Athletics

– in the House of Lords at 6:42 pm on 18th December 2001.

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Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative 6:42 pm, 18th December 2001

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what they consider to be the future of athletics in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the previous two debates on sport in your Lordships' House in which I took part were introduced by the late Lord Cowdrey. Therefore, it is with some temerity and a touch of sadness that I follow in the footsteps of that great and much loved friend. However, although one great sportsman has left us, another has joined our number. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, is to make his maiden speech today in this debate. I very much look forward to hearing what he has to say as there can be few, if any, who can speak with his knowledge and expertise on these matters.

A great deal has been written and said in the past few years, and particularly in the past few months, about national stadiums being linked to events such as the football World Cup, the World Athletics Championships and hosting the Olympic Games. The 2000 World Cup bid was included in the Government's 1997 election manifesto. Sport England has given £120 million to the FA to build a stadium capable of holding international athletic events as well as international football of all kinds and to bid for and host the World Cup. It was also the Government's stated intention to support a bid from the AAA for the World Athletics Championships in 2005. That bid was won for London, but that, as we all know, was not to be. The story of "Unpicking the Lock" can be read in Hansard of another place of Tuesday 11th December and, of course, in the Select Committee report itself. The facts are that we have no national stadium—not that I think that that is any kind of a disaster as I shall explain later—and no world cup for either football or athletics. But what of the £120 million? That is still held by the FA.

I shall say a few words on stadiums. Some of the best football nations in the world do not have a single national stadium. France has the Stade de France. Others do as we have been doing since the demise of old Wembley; that is, use Premier League grounds for football internationals alternating around the country. That gives access to a much wider spectator group geographically. If that were to become a national strategy, some of these stadiums might need enlarging by up to 10,000 or so seats.

Athletics do not lend themselves as spectator sports to large stadiums. There is too much going on in the arena at the same time for anyone other than a real aficionado to be able to see, understand or follow from the back or even the middle of a large stadium. I suggest that it is only events on the scale of the Olympic Games that need a 60,000 seater stadium or larger.

What facilities are already available for promoting international athletics in this country? We have Gateshead in the North East; Crystal Palace in London; Birmingham in the Midlands and Sheffield in Yorkshire. I understand that all those stadiums meet IAAF requirements for international events. So what went wrong with the Government's plans? I shall attempt to give your Lordships a flavour of the debate in another place where the right honourable Mr Kaufman referred to the Select Committee report "Unpicking the Lock", as a "sorry and convoluted saga". He went on to say that the DCMS involved itself beyond its locus and vires in decisions on both the national stadium and an athletics stadium. His advice to the Secretary of State for the DCMS as regards stadiums was,

"to keep out and shut up; it is none of her business".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/01; col. 743.]

I have to say that I agree in the most part with the right honourable gentleman. Of course, he was right when he said that there has never been a co-ordinated policy under any government in relation to national bids for the Olympic Games or for any bids for other major events such as the World Cup or the World Athletics Championships. In these days of high cost expectancy and the high level of commercialism in international sporting events, should these decisions be left to the various governing bodies and private sector funding? I believe that there must be a role to be played by governments here in support of the private sector in co-ordinating and facilitating the hosting by Britain of world events. In the same debate in the other place Kate Hoey said that,

"The way we run sports and major sporting events and build— or do not build—

"national stadiums is a shambles".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/01; col. 758.]

I hope that your Lordships will agree that that state of affairs must end.

I turn to the "devolution effect", as it has had an effect. Devolution has led to divided loyalties and a proliferation of government bodies involved in sport each with its own agenda and funding sources. I refer to Sport England, Sport Scotland, The Sports Council for Northern Ireland and The Sports Council for Wales which all report to their respective devolved Parliaments. England has Sport England and the English Institute of Sport, which are lottery funded with a capital budget of £120 million, in nine regions to provide a wide range of facilities for elite athletes. UK Sport and the British Olympic Association are the only United Kingdom and Northern Ireland overview bodies. The United Kingdom competes only as a single nation in the Olympic Games once every four years. What should the role of those bodies be? The British Olympic Association, as its name suggests, is Britain's lead organisation for the Olympic Games and must be factored into whatever strategy evolves in a way that allows it to carry out its role most effectively. It seems to me that Sport England could become its link to government.

