Sport in the UK

Part of Social Security – in the House of Commons at 8:17 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 8:17 pm, 4th February 2019

Far be it for me to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but last year the Scottish sports budget grew by £2 million—more than 7%—and Derek Mackay offered to underwrite any loss from the lottery sports funding of up to £3.5 million. So I will not hear any Scottish Conservative nonsense about the Scottish Government on this issue. This debate at least should be a consensual one.

The perfect example of this problem can be seen in the availability of the indoor courts that make the game possible, particularly in Scotland, given our weather conditions. At the last count, there were 102 facilities in Scotland, compared with 1,484 in England. Of course, this is not just the fault of the LTA; government at all levels, as well as non-governmental bodies, have also to address issues of access. But what a shame it is that, particularly in Scotland, the biggest issue that young people who wish to get into the game may face is finding somewhere to play. Speaking to the Scottish context, Murray said:

“I know in Scotland that there have not been many indoor courts built in the last 10 years. That seems madness. I don’t understand why that is. You need to get kids playing;
you need to have the facilities that allow them to do that.”

The all-party group on Scottish sport has looked at these missed opportunities, taking evidence from the then chief executive of the LTA, Michael Downey, Judy Murray and Blane Dodds, the chief executive officer of Tennis Scotland. Following this investigation, the LTA loosened its purse strings somewhat and, along with sportscotland, delivered a capital investment fund specifically for tennis facilities in Scotland.

Andy Murray has criticised the LTA for not doing enough to build on his and his family’s success, recently saying:

“Maybe it’s something I should have given more thought to while I was playing but I never felt that was my job to do that.”

He is right. It is not his job—it certainly should not be—to be getting involved in the governance of his sport; our athletes, in whichever sport, should be able to put 100% of their concentration into their game. But the Murrays have felt the need to intervene as, staggeringly, tennis participation numbers continue to drop, despite the success of top-level tennis players across the UK. Two things must change: we need a sharp increase in the number of facilities available across Scotland, and the UK as a whole; and we need parity and fair funding between the game’s governing bodies. That means that the LTA needs to provide Tennis Scotland with the funding it needs to do its job properly.

Over the past few years—I say this from speaking to other Scottish sporting bodies—it has become increasingly clear that the issues we see arising within tennis are very common in the governance of other sports. Many of these non-governmental bodies feel strongly that there is a lack of “equal status” and “equal standing” between the Scottish bodies—this applies to other devolved bodies, as this is not simply a Scottish issue—and their English counterparts, with many UK-wide NGBs functioning as extended versions of their respective English bodies.

One chief executive I spoke to said that their respective English body acted like they were the “GB” organisation, rather than one of four separate bodies. That too often leads to the organisations responsible for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland being cut out of processes, with no say in crucial decision making. That leads to the kind of situations we have seen in UK Athletics, where a shambolic leadership team are trying to ride roughshod over the devolved athletics bodies. [Interruption.] Chris Bryant seems to have a cough, but I will come back to him shortly.

A recurring concern of all Scottish NGBs is that there is a lack of systematic process, with the English bodies often unilaterally taking action over the others on UK-wide decisions. That is not to say there is not some excellent practice that we can learn from; the governance of swimming has been cited to me as an example of a better system working between the UK’s countries. I look forward to raising this issue with Dame Katherine Grainger, who, in addition to being one of the UK’s most decorated Olympians, is also the chair of UK Sport, as she will be attending a meeting of the all-party group on Scottish sport on Monday 26 February.

On devolved sports, another area that needs to improve is broadcasting, and the all-party group has been looking at this subject. The level of media coverage awarded to Scottish sport is regularly a contentious point among sports fans, with claims regularly being made that individual sports in Scotland do not receive the coverage they feel their sport is entitled to. For example, early last year, Scottish football fans took to Twitter to complain that ITV/STV aired the England v. Malta game but did not air Scotland’s crunch game against Lithuania. STV responded to those complaints stating that it did not have the rights to the match, as they were sold on a UK-wide basis. At the time, STV responded on twitter by saying:

“Scotland, we hear you.

We’d love to bring you the match, but as football rights are sold UK wide it's sadly out of our reach!”

The current list of events was drawn up in 1998, more than two decades ago. I fully appreciate that, because of England’s size, the rights for England internationals are commercially viable for commercial public service broadcasters, and that is not the case for Scotland. If Scotland games were added to listed events, the Scottish game, which is not exactly flush with money, might be forced to accept a smaller rights fee package. I hope to address several other issues to do with broadcasting in an upcoming roundtable with partners and broadcasters in Scotland.

Finally, next Tuesday Glasgow Life will present on the impact and legacy of the Glasgow 2014 games. With Birmingham 2022 on the horizon, Members from the midlands may find that interesting. I hope the Minister will confirm that the Scottish Government will receive the full Barnett consequentials that should flow from the Birmingham 2022 spending commitments.

In conclusion, the great American football coach Vince Lombardi once said:

“It’s not whether you got knocked down;
it’s whether you get up.”

And with that, I’ll get down.