the Sports Council Chairmen are here, and many others.

The first point I would like to make about this initiative is that this is not just an initiative for elite sport and for the best of our sportsmen, either male or female. It is a question of expanding sport for everyone – those who are good at it, those who are not; those who are able bodied, those who unfortunately are disabled. The intention is to spread the opportunity for sport and increase the excellence of sport and the impact of sport on our lives in many ways at all tiers of sporting endeavour.

Let me try and just give you a little background to where we find ourselves today. What I found most depressing a few years ago was what seemed to me to be a self-evident need to improve the resourcing and funding of sport, to ensure that we provided the facilities that were necessary, and were able to compete with the best at the highest level and win. And yet, with the other demands there always were going to be on the public purse – mainstream education, pensions, social security, defence – it was always likely at the end of the day that sport would get a good deal less than sport itself could usefully use.

And it was because that applied not just to sport, but also to arts and the heritage and other areas, that I conceived the idea of the national lottery. We needed legislation for the national lottery. I think I can tell you in the privacy and seclusion of this meeting, it did not meet with universal support across the opinion formers in Parliament or in Whitehall. But it has now come into being, the legislation has been passed and the lottery has been established.

And what we can now see, as it comes into full flood, as it will in a couple of years or so, is that the lottery is going to provide, net of prizes and other disbursements, something in the region of 1.5 – 1.75 billion pounds every year, continually for as long as it exists so far as one can tell, to be divided amongst the various good causes that have a statutory right, now under our legislation to a share of the resources of that lottery.

What that means for sport is that the probability is, as it comes into full flow, that in addition to existing funding, sport will probably receive from the national lottery, to be disbursed through the Sports Councils, something in excess of 300 million pounds a year for as far ahead as we can see.

Now one only has to contemplate for a second what all of us in this garden this morning could have done with 3 billion pounds on sport over the last 10 years to see what the prospects are for the future. And it is against that background that we found it possible to begin to discuss within the Department of National Heritage, and with the Sports Council, and with a number of other individuals who are here who paid in many cases visit after visit to Downing Street to talk to me or to Nick True, or to Iain Sproat, we began to discuss the Raising the Game Sports Initiative that we are formally publishing this morning.

Let me just try and outline bits of it, starting from the grass roots upwards. Where, in your judgement, have we lost most in terms of sporting endeavour over the last quarter of a century? I would suggest that we have lost most by the diminution of the importance of sport to our young people and its availability within schools. So the initiative starts there and I am delighted at the support that we have had from the representatives of the teachers, the Teachers Unions and many teachers also that we have spoken to to ensure that this initiative begins to take place.

It is not a single one-off initiative. Today is the start of a whole series of changes. We will be returning to this subject again and again, and I will have more to say about that in a few moments.

What we propose in schools at the beginning is to ensure firstly that competitive team games get a much higher profile in the national curriculum than they had previously; that there will be a minimum of 2 hours formally, but another 4 hours a week informally, outside school hours with the help of teachers who will earn performance points on pay, with the help of teachers who will have special training and extra resources for that training; with amendments to the Teacher Training Colleges and the Teacher Training syllabuses to provide many more teachers who are willing and able to have a skill in teaching a mainstream winter game and a mainstream summer game to the youngsters in their schools. I know from talking to many of the teachers that they are enthusiastic about this and we must provide them with the help and assistance to carry that enthusiasm into being.

What will be crucial will be two other things! firstly, improving the facilities in schools and making those facilities increasingly available to the community as well; and secondly, to build up much closer, more formal links between clubs, not necessarily professional clubs but sporting clubs and institutions and schools in every part of the United Kingdom.

We propose to join with the sports councils and try and invite clubs to adopt a school. One of the problems there often has been is youngsters have gone through school is they leave school and there is no natural avenue to go at 16, 17 or 18, to go to a club, to actually improve and enjoy, and enhance their sporting skills. I don’t have any doubts from the discussions we have had with clubs that they will be willing and eager to do so, some of the great professional clubs do so in remarkable fashion already – Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle, Millwall where many of us will be later on this morning. Many of the cricket country sides these days have much wider county-wide sport encouragement for young people than ever before and all this will fit into the net of plans that we propose but it will start in the schools. I will spare you the details but in essence more sport in schools, more sport outside school hours, better facilities and better training for teachers, a better link with sports clubs and of course schools also are eligible, as many of you who have seen the lottery will have noticed, to look to enhance their sporting facilities with grants from the Sports Council via the national lottery as indeed clubs are, so it starts in the schools.

We move on to the clubs where many of the things I have had to say could be replicated. Simply let me say that already, when you look at the early disbursements from the national lottery, you see a whole range of facilities available to cricket clubs, rugby clubs, athletic clubs, soccer clubs and minority sports as well; let me make the point that this is not just for the mainstream sports, minority sports can benefit also and I hope they will continue to do so.

We move on through the pyramid to the top level of sport. I don’t know if you feel about it as I do but although sport is primarily an enjoyment, I don’t have any doubt that it has its own impact on the national emotions when any of our great sporting icons succeed and beat the rest the world. I will spare the blushes of many who are here and speak perhaps of a minority sport and two people who are not here but it seemed to me that most of this country came to a stop when Christopher Dean and Jane Torvill were beating the world into second place in competition after competition; people who had never taken an interest in ice skating did so; you couldn’t get into the ice skating rinks that exist around the country as youngsters wanted to become the next Torvill and Dean and that icon impact, that role model impact, that delight that spreads right the way through the country when we can show sporting excellence at its best and beat the world is something without being excessively nationalistic that I would like to see. I remember the crowd chanting at White City at the great Chataway/Kuts race when they said that Kuts would win and thank God Chataway did and the whole country rejoiced, If I can embarrass someone here, I doubt there were many people who failed to enjoy Rob Andrews’ dropped goal against the Australians or Devon Malcolm whom I will never forgive for taking nine wickets while I was flying back to watch the last day of the Oval test match and missed it all! These are great sporting occasions so we want to encourage excellence in sport.

