Category Archives: Less important sports

“I forgot my kit again, sir”

The nation is getting heavier, or so we’re told. Kids are all fat and lazy, they say. So what can be done to change that? What role do the government and city councils play in getting children fit? Here’s a look at what action is in place and, probably more importantly, what action isn’t.

Everyday in the UK school kids come up with excuse after increasingly creative excuse not to do PE: “I’m really ill”, “I’ve sprained my ankle”, “the cat ate my trainers” and so on and so forth. It’s hardly surprising. I can remember cross-country running, through puddles, bogs and the rest of middle earth, with the rain teaming down on a freezing cold winter’s day. Dreadful business. What, I ask, is fun about that? How, in any way, will that engage children in sport? Surely if exercise is compulsory it should be at least a bit enjoyable.

Yet I also have some very fond memories of PE too. I love football, and I especially love indoor football. Growing up in the north-west of England you got used to the rain falling fairly consistently since about 1947, but it was still horrible to have to do sport in it. So it was a real treat when we got to play 5-a-side indoors. However, that was a rare treat. Usually PE was hideous. Which is why I dropped it when I got to choose my GCSE options. Incredibly, you were allowed to do that. Thankfully, it’s now compulsory to do at least some PE right until you finish school.

So what are the government doing to get kids into sport? Step forward Education Secretary Michael Gove, who’s just announced a £162m cut to the sports’ budget in schools. Oh wait… Yes, incredibly, that is the plan. The Schools Sport Partnership was set up to attempt to raise the level of sport participation in UK schools. Now it’s gone. And it’s funny, the government (and others) are always on at us to eat less, exercise more, drink less. They tell us that an increasingly sedentary lifestyle has led to an ‘obesity crisis’ among youths. People often attribute this to kids staying in and playing video games and watching endless hours of TV rather than going out and playing football in the street ‘like when I were a lad’. So the announcement of these cuts is not only concerning, but also pretty perplexing.

Gove’s decision has been met with some fairly fierce criticism. Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell, speaking to the Guardian, said:” I see some of the most troubled teenagers having their lives transformed through sport and I see the positive impact sport is having not just in PE but across the school curriculum. To cut funding now, when such incredible results are being achieved, is beyond belief.”

It’s not all bad though. Broxburn Academy, in Scotland, has become one of the first in the country to make Standard Grade PE a requisite. In 2008, the Scottish Government set a national target of two hours of physical exercise a week in the hope it would get kids more interested in taking up extra-curricular sport. Broxburn’s decision has taken it one step further, and it’s been met with a lot of enthusiasm. Many of the older pupils believe they’d have taken more interest in PE if they’d been working towards a qualification.

Sport can be fun, too. Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing activities in the UK education system. In fact, it can now be taught as part of the GCSE syllabus. Now it’s not for me, I’m far too self-conscious. However, that’s not to say it’s not for everyone. It involves fairly rigorous exercise. Lots of jumping around and waving your arms. It also works cognitive and motor skills simultaneously, and promotes teamwork. And it’s not just for girls.

Glasgow is doing its bit too. In fact, it’s doing rather a lot. Scotland has a real problem with obesity. Probably because almost everything is deep fried and people drink far too much. Glasgow, though, are determined to change that. In 2003 it was awarded the European Capital of Sport. And, of course, the Commonwealth Games will be hosted there in 2014. They have four major leisure centres, three world-class football stadia, and countless other facilities. One of their new initiatives was to introduce free swimming for all children, a great way to get kids involved. It’s about time other cities followed suit.

The Olympics in London are less than two years away, and the Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow in 2014. That’s going to mean the whole world will be watching. Probably about time to lose that lazy, overweight image, then.

You can follow Neal Wallace on Twitter @nealjwallace

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Why the Olympics is really a good thing

The Olympic Games are coming to London in 2012, and the UK is making a big song and dance about it. Quite right they should too, for the whole world will be watching. Two years after that, the Commonwealth Games will be hosted by Glasgow. After the mess of 2010’s Delhi Games, have organisers got their act together? And will Team GB win anything?

The last time the Olympic games came to the UK my parents weren’t even born. And they are old. Well, not that old, but old enough for it to be considered a long time ago. That was 1948. Fast forward some 64 years and London will once again play host to the world’s biggest sporting event.

It’s funny to look at the parallels between the two dates. 64 years ago the world was a completely different place. There was no internet (imagine!), no McDonald’s (hooray), no Sky. It was a patriarchal society, where women, if they did work, were often fairly low ranking. Yet the similarities between the two games are striking. In 1948 the UK was in financial turmoil, just as it is today. The war had just ended (we’re at war now), and major political changes were afoot. The ’48 Games were considered a great success. Will 2012 be the same?

Well, you can’t say they’re not trying. I went to the shop the other day to get breakfast. I paid with a 50p coin with the London 2012 logo on it, bought some cereal and milk, both emblazoned with the same emblem. Eating the Olympics. Later that day I got a taxi with a huge London 2012 sign tacked to the side. That logo (which, by the way, looks like a child has drawn it – maybe one has?) is becoming ubiquitous.

Organisers have even got creative with the ticket prices. It was announced fairly recently that the cost for various events will range from £20.12 to £2012. Genius. Now, you’d be criminally insane to pay £2012 for a to watch almost anything, but just over twenty quid is pretty cheap I reckon. Might go and watch the beach volleyball or something.

And there’s real hope for Team GB at the games. In real sports too, not ones that pretend to be (ahem, synchronised swimming). Gymnast Daniel Keatings, who’s 19, won an all-round silver medal at last year’s World Championships. Megan Sylvester is only 15, yet she managed to come 6th in synchronised diving at the same event. Then, of course, there’s Tom Daley, also a diver, who seems to turn everything he touches to gold. He’s 16. I wish I’d be as motivated at that age. He’s the current World Champion. Just incredible. What have I done with my life?

Of course, the other constant that has been around since long before ’48 is that great British institution, the BBC. In 2012, they plan to have 6000 hours of live coverage. Yes, 6000. I did some sums. The Olympics go on for 17 days. That’s 408 hours. Which means in order to get their 6000 hours the Beeb are going to have to fit about 14.7 days into every day. Just not enough days in the day, as the old saying goes.

Really though, I’ve complained about Sky’s complete dominance of sport coverage, their monopolisation of anything worth watching and the general evilness of their conglomerate ideologies, so I think it’s actually a great thing that the Beeb are putting all this effort into covering the games.

Two years after 2012, Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games. Delhi held the event last summer, and it was an event plagued by constant problems. Scotland’s team travelled out late because of justified concerns over the standard of the athletes’ village. Press pictures showed the state they were in just a day before they were due to arrive – dirty, unfinished, unliveable. “Unfit for human habitation”, as the UK officials asserted. A few days before that the footbridge linking the main stadium with the car park collapsed, injuring 23 people. Then there was the dodgy repair to the running track.

A friend of mine suggested Glasgow’s main problem is going to be getting language experts in to translate from Glaswegian to English. It’s a fairly incomprehensible dialect to me, and I’ve lived in Scotland for five years, so goodness knows how Russian gymnasts will fare.

This is the UK’s big opportunity. Two of sport’s biggest events in two years, then – fingers crossed – the World Cup in 2018. And it’s going to bring millions into the economy. So it’s up to organisers to make it a success. They’ve already recruited thousands of volunteers and the main stadium is basically finished. And it looks like we’ve got the athletes for it too. I, for one, can’t wait.

You can follow Neal Wallace on Twitter @nealjwallace