24 12 2010

We would like to wish everyone who reads the Cowan Global Blog a very merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and prosperous new year.

Thank you for ‘looking in’ during 2010, we look forward to seeing you in 2011.


20 12 2010

Michael Gove - was it really a u-turn?

Michael Gove, the Government’s Education Secretary yesterday made the expected announcement that his department is to do a U-turn on Schools Sports Partnerships.

Or did he?

Looking behind the headlines, what Mr Gove has actually announced amounts to little more than a stay of execution, a temporary extension of funding while the fuss dies down or, in his words; “…..I’m pleased to be able to confirm some funding for school sports partnerships during this transition. But I’m looking to PE teachers to embed sport and put more emphasis on competitions for more pupils in their own schools and to continue to help the teachers in local primary schools do the same…..”

The transition to which he refers is that from School Sports Partnerships to some, as yet undefined, new system in which schools will be funded to release one PE teacher for one day a week to promote pupils’ participation in PE and sporting activities.

In my 2nd December blog I suggested that the likely u-turn would beg the bigger question of how to we then do things better? However, instead of returning us to that point, Mr Gove has returned to a temporary place half way back, not so much how do we improve the model but more how far back can we take the model to dupe the public into believing the Government has listened while they decide what alternative they can come up with.

It owes more to Big State than to Big Society. Not only have they not listened, they are trying to pretend they have.

Of course, one thing that MUST happen if sports development is to again become a meaningful term in the UK is the creation of a fully, vertically integrated strategy for the development of sport. Trying to run school sport separately from main stream sport smacks only of horizontal integration at best and with little evidence of ANY strategy from either Department for Education (DfE) or DCMS it is not even that.

Mr Gove has yet to propose anything to address the lack of teaching of Physical Literacy in our primary (and secondary) schools, a fundamental component of the foundations of any long-term sports participation. He has yet to propose anything that addresses the woeful lack of PE training undergone by those training to become primary school teachers. So far his sole offering is the Minister for Sport’s pet initiative, the Schools Olympics, he is offering nothing for those who are not competitive or even those who like competing but are only moderately talented.

Hugh Robertson - told us he has a strategy for sport in July but has yet to produce it

Hugh Robertson (Minister for Sport) tells us the Government has a strategy for sport. Mr Gove tells us they are devising plans for school sport. Which is it? Does the Government have a strategy or is it still at the planning stage? Or do they see school sport as remote, separate from main stream sport?

Mr Gove and Mr Robertson need to get their heads together and start thinking about more than initiatives that look good and can be dressed as serving ‘legacy’ (but please don’t look too closely) and start thinking about how best to serve the long-term interests of sport in this country and thereby the people of this country.

That means a strategy for the development of sport which is vertically integrated. That means properly addressing every stage of the sports development continuum. It also means making the provision of sporting facilities, the support of clubs with community roots and backing for the development of sport a statutory requirement of local authorities (in line with most of Europe).

If the two Ministers do that then legacy would take care of itself but they need to act fast before we lose faith completely.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


18 12 2010

Regular readers of this blog will recall that back in May, when the Government was new; I applauded the Minister for Sport’s announcement that he was to end what he termed ‘initiative-itis’. At last, I thought, a Government that will put strategy ahead of piecemeal initiatives, a Minister who will support the proper, planned development of sport.

Then, only a month later, Hugh Robertson (the Minister in question) announced a new initiative and I blogged that initiative-itis had returned before it had even left asking the Minister, Please Mr Robertson, can we see a genuine sports development strategy in place of this cross your fingers planning?”

Through the pages of ‘Inside The Games’ (where some of my blogs are reproduced) Mr Robertson responded angrily that he did have a strategy with a clear direction. He cited a list of impressive sounding aims and objectives telling us, “This is a strategy with a clear direction.”

We're still awaiting the strategy Mr Robertson

Unfortunately, Mr Robertson had failed to advise us of one key component of this ‘strategy’ – the ‘how’; he failed to indicate how we are going to achieve the listed aims and objectives. Why was this important? Because any strategy without the ‘how’ is actually not a strategy at all, more a list of aspirations.

I pointed this out to the Minister asking if the strategy exists, as he assured us it does, could we please see said strategy. That was in July and Mr Robertson’s response is still awaited. We still await sight of his much vaunted strategy.

Then, on 15th November the Minister for Sport unveiled ‘Places People Play’ described as the Government’s London 2012 Legacy plans.

‘Hurray’ I thought, ‘the promised strategy at last!’

But alas; no. ‘Places People Play’ is much like Mr Robertson’s earlier reply to my blog, heavy on aspiration but very light on ‘how’ and without the ‘how’ (I know, I’m repeating myself) it is not a strategy.