There are some sporting academies already – Lilleshall and other regional centres of excellence – and I hope they are going to develop but what we propose is a wholly new innovation for this country. What we propose to establish and discuss, with funding, with the sports council chairmen, is the establishment as soon as possible of the first ever British Academy of Sport to deal with excellence in sport at the highest level.

What I envisage by this is a very large new development probably costing in capital terms something in the region of £90/100 million so far as we can cost it at the moment. we are looking at the development of facilities on a large green-field site perhaps 80/100 acres.

We are looking at the development of the best sporting facilities and coaching along a number of mainstream sports. It won’t be able to go right across the sporting agenda but it will be pretty widespread and will cover all our mainstream sports. Some of it will be residential; some people perhaps will be there for two or three years, others will be there for short courses, others will just pay brief visits, others who are residential may even attend local schools while they are there and one other addition to it which I think has long been necessary will be the development of specialist medical facilities for sporting injuries. There are a number of our great sportsmen over recent years who have had to go abroad to get the best specialist treatment for their particular injuries as a result of their sporting activities. That isn’t good enough and so those medical facilities will also be developed at this British Academy of Sport.

What we propose to do is to invite people to tender with their own ideas but it is going to be quite the largest single development in the move towards sporting excellence that we have seen possibly at any stage in our long sporting history. I hope we are going to get plans for it by the middle of next year, I hope we will be able to proceed with it very speedily. We will learn the lessons from the Australian Academy though it won’t be a direct replica of that, we will have our own ideas and we will build on their ideas and I hope do something better but right at the top it will improve and enhance excellence in sport and it has always been my judgement that excellence in sport at the top will ripple down as people seek to emulate and improve upon the best that they have seen elsewhere right across the range of sporting interests.

That, broadly, is a sketchy outline of what is in today’s “Raising the Game” document. I will launch it more formally with more detail at Millwall – and I know a number of you will be there – a little later on this morning and I hope those of you who haven’t yet seen the video will take the opportunity to look at it; it only lasts for a few minutes but it gives a very clear indication of what we are proposing to do.

There are one or two other oddments that I just might add. If we are going to raise sporting endeavour in schools they need pitches and grounds. One of the initiatives that will come in the Sports White Paper this morning is to maintain the minimum standards that are necessary that schools must have but also for the first time to give the sports councils a statutory right to he consulted and block the sale where appropriate of school playing facilities. That is a change from previous policy, I think it is a change that is right. There may be occasions when it is appropriate because there is a huge excess of sporting facilities to be sold but that is not generally the case. The sports councils will have a statutory right to consult and in those circumstances the sale of the grounds would not proceed and I think that would be worthwhile.

The second ambition that we have is to ensure that by the end of this decade every school in the land will have access to green-field sporting facilities. They may not necessarily be unique to that particular school. I can’t guarantee that; in some parts of the country that would be a reckless promise that we couldn’t necessarily keep but we can, I think, be certain that we will be able to provide green-field sporting facilities with access for every school by the end of this decade and I think that would make a great difference.

We will be relying on help from many other people. You can’t prescribe this by diktat, you can’t write it into legislation. We will need the help and support first and foremost of teachers and volunteers who will help us with, our initiatives in and around schools; we will need the Support of the clubs and we will need the support which I have no doubt will be forthcoming of many of our leading sporting figures to set an example about what actually can be done.

That is what we are about. I think this is an initiative that is long overdue but it isn’t an initiative that could possibly have been carried through until and unless we had access to the sort of funding that has been unleashed by the successful establishment of the national lottery. That is established, it looks secure, the resources look certain, we have started to lay the plans down.

There is just one other thing that I wish to say. I said a moment ago that this isn’t a one-off initiative and for those here from sports governing bodies let me tell you one part of the initiative that perhaps you don’t yet know: what we will be asking you to do is to draw up a ten-year plan for the development of your sport, how you see it developing, what facilities you need, what opportunities exist, how you involve the youngsters, where there is a shortfall in different parts of the country, what are the opportunities for sporting excellence in your particular discipline and we will be bringing those together and I hope that Virginia and lain Sproat – perhaps with a little help from me – can publish round about this time next year another White Paper on sport that will set out the road to excellence over the next decade against the backcloth of the decisions that we have made in the documents that are published today.

That is what we plan. I should offer you lain Sproat’s apologies for not being here. He has been one of the main architects of this policy and the only reason he is not here is that ill luck being what it is, Iain is actually on the floor of the House of Commons at the moment piloting through the Olympic Rings Bill and very probably listening to speeches that need not be made offering support for a policy that is undoubtedly right when I am sure in his heart he would rather have rolled up that business and be here with us. I hope he will soon be able to join us.

Can I just finally thank you for being here. Everyone here in their own way, whether a sports administrator, a sportsman, a representative of the teacher unions, someone from the voluntary sector or our colleagues from journalism has a special role to play. I hope what we are seeking to do will get the widest possible publicity. I hope so for this reason above all: we need the help of literally thousands upon thousands of people who are out there who love sport who I believe will offer their help if they believe there is something that will come out at the other end of it. I believe we have something that will come out at the other end. We need the publicity to bring forward the help.

Thank you for being here this morning. Please feel in no hurry to leave. You are very welcome to stay for – I was going to say for as long as you wish but there are limits – and if any of you do wish to take the opportunity of a tour through the cabinet room or the state rooms upstairs we will have guides able to take you in the next few minutes. Thank you for coming. [Applause].