The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference on Sport – 24 July 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference on sport, held in London on Wednesday 24th July 1996.


Can I firstly thank you all for being here today and say how pleased I am to see you. I must say the Downing Street lawn over the years has seen many events, but I don’t think any have been quite as enjoyable as seeing the youngsters play there this morning. And I hope when I have finished speaking for a few moments that you will go straight back to your game, because it is much better to be playing sport than listening to speeches, even in Downing Street.

I will be quite brief. I want firstly to thank you all for being here. And also just to say a few words about sport and what is happening and what we propose to happen in the future.

A year or so ago we launched the initiative to improve the level of sporting opportunities both at a national level, at a club level, and most crucially of all, at a school and local level. And I wanted to report to you some of the things that have been happening in that year and to illustrate the fact that that wasn’t a one-off development, that we are determined that these plans to improve sport at all levels get carried through and with the resources to make our plans, and our hopes, and our aspirations become a reality.

Let me tell you some of what has been happening in the last year. I spoke a year or so ago of my dream of having a National Academy of Excellence, a British Academy of Sport. Let me tell you this morning that we have made a great deal of progress with that, the resources are now available for it and I anticipate that we will get tenders for a British Academy of Sport by around October, with a decision made about the site probably in January of next year.

The purpose of this Academy, and we envisage a single central academy with perhaps up to 100 acres of land, will be to provide for the sporting elite, including the disabled sporting elite and participants in the paralympics, some of the best sporting equipment, coaching, training, scientific research, that you will find anywhere in the world. We have that at Lilleshall for football but we don’t have it for all other sports and I hope that we are going to be able to develop that.

What I would like to see is the very best in British sport become the very best anywhere in the world, not just because we like winning, though I freely confess to you I do like to see our sports teams winning, but because I think the success of our national sporting teams, and our national sporting heroes in individual competitions like athletics, gives a lift both to the complete sport itself and to the whole country. We are a sports-loving nation and I believe that we have under-valued sport and its place in our national life for too long. That was largely done because sport has to compete for its money against social security, pensions, defence and all sorts of other areas.

It was precisely because it would never get the resources that it needed that I decided to develop a national lottery. That will provide a continuing flow of money, in addition – in addition – to the money that comes from the government to develop sport, and the arts and other parts of our national life that are important to so many people.

The lottery has been a stunning success and it is going to provide for as far ahead as we can see something in the region of 300 million pounds every year for sport. I just invite all those present, sports administrators and others, to contemplate what we could have done with British sport at national, club and school level, if we had had 300 million a year for each year over the last 10 years. We didn’t, but we have now, and we have to think on the grand scale of what we can achieve in the years that lie immediately ahead. The British Academy of Sport will be at the pinnacle of what is going to be there.

But sport to me is a good deal more than just ensuring that our national teams, and our national competitors, are the best and have the best. I wish that to be so, but it is much more than that. Sport exists at club level, at village level and crucially at school level. And if we want to produce future great sporting champions either as teams or individuals, we are going to have to build from the bottom upwards, produce that love of sport and that opportunity for sport in youngsters like these here today and millions more like them in the future.

So I would like to say a word or two about sport in schools. We set a minimum target last year of at least 2 hours sport in school and we are making progress towards that, though it is not yet universally achieved, but it will be. But that of course is still inadequate for what I wish to see available for young people and available in schools. I wish to build on that and l wish to build on that in several ways. Firstly by better links between schools and clubs. I don’t by clubs mean the Surreys, the Middlesex, the Arsenal and the Wasps, I mean smaller local clubs as well as that so that school sporting facilities and club sporting facilities are more available both to the club players, and to the school players and there is an inextricable link between the two, to begin to provide a ladder of sporting choice and opportunity from the very young years upwards. I want to see those school facilities used outside school. And the lottery is available to provide sporting facilities for schools as well. In the last year or so something like 20 million pounds has been provided for schools through the lottery to provide sports pitches, cricket nets, sport halls, football pitches, athletics equipment and all sorts of things that otherwise would not have been available to schools.

We propose also to institute a new system that will offer a special sportsmark, a special acknowledgment for schools that actually specialise in making sure that a proper sporting provision is available for their youngsters. And in my judgment, sport is as much an important part of school life as is mathematics, the other sciences and the arts as well. We need to develop that love at a very young age.

We propose also to seek some specialist educational institutions that specialise in sport, and a large number of the pupils going into those would be people with some sporting ability.

We propose to have university scholarships, on which some money has already been spent and more will be spent, to provide more opportunity to make sure that university and further education sport develops. So at each level we wish to see the development of sport.

One other area I might just briefly mention is the question of the availability of sporting pitches. For some years people have been concerned at the loss to schools and educational establishments of their sporting pitches. Well we have taken action that will effectively stop that. There may be one or two areas where there is such a surplus of sporting equipment that it is appropriate to sell it. But mostly that isn’t the case and the best way to stop that is to do what we have done, and that is to give the Sports Council a statutory right to object if educational establishments wish to sell off sporting fields. I believe that will stop it in its tracks and make sure that schools retain the open space and opportunity to have the team sports which need outside facilities as well as the inside gymnasium facilities that are available.

I am also delighted that with the cooperation of British Coal we have managed to preserve a very large number of sporting establishments, sporting sites that otherwise might have disappeared out of sport, particularly in the north of England, some 200 sites that will, as a result of the negotiations, be protected for sport and be available for sporting endeavour for the future.

So these are just a small sample of the developments and changes that we have seen in the last year. For those of you from the press, many more of the things that have happened are set out in the very detailed literature that is available for you this morning and I hope you look at it.

But the message I just want to convey is this. The determination to improve sporting opportunities is not a one year determination, it is a continuing determination by government to work with the Sports Council. We now have a UK Sports Council and the Chairman is with us here today, and I am delighted to see that, so we can properly develop at all levels, from the very top, from the excellence at the top to the people who may be no good at sport but just happen to love it, right down at the bottom. That the facilities for enjoying sport, for watching sport, for taking part in sport are increasingly available in this country.

I believe this is an initiative that is long overdue. It is, I freely confess to you, an initiative that is very close to my heart. The best days of my life at school were certainly the days where we had some form of cricket, or rugby, or soccer or athletics. And if I say to these youngsters, anyone who tells you that school-days are the best days of your life, needs their [indistinct], except of course with the sporting provision that I hope increasingly will be available.

So I would like to express my thanks to the people here. There is a changing attitude in schools. I remember going, a couple of years ago – rather longer actually – to a school to watch their sports day. What I saw shocked me in the culture that I saw there. A teacher said to me, well of course we have sports because it is good to make the children fit, but we don’t want competition, we don’t want people coming first and people coming last because that is damaging. So this is really a sort of anti-competitive day. We would like all the children to feel they have won and had a prize. And while the teacher was saying that to me, over in the corner the kids were organising races to see who won and who lost. And that is actually what sport is about, to see if you can win, to enjoy playing, but to see if you can win, if you can improve your standard and if you can have the enormous amount of enjoyment from sport that millions of other people have had in the past either from playing it or by watching it, then you will have quite literally a love for life that will never leave you. And our plans are to instil that opportunity to learn to love and play sport in schools, in clubs, in professional sport, in amateur sport and in excellence at the top of our sporting pyramid. That ladder of opportunity is being put in place.

I would like just finally to thank the many sports administrators and national sporting stars who are here today to indicate their love of the games, their determination to see sport play its proper part in national life and also to give me the opportunity to thank so many of them for the way in which the sports stars have so often provided a role model that other people can aim to emulate and the administrators have striven to put in place a proper series of sporting facilities for the future. That is a communal aim. Thank you for being here to enable me to reiterate it again this morning.

We have made a lot of progress in the last year and I am very grateful to Iain Sproat and Virginia Bottomley for all they have done to help bring that about. But what we have done is still the beginning. Fasten your mind on 300 million pounds plus every year, this year, next year, the year after that and for as far ahead as we can see, and begin to contemplate what we can build in this country for sporting opportunities for those who are the best, those who are quite good and those who just love to take part in whatever sport it is that fascinates them. That is what we are building and thank you for being here this morning to be a part of that development. Thank you very much indeed.