Well done our Olympians – Let’s hope it leads somewhere!

All our sports heroes did well for us this year. Now we must build on their efforts and help everyone become their own sporting hero.

Make no mistake about it our Olympics team did excellently. As indeed did the England, Scottish and Welsh Football teams earlier in the summer.

Every participant in the events can tell a story about sacrifice, persistence, endurance and dedication. This is not only from them but from their Mums and Dads who dedicated their weekends to ferry their kids around and the professional support teams who took over when the careers of the youngsters progressed.

These teams showed the best of what the UK has to offer. People coming together of all colours and faiths to represent their Country in a united way. Gay, black, male, female, white, heterosexual just didn’t matter. They were one team who strove, succeeded to the highest level even if they didn’t win. They did us proud!

Now we need to answer the question, “what next?” One of the justifications for hosting the London Olympics was that it would leave a huge legacy of sport as people aspired to follow their heroes. The problem is that it didn’t.

I am sure that some people were inspired to greater things – perhaps some of those are part of this year’s crop of champions. Overall, however, after a brief post-Olympic tick up in 2101/13 the nation’s active sporting activity continued their slow decline. This was for a number of reasons.

Government actions in reducing the budgets of councils have reduced the number of facilities available and the amount of coaching and support that can be given, especially to those from a deprived background. Councils have been forced to close swimming pools, fitness centres and athletics tracks because although they are vitally important to the health of the nation, they are not a statutory duty for councils.

When the money stopped flowing what cash there was had to be put into dealing with the increasing numbers of people in social care. The right short-term decisions but one which ignores the long-term consequences of ill health to individuals and to society as a whole, not to mention the increased burdens that will be placed on the NHS over the years.

Health conditions got worse. Obesity, in particular, continues to leave 3% of our 11-year-olds being clinically obese and a further 27% being obese. In adulthood this will lead to about 60% of our population being obese. At any one time our hospital beds have more than a 10% occupancy by people who are obese. This does not include those who are in for specific conditions which have flowed from obesity which can affect all internal organs and much of the muscular/skeletal system.

So, if the Government’s position has been one of gross hypocrisy are there any good things that I can report back? Fortunately, yes there are. Community led initiatives which can and are making a difference for millions of people in a very low key and cost-effective way.

Top of these at present, are the 5k Park runs which have been taking place on Saturday mornings Countrywide. My wife, Erica, takes part in these usually in Princes Park but she uses her park run app to see if there is one that show can join in on the rare occasions, I let her out of the house on holiday or visits! On the average Saturday more than 400 take part in the Princes Park event with a wide range of seasoned runners and others coming just to participate and enjoy it.

Look at the hundreds of thousands of mums and dads who spend their Saturday or Sunday mornings freezing cold on the touch lines cheering on their offspring. Let’s remember also the people who run all the amateur leagues and facilities and dedicate their lives to their sport and helping youngsters.

Last month our local tennis club in Elm Hall Drive had an open day to encourage new members of all ages. More than 300 turned up to have a look and I know that many of them signed up. They even offered to lend me a racquet, but I pleaded that I didn’t have the right type of shoes on! There will be a big drop out over the years particularly when it gets a bit cold but many of those will stick and create a healthy and fulfilling interest and network of friends by following a great pursuit.

If we are to get an Olympic bonus, we all need to act with the Government starting to do two things:

  1. It needs to put back the money into Public Health actions which it has stealthily withdrawn since 2015.
  2. It needs to work with the lottery to put into grass roots sports initiatives which are desperately short of money.

But we need to act as well.

Councils need to examine all their outdoor facilities such as parks and playing fields; swimming pools and gyms to see if there are ways in which money can be raised to run them to a higher capacity by involving charities and other none-profit making entities.

Councils also need to look at all the other facilities in an area and look at ways of using them whether they are in private, public or none-profit sectors.

Employers need to be more flexible in terms of time allowances and working time changes to maximise the ability of families to support the pursuit of excellence.

Schools need to reconsider their timetables to encourage greater sporting activity in the lunch hour and after school. Too many have minimised their school day to get the young people in an and out as quickly as possible.

The time to act is now. People have in their minds our great successes of the summer, but those memories will recede only to resurface when the preparations for the next summer Olympics or the next European Football or Rugby tournament or Wimbledon takes place.

We need a clear call from the Government and Councils if we are to turn elite sport from being something on the telly to being the inspirer of millions of people becoming their own ‘super-hero’ by becoming far more active than they have been in the past.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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