Step forward Sir John Major, the Tory premier and sports fan who picked up the baton after Team GB had finished in a humiliating 36th place at the 1996 Olympics with just a token gold medal.
Despite his premiership imploding because of tensions over Europe – a familiar story – Major had the foresight, despite considerable opposition, to push through plans to create the National Lottery to fund good causes.
And his subsequent decision, after the Atlanta debacle, to set up the National Sport Academy, with £100m of Lottery funding, was, in many respects, the catalyst for Team GB’s rise up the medal table at subsequent Olympics.
Put simply, it enabled provided financial support – and world-class coaching – for those competitors who had the potential, and talent, to become the best in the world. Now there are established centres for excellence for individual sports such as the triathlon in Leeds, boxing in Sheffield and track cycling over the Pennines in Manchester.
No wonder so many of Team GB’s heroes from Tokyo such as gymnast Max Whitlock and swimmer Adam Peaty, now triple Olympic champions, always thank the National Lottery when they acknowledge all those who have helped them.
But the early momentum from Major’s intervention convinced Tony Blair to take up the running and then sanction London’s ultimately successful bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – another turning point.
And the successful staging of a home Olympics is one reason why Team GB is prospering in such a range of sports in Japan – many of the younger medal-winners took up sport after being inspired by their heroes in 2012.
Now the onus is on Boris Johnson to reiterate his government’s commitment to all sport from grassroots clubs to elite competitors whose stirring example as role models does so much to boost the nation’s health and wellbeing.
Given the acceptance that young people have lost more opportunities than most during the Covid pandemic, I hope the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak win their own Olympic test by pursuing some or all of the following ideas:
* extra funding for multi-purpose all-weather pitches in local communities so sporting activities are less weather dependent;
* support for those ‘urban sports’ such as skateboarding, climbing and freestyle BMX riding that have made such an impact and clearly resonate with youngsters;
* a renewed commitment to swimming – a genuine life skill – so far more primary school pupils have a chance to become proficient in the water.
* considering whether it is now safe to fully reopen leisure centres and sports facilities following the Covid pandemic;
* a review of the rates levied against grassroots and community clubs and whether this is the best approach when they contribute so much good to local areas.
I realise these are tough times for the economy – but the outlook was also pretty bleak in 1992-93 when Major’s government was falling apart.
But that did not stop Major from going for gold – even though it would take many years for his investment in sport to pay off – and Boris Johnson should not shy away from following his predecessor’s Olympic example. On your marks, Boris, get set, and go...
IT is a good job that Gavin Williamson was not picked to represent Britain in the relay events at Tokyo – the Education Secretary would have dropped the baton and tripped over his his own shadow.
The man who is more Frank Spencer than the hapless Frank Spencer himself in Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, the 1970s TV comedy classic, Williamson’s multiple failings have now been set out by two new reports this week.
First, the Institute for Government – a body that oversees the workings of Whitehall – slammed the Department for Education’s culture of “pause, rewind, repeat” when it came to misakes ranging from decisions pertaining to last summer’s exams to the closeof schools in January a day after the Spring term began.
Now researchers from the University of Cambridge and University College London (UCL) have revealed that parents were often on the phone to schools about new policy measures before heads even had a chance to read official guidance on changes and brief teachers.
There were also 12 occasions in which five or more documents were published in a single day for immediate interpretation.
No wonder so many teachers are in a state of despair – and so many are so disillusioned that they’re now unwilling to go the extra mile when it comes to extra-curricular activities like PE lessons.
UNLIKE Labour peer Digby Jones, I’ve no problem with the accent, or elocution, of BBC Olympics presenter Alex Scott – my issue would be the shallowness of her sporting knowledge and interviews each evening.
THANK you Radio 5 Live – never did I expect commentary of Olympic events like taekwondo, freestyle BMX, yachting and skateboarding to be so spinetingling without live TV pictures. Gold medal broadcasting to lift the spirits.
FINALLY, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton complains that he’s suffering from long Covid. in his latest whinge. Why, therefore, is he still allowed to compete in a high-speed sport where the risks are omnipresent?
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