Now, I am not alone in stating this. The Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research (SPEAR) at Canterbury Christ Church University agrees with me. In an exceptional article about the London 2012 Mass Participation Legacy Plan, Professor Mike Weed states; “Now we know the WHAT and WHY, but no one is telling us HOW!

In his personal blog, ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Sports Participation Statistics’ Professor Weed goes further, pointing out fundamental flaws in the way statistics are being used to support the legacy bandwagon and giving valid reasons why the aims and objectives of ‘Places People Play’ will fall short.

Much is made of the £135 million being invested in sport via ‘Places People Play’ but will it provide a legacy? With councils, traditionally the nation’s largest funder of sport, up and down the country facing a struggle to maintain services and sport falling outside of the statutory requirements of local authorities will that £135 million (over three years) balance with the likely cuts to local sport provision? A quick calculation suggests it is the approximate equivalent of only £340,000 per authority or £113,000 per year of ‘Places People Play.’!

Apologies if I repeat myself again, but in previous blogs I have suggested that if we want a genuine lasting legacy from hosting the 2012 Olympic Games then the Government could do worse than matching most of the rest of Europe and making the provision of sporting facilities, the support of clubs with community roots and backing for the development of sport a statutory requirement of local authorities.

The Government could further support a lasting sporting legacy by leading on the creation of a genuine, vertically integrated strategy for the development of sport in the UK which understands, supports and delivers on the principles behind the sports development continuum.

In short the Government could drop the ‘initiative-itis’ (a term coined by its own Minister) which was so rampant under its predecessors, and which it has already acknowledged does not work, and begin planning properly. Step One needs to be by thinking about ‘how’.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


15 12 2010

Reblogged from Gemma Kane’s blog, ‘These Gems of Wisdom’ explaining why Gemma (and now Cowan Global) support Tor’s Christmas Wish…..

Erm… who is Tor?

Well I follow her, Victoria, on Twitter, that is to say I am not a stalker of course! She is @Tor87 and now you can follow her too if you like. She is a really upbeat, attractive and all round lovely girl in her early twenties with a passion for musical theatre and also one who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, who is in dire need of a double lung transplant to regain her quality of life. Tor could easily be my best friend or your sister. She is a person, not a normal person because she is quite extraordinary and has more strength and character in her little pinky than many people I know (I do love you all but I hope you see where I am going with this).

SO! What is Tor’s Christmas wish?

Despite the obvious actually her wish is simple she is not looking for a miracle. She would like 5000 people to sign up to the organ donors list by the end of December. Her wish is not a selfish one, it is also about looking at the bigger picture. The more registered donors, the more likely it is people like Tor don’t have to suffer.

I for one have always thought I would be happy that if either I or loved one were to suffer the inevitable, I would like to help someone in my time of sadness, I just never signed up. I personally always thought that I would cross that bridge when I came to it or I will do it tomorrow, I had good intentions. Oh dear I sound lazy, I’m not, I just always thought that it happened to other people. Well I procrastinate no more! I did it, I registered and it was over so quickly I wasn’t sure I had done it. That is how simple it is.

I am giving my Christmas wishes to Tor this year and would like to support her campaign. I don’t understand how if you can make a positive difference why you wouldn’t? That doesn’t mean you have to sign up, oh no, you can make a positive difference in so many ways.

What can little old you do?

Doing just one of the things on this list will mean you will be doing a good thing that makes a difference. But since you had time to read this little blog, maybe still have half a cuppa to drink and time to spare, go on, do two!

Thanks Gemma and Merry Christmas Tor, we hope you get your wish.


5 12 2010

Having already looked at the reaction in England to losing the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia, I would like to turn my attention to the uninformed, largely bigoted vitriol being aimed at Qatar for, it would appear, no other reason than they had a successful bid.

I should declare in advance that I am a ‘fan’ of many of the Gulf nations having worked in and visited a number of them, including Qatar.

In my last blog I pointed out the importance of legacy to FIFA, something we have largely ignored in England when reacting to the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Qatar understands legacy. To my knowledge it is the only nation on the planet where every single school child has the opportunity to be Talent ID’d. And not just once but twice; the first time at nine years of age and then again at 13/14. That is Talent ID for a range of sports not just football.

Qatar has also invested heavily in building a sporting infrastructure. The 2006 Doha Asian Games were a huge success

Serena Williams winning in Doha

as were the 2010 IAAF Indoor World Athletics Championships both taking place in world-class facilities. Top flight golf, sailing, tennis, gymnastics and more all visit Qatar on a regular basis.