As regards finance for sport, I submit that any government extolling or interfering with national sport must be prepared to fund their exhortations. The share of the lottery money for sport has reduced considerably on account of the Government's new beneficiaries; that is, the New Opportunities Fund and NESTA, and also because the lottery is providing less funds. In 1997 Sport England received £250 million from the lottery and for 2002, the estimate is £185 million. The Exchequer's grant for Sport England is only £35 million when compared with grants to the Arts Council of £237 million and to English Heritage of £115 million. The figure of £35 million is a pittance.

The Exchequer's share of sports funding needs to rise in real terms. I do not mean just a bigger grant from DCMS. There should be better use of "joined up government"; for example, the Home Office contributing to anti-drugs schemes or young offenders' schemes. Incidentally, a preliminary preview of eight of the jointly funded Sport England/Home Office "Positive Futures" projects demonstrates significant successes. I suggest that more such schemes are needed.

It has been demonstrated again and again that as regards the Department for Education, schools with good records in PE and school sports report higher attainment overall. Turning to the Department of Health, it has been estimated that 37 per cent of coronary heart disease could be attributed to inactivity. Sport can be used to tackle obesity, for example, which is currently a problem costing the National Health Service £500 million a year, to say nothing of days lost to industry from the same problem.

As regards the environment and communities, sport can play a key role in helping to create communities and a community spirit, but it will need proper funding and management to achieve that.

"Joined up government" for sport means cross-departmental funding, cross-departmental support in providing the infrastructure for elite sport, school sport, club sport and, by no means least, sport for all, including the handicapped. Most important of all, I believe that British sport needs a clear, all-encompassing strategy led by the Government and implemented by the governing bodies and the private sector.

Photo of Baroness Billingham Baroness Billingham Labour 6:52 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for his Unstarred Question, which gives us an opportunity to debate this important issue. But before beginning, perhaps I may express my absolute delight at the running order in tonight's list of speakers. I am surely going to be one of the very few people in the world who will be able to say, "I finished ahead of Seb Coe!". I look forward enormously to his contribution. It has already been said that it would be impossible to find anyone with greater knowledge, experience and expertise in athletics. We are indeed fortunate to have him with us in the Chamber today.

Tonight's question asks about the future of athletics in the United Kingdom. Looking round the Chamber at the speakers on all sides, it is clear that every one of them has played a positive and enthusiastic role in sport in the past. Therefore, I believe that it is inappropriate to bite chunks out of each other with recriminations as to who did more damage or who has more commitment. I wish to take a broader view of athletics. But of course we cannot ignore the past nor the mistakes that have been made which have damaged many sports.

In 1996 the collapse of the British Athletics Federation was indeed a significant low point. To some extent that culminated in the decision to scrap Picketts Lock, with all that that entailed. But looking back much further to the 1970s no less, we can identify the last major build of sports halls and complexes. The circumstances were bizarre. Local government reorganisation meant the scrapping of old councils and new ones put in their place. The old hated the new and as vengeance spent all the balances and reserves rather than hand them over to the successor councils. I was a new, inexperienced councillor in Banbury and I saw it all happening at first hand. A new sports hall and complex, Spiceball Park, was built. More accurately, it should perhaps have been called Spiteball Park. But it was much needed and welcomed. It improved the facilities in the town. The only athletics track of any merit built in Banbury in the 1980s was on a school campus, but only after a swathe of the school's playing fields were sold off to developers to pay for that facility. So there were two good outcomes from two bad processes, but that should not be used as a template for the future.

Neither could or should we ignore the damage done to school sport throughout the 1980s and the 1990s. The national curriculum acted like a cuckoo in the nest tossing PE out of the timetable and wrecking after-school activities. Local authorities, cash strapped and capped, had no capability of improving facilities for sport or initiating athletics programmes.

Having looked back, what of the future? What lessons have we learned and what should we improve? We must acknowledge the financial support provided by lottery funds. It is difficult to find any major project which has not benefited from them. The Government have put sport, with health, education and social inclusion, at the very heart of their programme. Resurrecting school sport, with a minimum of two hours per week, with school sport co-ordinators and trained PE specialists, is going to be the first part of that programme. Giving £581 million to sports facilities in every LEA in England and a further £130 million for Space for Sport and primary schools, are surely tangible examples of progress for sport in general and inevitably for athletics in the future.

Turning to the heart beat of British sport, we need to look no further than amateur clubs run by volunteers. They may well have helped the noble Lord, Lord Coe, reach his potential. There are also small tennis clubs like the one that helped my daughter on her way to play tennis at Wimbledon. These are at last being recognised, whether by tax concessions or charitable status. They will find new impetus in the years to come as a direct result of government intervention.

The UK Sports Institute is an exciting project which will give the essential skills and training opportunities to improve the performance of our most gifted athletes. We have witnessed similar schemes abroad. Our own centres of excellence are long overdue.

We are also bringing in new guidelines and are determined to stop once and for all the sale of playing fields. There will be no more getting around the rules. It has to be done. At the same time that legislation will make it easier not only to provide new sporting facilities, making it mandatory for local authorities to provide a full audit, but also to alter the planning balance so that existing clubs can upgrade facilities providing playing and training opportunities fitted to this century and not to the middle of the last. Stupid objections to floodlights and simple basic improvements can bring small clubs to their knees. They will now get better government support.

There should be hats off to Richard Caborne who said recently,

"In sport, as in many other areas, one-size-fits-all programmes imposed from London are not the solution to problems which take different forms in different places".

Amen to that. Let us see flexible local delivery of programmes with a mix of public and private funding, with schemes wanted by local residents. There should be more region and less regimentation.

Finally, I shall go completely off-message in the belief that, so near Christmas, no one will read Hansard, and tell noble Lords my two Christmas wishes. First, the Minister for Sport, far from having too much power, has far too little. He should have more power to be a force at the heart and at the beginning of major projects, rather than trying to pick up the pieces of damaged schemes. Secondly, we should take a very good look at the facilities in the rest of Europe. How come every large village or small town has almost certainly a stadium and a range of sporting facilities funded and maintained by local government? Cannot we do the same? We can and do host world-class events such as Wimbledon, Open golf championships and so forth. Next year we shall host the Commonwealth Games.

There is much to celebrate. Let us build on our positive initiatives and enable talented performers to emerge not despite of but because of excellent sporting opportunities. We look forward with confidence and eagerness to the next Sebastian Coe, or even Sabrina Coe, and make a reality of the slogan "Sport For All" for all abilities and in all activities.

Photo of Lord Coe Lord Coe Conservative 7:00 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, I should declare that I am currently President of the Amateur Athletic Association of England and non-executive chairman of Fasttrack, a company which promotes the commercial interests of British athletics.

I rise to address this House for the first time in what, judging by the list of speakers, promises to be a debate of extremely high quality and on a subject obviously dear to my heart. I immediately compliment my noble friend Lord Glentoran on not only initiating such a timely debate but on so eloquently and elegantly making his case. It will have come as no surprise to your Lordships that my noble friend Lord Glentoran, with his own distinguished and unique contribution to British olympism, should have spoken with such passion and great common sense on the current difficulties faced by the sport of athletics, arguably the cornerstone of the Olympic Games; I say "arguably" before I am laid siege to by swimmers, rowers and gymnasts.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran made his own sporting history by sliding with considerable style to Britain's first and only Olympic gold medal in the two-man bob at the winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 1964. I slid, less elegantly, from the House of Commons in 1997. But, like all retired athletes, I am now happy to settle for a more sedate pace in a more rarefied atmosphere.

British athletics and Olympic sport have much to be grateful for the past endeavours and contributions made by many Members of this House. My noble friend Lord Higgins was part of the British Olympic team in 1948 and 1952 and the Empire Games in 1950. The late Lord Luke, the father of my noble friend, was a formidable and independent member of the International Olympic Committee. Some have even made it from the committee room to the silver screen: Lord Burghley, the Sixth Marquess of Exeter, was a gold medallist in the 1928 Olympic Games and a silver medallist in 1932—exploits that inspired the character of Lord Lindsay in the great film, "Chariots of Fire".

Beyond athletics, I feel that I really must mention my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who, as a cox in the eights, won silver medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and the 1991 world championships. Your Lordships will no doubt remember the occasion when the rudder broke and my noble friend was faced with an unpredictable boat that could veer off course at any moment—an event that undoubtedly helped to prepare him for government!

