29 06 2010
Can we have a strategy please Minister?

It could only happen in the ‘say one thing, do another’ world of politics. A politician announces a sound, new policy which will overturn a decade or more of poor policy and then, barely a month later does exactly what he said he was going to eradicate.   


In the Daily Telegraph of Friday 21st May, the new Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson announced an end to what he termed ‘initiative-itis’ and this blog applauded him for it.    

And yet yesterday, only five weeks and three days later, Mr Robertson proudly announced the launch of a new, nationwide initiative which, the Minister tells us, “will provide a tangible sporting legacy from the London 2012 Games.”    

Inside The Games reported:    

The new Olympic and Paralympic-style schools sports competition will create a new sports league structure for primary and secondary schools culminating in an inaugural national final to be held in the run up to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.    

The scheme will see schools compete against each other in leagues at a local level from 2011 with winning athletes and teams qualifying for up to 60 county finals.    

The most talented young athletes will then be selected for the national finals while schools will also be encouraged to host in-house Olympic-style sports days so that children of all abilities have the opportunity to compete.     

There will be a Paralympic element at every level of the competition for young people with disabilities while the ambition is for the competition to continue after 2012.    

Robertson claimed that the competition is a key part of the Government’s plans to create a lasting sporting legacy from hosting the London 2012 Games and to maximise the sporting opportunities available to all.    

Robertson told insidethegames: “I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I think it partly answers the question of, ‘What is the sporting legacy from London 2012?’     

“The legacy from 2012 is coming out of this because every single child going through the school system in England today has the opportunity to play competitive sport and they are inspired to do that by 2012.    

“That is the best possible use of the London Olympics.”    

The new initiative sounds great, it should excite, inspire and motivate generations to come and should place competitive sport back at the heart of school Games and PE.    

So why am I criticising it?    

I’m criticising it because it has the same flaws a decade of other well meaning initiatives have had. It stands in splendid isolation; it is not a part of any vertically integrated sports development planning. It is a standalone initiative, all be it a vast, ambitious one, which assumes that all of the many structures and systems needed to create the proper developmental pathway are in place.    

I’d like to ask Mr Robertson; where is your strategy, the properly thought out, integrated strategy which fully services the sports development continuum of Foundation, Participation, Performance and Excellence?    

It isn’t in place. Mr Robertson, having criticised ‘initiative-itis’, has now launched a huge initiative and crossed his fingers instead of planning.    

He has crossed his fingers that clubs covering every sport on the new events’ programme exist close enough to every participating school (that’s all of them) to service the demand created.    

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that where those clubs do exist, the coaching and non-school competition structure is in place to support the hoped for influx of eager young people.    

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that teachers are sufficiently well trained and versed in such a range of sports that the programme can be properly introduced to beginners in an appropriate way. Or has he crossed his fingers and hoped that an imaginary army of coaches are standing by to support these teachers? Remember that primary school teachers receive very little formal PE training in any sport as part of their training, typically less than a month of their degree courses.    

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that at a time when budgets are being slashed in local authorities, the nation’s biggest sports facility providers, that there will be adequate facilities for this boom in new interest in sport remembering also that as a non-statutory requirement sport and leisure are likely to face significant local authority cuts. Perhaps making provision of and support for sports facilities and sports development gaining statutory status would be a sensible 2012 Legacy Minister?    

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that after cutting £7 million from County Sports Partnerships there will be sufficient local sports development expertise to support the growth in interest.    

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that the funding, the tutors, the courses will be in place for the training of the new coaches the new young sports men and women will require. That is assuming the local clubs have found the volunteers to train as coaches in the first place.    

Should I go on?    

Mr Robertson quite rightly told us that ‘initiative-itis’ was a flawed way to develop sport. Initiatives can only work properly as planned, targeted elements of a properly devised, greater strategy for the development of sport. Initiative-itis is not the way forward.    