Below the top-level, Doha boasts the Aspire Academy where children gain a top-level education alongside instruction and coaching in a range of sports from leading coaches. Aspire boasts amazing facilities including a full size, temperature controlled, indoor football pitch in a vast sports complex which has to be seen to be believed. The Academy also works with the broader community in developing sport in Qatar including running after school centres where primary school aged children learn physical literacy, something, as I recently blogged, our own education system still does not offer.

One of the fingers pointed at Qatar’s winning bid for 2022 has been that the summer temperatures will be too high to play football. Certainly 40-50 degrees is normal but there is already talk of the new stadia being ‘air conditioned’ to control temperatures for players.

From the Qatari bid document: “Each of the five stadiums will harness the power of the suns rays to provide a cool environment for players and fans by converting solar energy into electricity that will then be used to cool both fans and players at the stadiums. When games are not taking place, the solar installations at the stadia will export energy onto the power grid. During matches, the stadia will draw energy from the grid. This is the basis for the stadiums’ carbon-neutrality. Along with the stadiums, we plan to make the cooling technologies we’ve developed available to other countries in hot climates, so that they too can host major sporting events.”

Now that is legacy! And don’t bet against it happening, Qatar along with other Gulf states has a ‘can do’ attitude when it comes to solving problems, one has only to look at amazing engineering feats such as the Palm and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Female athletes in Doha 2010 – not exactly covered up!

Another one of the uninformed accusations aimed at Qatar has been that women fans from around the world will have to ‘cover up’. The IAAF faced this question when first taking Grand Prix athletics (now the Diamond League) to Doha in 1997. Sensible discussion led to women being permitted to compete initially with arms and legs covered but in recent years in ‘normal’ kit. Women play an important part in Qatari life managing banks, working as doctors, teaching children and more. That said, Qatar is, despite its wealth, a relatively emerging nation and equality still has some way to go but it is nowhere near as bad as is being portrayed.

Another favourite of the bigots is the now rather tedious fear of all that is Islam. At its heart Islam is a religion of peace which has had its teachings abused and mistaught in some parts of the world, much as Christianity has too! Visitors to Qatar can go about their day-to-day lives without fear of abduction or bombing or shooting, Doha is not Kabul in fact it was the sight of the main allied HQ during the Iraq war!

Under the teachings of Islam use of alcohol is frowned upon and another of the crass statements I have heard is that fans won’t be able to get a beer. Well, I had no problem getting an alcoholic drink while I was there for while it is true there are no pubs all of the western hotels have at least one bar open to the general public. Furthermore the Qatar bid document stated that fan-zones serving alcohol will be set up for the tournament. The Qataris won’t however tolerate drunkenness in the streets or drunk and disorderly behaviour, why should they? Should hosting the World Cup finals mean the host has to accept the sort of idiocy all too frequently seen in English towns and cities every Saturday night?

Finally, and laughably, one pundit even questioned how such a small country should be allowed to host the World Cup! Why not? If only from a fans perspective this will surely make getting between games/venues far easier as oppose to (e.g.) the US who have led much of the finger-pointing outside England.

My own experience of working in, living in and of visiting the Gulf has me looking forward to 2022 with great anticipation. As the Qatari bid’s Strapline said; ‘Expect amazing!’

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


3 12 2010

Let me begin by making it quite clear that I am not about to defend the patently outdated and far from transparent process employed by FIFA in awarding the 2018/22 World Cup finals. That said, when things go wrong, it is often wise to look at oneself before pointing the finger at others. We Brits might like to think ourselves the guardians of fair play but the finger-pointing towards ‘Johnny Foreigner’ since Russia’s victory was announced does not paint us in a very good light.

England’s bid was globally agreed to be the best technical bid and the best commercial bid. So what might our bid team have got wrong?

It’s not so much that they got something wrong, it is that there was an important FIFA ‘want’ that they had no chance of getting right, or at least more ‘right’ than the opposition. Legacy.

Football is huge in England, further development of participation is challenging. The Premier League is a worldwide phenomenon, further development of ‘brand Premier League’ around the world is also challenging. Players from more nations play professional and semi-professional football in England than in any other FIFA member country (of which there are 208), so further development here is…you guessed it, challenging.

Of course, ‘challenging’ does not mean impossible but those challenges to developing the game and others (including a larger contribution to increasing overseas participation) are far smaller in Russia and they played that card expertly.

FIFA had made it clear that more than anything else, they want the World Cup to generate a long-lasting legacy for football. Was their bid better than ours? Not commercially, not technically, but in sport as in life you play the hand you are dealt and structure your tactics accordingly.

And if those FIFA delegates about to vote on the destination of this huge prize had looked to the UK to judge how we deliver on legacy what might they have seen? A nation whose winning of the 2012 Olympic Games was built on the promise of a sports participation  legacy who, with less than two years to go, have yet to put any meaningful strategy for that legacy in place and which tries to develop sport via a succession of initiatives in place of properly integrated strategy. Hardly a trump card!

I don’t doubt there was corruption and lies. But we knew the likelihood of that was high going into the campaign and failed to plan our way around it. Panorama and rioting fans in Birmingham probably didn’t help much either and I don’t also doubt that delegates told our team that they would vote for England before voting for our rivals. That is hardly a crime, I know a few people who do the same every general election, telling cold calling politicians they have their vote just to get them off their doorstep!

Back to the beginning of this article; I’m not making excuses for FIFA and neither am I being an apologist for corruption. Change is needed in the House of Blatter.

But please, let’s not demean ourselves with petty finger-pointing before we have gone through a proper process of self-examination and reflection. Neither should we demean ourselves with excuses, for excuses are not the same thing as reasons and if we are to bid successfully for major world sports events again in the future, it is understanding and planning around the reasons for failure this time which will allow us to do so successfully.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


2 12 2010

Is the Government about to do a U-turn?

The BBC News website reported (1st December) that David Cameron has ordered a rethink on school sports cuts. Such a U-turn, if it comes, should be applauded and would be a tremendous victory for common sense.

However we should not celebrate. School sport should be no different from elite sport in that we should always be striving to do things better, a Government turn-about will only return us to where we were.

The debate over whether to keep School Sports Partnerships (SSPs) or to dispose with them has put us in danger of getting back what we had and, mistakenly seeing it as a step forward, settling for where we were as that step forward.

This blog has recently tackled the absence of proper Physical Literacy development in our primary schools, absent despite having School Sports Partnerships (SSPs). We have also asked whether ‘cuts or no cuts’ is even the right question.

And asking the right question(s) is key to moving sport forward. As any good consultant will tell you, asking questions is easy, it is in asking the right questions and in asking the right follow-up questions that we establish facts and in matters of strategy (which this is) gain the depth of intelligence we need in order to progress in the right direction, at the right pace and with the right resources.

So when Michael Gove tells us that he would like schools to focus on more competitive sport  I worry that the so-called ‘experts’ advising him have not asked him how he intends to provide the structure that supports this, a structure largely serviced by SSPs? Where is the structure that supports the development of people so that beyond simply taking part in competitive sport they can enjoy and even excel at it? If Mr Gove and the Government want a legacy then they should be told by someone who actually ‘gets’ sport that prolonged participation is far more likely among people who have the basic skill set to enjoy sport.

Another question for Mr Gove might also be; what about young people who don’t enjoy competitive sport? Why are they going to take up, let alone stay in, sport?

It is a question I asked myself 17 years ago and which, in part, led to my coming up with the idea for, designing and launching the Race For Life. Through my involvement in organising other running events I had noticed that the percentage of female participants was generally extremely low and although there were/are other societal issues and, although not enjoying competitive sport is not limited solely to women, I came up with the idea of a less challenging distance (5km, which was very rare back then) and removing the ‘testosterone’ of competition by making the event female only.

Fortunately Michael Gove was not involved in designing the Race For Life!

The Race For Life has gone on to become a huge success but I wonder whether it would have even got out of the starting gate had the current Department for Education had any involvement, insisting on it being competitive. That would mean hundreds of thousands of women might not have taken part in sport, hardly the stuff of legacy!

 I am a purist and of course, at its heart sport is competitive and that must be one focus but it can’t be the only one.

Back to the SSPs. When/if we get them back the important question of how do we improve from here must be asked. Also asked must be how do we meaningfully measure that improvement for some of the figures thrown about it the last few weeks are not believable and undermine a sound argument (e.g. a spokesman on the BBC claimed 46% of young people between 14 and 16 are members of a sports club; patently nonsense).

From a long-term strategy point of view it will be essential that a vertically integrated structure is applied to sport in the UK. The Government have already made a small first step towards this with the announcement of the merging of UK Sport and Sport England (although, unfortunately, not for a few years). However, as long as school sport is seen as separate to the rest of sport the system will never operate at its most economic, efficient or effective and the proper planning of fully inclusive sports development along the sports development continuum will be undermined.

The likely U-turn from the Government should be welcomed and undoubtedly School Sport Partnerships have a large, long-term role to play in the development of sport. But, if we are serious about developing sport, including the equipping of young people to participate (and enjoy participating) for life we must not settle for getting back to where we were. We should always be asking; “how do we do this better?”

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal