Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at the British Gymnastics National Awards, held in Telford on Saturday 25 January 2020.
I’d like first to add my own welcome to everyone here tonight:
– to the gymnasts who give us so much pleasure;
– to the coaches for their skill and guidance;
– to the families, without whose enthusiasm our sport would be so much weaker; and
– to the administrators who work so hard for our sport.
And, tonight, to one administrator in particular – our Chief Executive Jane Allen, who was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List.
It was richly deserved – and Jane, many congratulations from us all.
* * * * *
As this is “Awards Night” let me start with our gymnasts. As someone with a damaged leg – but who, even before that, was never particularly graceful – I am full of admiration for our gymnasts.
Admiration for their skills; for their grace; for their courage; for their perseverance; for their commitment; and for their successes.
It is easy to forget how many forms of gymnastics there are.
We have been blessed with world medallists in:
– artistic gymnastics;
– trampoline gymnastics;
– double-mini trampoline and acrobatic gymnastics;
– and, of course, in all the classic gymnastic disciplines.
Gymnastics is an art as well as a sport.
And every single one of our successes is the reward of dedication and high quality coaching.
We have won twelve medals in the last three Olympic Games; and four medals in the most recent World Championships.
When you watch our elite gymnasts – Max Whitlock, or before him Beth Tweddle – you are watching the result not only of extraordinary talent, but also sheer hard work.
I am not surprised that, when Max won his second Gold Medal in Rio, the BBC audience was over 10 million.
But, of course, we’re greedy. We seek ever greater success … ever more medals … and many more people – the young and the not-so-young – committed to our sport.
And, although our elite gymnasts are vital to popularising the sport, our ambition goes much wider. We want to see gymnastics continue to grow in popularity.
To do that, we must expand grassroots facilities to encourage more and more young people to join our clubs and become part of our sport.
So we are investing for the future. We are not a rich sport but, even so, will be investing £7.5 million in new and improved facilities over the next six years.
Today, over one million people take part in gymnastics every week. We are working hard to increase that number.
Some may become the gymnastic icons of the future, others may simply enjoy the fun of competing at local level.
But all will be fitter, and more healthy – both physically and mentally – as a result, and provide a fan base for the future.
We always need to remember that, although elite competition can be fierce, gymnastics is – above all – fun, and has been since the ancient Greeks first popularised it.
What else must we do to help our sport grow?
We must promote elite gymnasts. Their success generates publicity through increased television coverage; brings spectators to competitions; encourages others to take up the sport; and helps deliver sponsorship and other financial support – all of which creates a positive virtual cycle.
We also need the hidden heroes of gymnastics: the coaches, the administrators, the many men and women – including, especially, former gymnasts who give up their time (mostly voluntarily) – to help build up the sport.
And – of course – the veritable array of parents, families and friends who ferry young gymnasts up and down the country, encouraging them and – sometimes – having to console them too.
Of all the sports I know, gymnastics is the most family-orientated, and that is a great strength for our future.
But not the only one.
As well as investing more towards improving and enlarging facilities, British Gymnastics will be hosting a range of international events – for all aspects of the sport – as well as holding a World Cup each year.
And, in a little over two years, the Commonwealth Games will be held in Birmingham.
So, there is a lot happening – all of which will help boost the profile of our sport, and encourage our future growth.
But, tonight, we are here to celebrate the best of the best of our recent past.
I warmly congratulate all our Award winners tonight, and commiserate with those who might not have won, but who have nonetheless done so much to enhance our sport during the past twelve months.
Everyone present this evening – in one way or another – has contributed to the growing success of gymnastics.
So – I would like to thank you all for all you have done in the past, and all you will continue to do in the future which – for gymnastics – looks very promising indeed.