This new initiative will undoubtedly enthuse new generations to a lifetime of sporting participation and, where talent permits, the pursuit of sporting excellence. It may not sound like it, but I applaud it. It is better to have it than not have it but to maximise its effect, to fully exploit its benefit to the nation please Mr Robertson sort out the wider, urgently required strategy. Do not offer all these young people a taste of the Promised Land only for them to discover the infrastructure to pursue it is not in place.    

Please Mr Robertson, can we see a genuine sports development strategy in place of this cross your fingers planning?    

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010



4 responses

29 06 2010

I have to say I am a supporter of the crossed fingers approach.

I take the view that athletics, and probably tennis needs less coaches, and more team managers who will arrange transport, sports kit and other resources which allow children to participate in meaningful competition.

My fingers are crossed that the coaches, and training opportunities will emerge in the voluntary sector to service the needs of the high achieving athletes. The low achieving athletes will always be welcomed.

After ten years of “best practise”, and social engineering in sport, I welcome an era which recognises that competition is the priority in sport. If competition is well funded, and the county champions are funnelled upwards into the national championships, I am confident that families, friends and experienced coaches will create a support structure to ensure the competitions continue and athletes are supported – fingers crossed.

29 06 2010
john bicourt

Like most politicians they talk convincingly when they’re not in power about how they will change things but once they get in (on false promises) most of that is forgotten because the Whitehall mandarins (permanent civil servants) and the host of directors and managers in the quangos give them their ‘professional’ advice that things are not as bad as they think and that initiatives are “good,”
they’re what the public like because it looks as if something’s being done.

Unfortunately, Robertson, with absolutely no experience of national sport organisation, development strategy and achievement pathways, is relying solely on what he is being told by those in the sports quangos more interested in keeping their jobs.

This initiative isn’t Robertson’s it’s grounded in the previous government’s DCMS policy of deluding the public with initiatives that look good. And if they look good they must be good. But the reality is very different.

Robertson says his government has, ” three clear priorities for sport. These are to win the 2018 World Cup bid, deliver the London 2012 Olympics and on the back of this to drive a genuine legacy for sport.”

Fine words indeed but just who has he consulted, outside of the corridors of power, to achieve these fine aims? What independent, objective and ongoing analysis has he considered to see if this latest initiative can actually work?

29 06 2010
john bicourt


He says that as a government they are committed to the reform of UK Sport and Sport England (the later of which he was extremely critical of before he was elected) and the Youth Sport Trust. Then he adds, that once this is finalised and, “….we know the outcome of London 2012” he will look again at sport governing body structures as part of the wider review of performance –“but not until then.”!

So there you have it. Nothing will change until after 2012. Why not? Because Robertson is afraid of himself and his government being blamed any failures. He can just say, as he has done, “two years out from London is (was) not the time to commence structural reform of British Athletics…”

Clearly, he has not been informed or has ignored the fact that the previous government did just that in 1998 when they offered funding (under their conditions) and effectively closed down the existing NGB for athletics and set up their own one . Two years on the Sydney Olympics produced the highest number of athletics medals (6) than the following two Olympics in Athens and Beijing. It must be said, however, that our medals came from long established world class athletes who had achieved their standards prior to the government’s total structural reform.

What Robertson has failed to accept or even recognise is the absolute necessity for an independent, continuous statistical analysis and audit of the state of the sport together with independent expert advice on strategy and development through “fun to fulfillment” and how money is being best used to achieve the delivery he and we all expect? Without it he and his government will stand totally culpable for what happens in 2012 and the legacy he has promised. They will look as foolish and incompetent as the FA does over the England’s latest World Cup failure, only in their case it will be public money they have allowed to be squandered as well as letting the country down.

15 07 2010
IS IT INITIATIVE-ITIS? THE MINISTER SAYS NOT – The short version « Cowan Global Blog

[…] Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics has gone on record on the pages of ‘Inside The Games’ lambasting my blog on the return of ‘Initiative-itis’ only five weeks after he had promised its end.  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: