Sport in the UK

Part of Social Security – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 9:10 pm, 4th February 2019

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I had written a 300-page speech to bang on about sports, so I have had to cut it down significantly. Nobody has mentioned my favourite sport of hockey, so I will take the opportunity to do so. In 20 years as a player—I used to be all right, but my knees cannot take it anymore—as a coach and now as a chairman of a hockey club, I have seen the changes that have taken place in the sport. England Hockey has worked to make the sport more inclusive and accessible, with initiatives such as “Back to Hockey” for older players, Quicksticks and walking hockey. In recent years, there has been a massive growth in participation. Hockey is not unique, but it is a rare example of a sport played equally by both men and women, and with equal coverage.

There has been a huge growth in the number of under-16 players, particularly girls. That is no doubt due to the massive success in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the GB ladies won the gold medal. Since then, participation has gone through the roof. In my mind, that gold medal and England’s netball success in last year’s Commonwealth games are huge sporting highlights. It was a great privilege to see how that affected people—watching sport live and free to air on TV had an impact across the piece. I talked to people about hockey who would never normally have taken an interest. I have had the great privilege of playing alongside some of the ladies at junior level at Belper hockey club, including Hollie Webb who scored the winning penalty in the final. They are an incredibly inspirational bunch of people.

I would like to raise with the Minister the big challenge of playing surfaces. There has been a massive expansion in the number of 3G pitches—the Football Foundation’s investment in Mansfield is very welcome—but hockey cannot be played on a 3G pitch. A lot of local authorities do not seem to recognise that. My own club is looking at bids and planning permission for three 3G pitches in the community where our hockey pitch is gone—it is dead, it is old. We need a new pitch, but there is no support for that. We will be forced out of the town by the lack of facilities. The sport could end up being increasingly centralised. Big clubs have the money to drag players and resources out of small clubs that cannot afford to maintain facilities. I just wanted to flag that with the Minister.

I want to raise a couple of points in the second half of my remarks. Mansfield is a massive football town. I could not not mention the Stags, Mansfield Town football club. I have my tickets for Notts County away next week. Mansfield Town have never lost when I have been there, so I am very hopeful—I am a lucky charm. Since John and Carolyn Radford took over at Mansfield Town, they have been an amazing influence on both the club and the town with the success they have had on the pitch and the positive atmosphere they have brought to the club. We are second in League Two at the moment. If we manage to get promoted, increased attendances could have a huge economic benefit for the town centre. The Radfords have brought forward hotel plans to try to maximise that benefit. That could be incredibly positive, so I wish Mansfield Town the best of luck in the remaining games.

I want to raise a couple of points about football and the English Football League. The arguments are well-rehearsed so I will not go into great detail, but safe standing has been mentioned. It seems strange to me that we can have existing terraces in football stadiums, but new ones cannot be brought in. Scotland has allowed clubs to introduce safe standing. Celtic trialled it and did so successfully. I would love to be able to see that in EFL clubs across England. It would provide the opportunity to bring in more revenue, which is so important for the clubs. We should definitely look into that, and I welcome the Government’s willingness to review it.

The other thing is alcohol served during games. The opportunity for smaller clubs, and the Chancellor, to bring in that additional revenue could be really positive. In rugby, we see—even when games are in the stadiums that are shared with football teams—that the money spent in the club is more than double the amount spent for football. Some of that is based on being able to purchase alcohol in the stadium. I do not see how it is that much safer to tank up before a game and down a pint at half-time than it is to be able to drink sensibly throughout a game.

I also want to mention Powerchair football, which we have in my constituency at West Notts College. It involves electric wheelchairs controlled, in some cases, only by a thumb. It is an incredible, life-changing thing. Ricky Stevenson, who is now chair of the international Powerchair football federation, is from Warsop in my constituency. I urge the FA and the Government to support that sport—it is a real inspiration—as much as possible. There is an awful lot more that I would like to say, and I have a vast list here—