Athletics has never been our foremost national sport. The British love of soccer has been a long affair. But athletics has given us some of the most memorable moments in the history of British sport. Who can forget Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams in Paris in 1924; Roger Bannister shattering the four-minute mile in 1954; Lynn Davies's and Mary Rand's Olympic titles in 1964; Daley Thompson, Sally Gunnell and Jonathan Edwards in more recent times; and Tanni Grey Thompson, with a remarkable achievement of 14 medals in four successive paralympic games.

The strength of British athletics, the foundation stones of past success in major championships and the envy of much of the sporting world is the work done by the 1,500 athletics clubs. One of the most distinguishing features of this country is the voluntary work to be found in a raft of activities. There is no better example of this voluntary ethos than that found in British sport. In athletics, there is no better example than the work done by the army of unpaid coaches and administrators, often in our hard-pressed inner cities and our facility-starved rural areas, where coaching is commonly combined with some of the most sensitive and targeted social work to be found in any community. Nor must we ever lose sight of the role that these clubs have played in the crucial identification and sensitive development of many of those that are now on the roll call of honour. For them to go on playing that vital role, they will need proper resourcing and fiscal support. I ask the Government to look again at their refusal to place voluntary sports clubs on an equal footing with charities on their business rates.

There are many in this House, and not just those who have been involved in sport, who understand the powerful force for good that sport brings into the lives of the people of this country and their communities. Athletics is not alone in this process, but it can claim almost uniquely to be a truly multi-racial sport with roots deep in all communities. The recent reports on the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham found that:

"Sporting opportunities can play an important role in re-engaging disaffected sections of the community, building shared social capital and grass roots leadership through improved cross cultural interaction".

That is a description of athletics.

At this moment, up and down the country, there are athletes and coaches striving to be the best. Over the past few years I have seen them in their thousands. They would never let anyone down. But today they are themselves being let down by poor organisation and serious shortcomings at national level. As Lamine Diack, the President of the International Association of Athletic Federations, told me last Friday:

"I simply don't understand how Britain, a country with such a history in athletics, can get it so wrong".

British athletics, on the record of the past 30 years, athletics has been this country's most successful sport. But, for all its strengths—we are ranked fourth in the world behind only the USA, Germany and Russia—it has not been without its problems.

For all its successes on the track, when athletics has needed political help, it has had difficulty getting off the starting blocks. We won the right to stage the 2005 World Athletics Championships, but we lost that right through our inability to build an athletics stadium to host the event. I believe that our failure to host it is a serious and damaging blow to British athletics and a further dent in our already battered international reputation.

When the Prime Minister said in January 2000 that Britain would look forward to hosting the World Athletics Championships in 2005, he stated:

"World class facilities will be ready, our athletes will be ready and our people will be ready. We look forward to welcoming the world athletics family to London".

Well, the athletes would have been ready but the facilities would not. So, if anyone wants to go to watch the World Athletics Championships, they will now have spend their money in some other city, which will no doubt gratefully receive it. It is hardly surprising that, within days of the London bid collapsing, serious offers were received from Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Budapest, Brisbane, Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels and Rome. The Secretary of State has said that the Government,

"acted decisively to put in place a first class alternative in Sheffield, which will deliver the games . . . as a long term legacy for athletics in the UK".

No one who knows anything about the world of international sport could possibly have thought that, having won the right to hold a world championship, you can casually move it to another city without reopening the bidding process.

Those who talk of grass roots funding as an alternative to hosting these games should remember that there could be no bigger boost for the grass roots than a world championships broadcast on prime time television, blue-chip sponsorship and worldwide exposure for Britain. Imagine the inspiration for tomorrow's stars seeing the finest athletes competing in their own back yard. It would also have been a crucial platform for a British Olympic bid for 2012. The events of the past two years have made the task of putting together a serious Olympic bid not impossible, but certainly more difficult.

I find it sad that a country that has helped to construct a global coalition against terrorism is unable to construct a domestic coalition to build a stadium. I find it depressing that a country that boasts the fourth largest economy in the world cannot afford to host the third largest sporting event in the world. And I find it alarming that a country that has produced so many top-flight athletes can so easily let down the athletes of the future.

We need politicians on both sides of the House to take the time to understand sport in depth. Soundbites are simply not enough. We need politicians and administrators to understand the competitiveness and administration of the modern international sporting industry. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree that gold medal athletes need gold medal administration. Let us hope that on all sides of the House we have learnt the lessons and are ready to deliver.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour 7:10 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, it is an immense privilege and pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Coe. He and I first met when we served together on the Sports Council in the late 1980s. He was already by then a sporting superstar—an icon for young British athletes. He had won the BBC "Sports Personality of the Year" award in 1979 and had been elected the sports writers' "Sportsman of the Year" four times.

There is not time for me this evening to cover all of his achievements on the running track. However, what sticks most in the memory were his 1,500 metre gold medals in the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, his silver medals for the 800 metres in both games and the succession of world records that he held between 1979 and 1981—for 1,500, 800 and 1,000 metres and for the world one mile record. In six astonishing weeks in the summer of 1979, he broke three world records—two of them at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo. For that, the Norwegians awarded him the Bislett medal and, according to their people at the embassy, accorded him something approaching god-like status in that country. Never has there been a Member of your Lordships' House who has run faster than he, not even when running late for a Division.

Since he retired from professional athletics, the noble Lord has had two further successful careers—as a businessman and as a politician and public servant. I referred a moment ago to his time on the Sports Council; he was also a member of the Health Education Authority for five years. He was elected to the other place in 1992 for Falmouth and Camborne, served three Ministers as their Parliamentary Private Secretary and became a government Whip in 1996. After the 1997 election he was private secretary to William Hague, and his judo partner. Honours and recognition continued—deservedly—to come his way. That is summed up in the sports writers' award in 1998 for the:

"Most outstanding contribution to sport in the last 50 years".

We are very lucky to have him in this House. Having heard a maiden speech from him of such quality and perception, we all look forward to hearing from him again on many future occasions.

We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for asking this Unstarred Question. As the noble Lord, Lord Coe, reminded us, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, himself has a very distinguished sporting record. He is allowing us to look at one of the most difficult areas within the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It would be untrue to say that the handling of the Wembley and Picketts Lock saga has been an unqualified success, and I fear that none of the parties or individuals concerned emerges with their reputations unblemished. I have attempted to make some sense of the various reports and public announcements surrounding these issues. It seems that there will never be agreement between the various dramatis personae on what went on.

One inescapable fact is that most of the people who were in positions of responsibility at the beginning are not there now. Mr Ken Bates is no longer chairman of the national stadium company; Mr Derek Casey has left his job as chief executive of Sport England; Mr Bob Stubbs resigned as chief executive of Wembley National Stadium Limited; Mr Tony Banks MP left office as Minister for Sport half way through the saga. And the entire DCMS ministerial team departed immediately after the general election in June.

All the former Ministers with responsibility for sport spoke in a fascinating debate in the other place last week, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred. That debate was on the report by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on Picketts Lock and the world athletics championships. That report is famous for its adjectives, which include "bizarre", "inept", "cavalier" and "scandalous".

I guess that tomorrow's expected decision to confirm the rebuilding of Wembley as the national stadium will close the debate on whether athletics and football can co-exist in a new national stadium. I assume that Sport England will not have to wait any longer for the return of the £20 million out of the £120 million that was granted to the Football Association. I might add that my understanding of the original deal was that the three sports—football, rugby and athletics—would co-exist in the national stadium. Since one of the three partners now appears likely to be excluded, it seems odd that the amount to be returned is not one third of the public funding but only one sixth. I just wonder how much football, which is our country's richest sport by miles, would have received from Sport England if it had said at the outset that it was going to build a stadium that made no provision for athletics.

An important lesson that we should learn from all of that is that we would be better advised, certainly in the short term, to look at ways in which we can improve assistance to individual athletes and to increase sports provision generally, rather than spend all of our resources on big and unrealistic projects and on bids for events that we are unlikely to bring to this country. Here, I am afraid, I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Coe, because I include in that the Olympic Games and the football World Cup Finals.

In that context, I applaud the efforts of the current Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, who has set himself the target of investing in grass-roots sport, increasing participation in schools by young people and ensuring lifelong participation by adults. In the debate in the other place last week, he said that he also wanted,

"to place emphasis on the need to improve coaching and talent identification, to refurbish community facilities, to ensure that there is adequate maintenance of existing facilities, and to provide better support for our top athletes".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/01; col. 773.]

Imagine, my Lords, that you are a 12 year-old child who is watching the Olympics on television. You show great promise as an athlete, and you say to yourself, "I want to become the next Jonathan Edwards, or Denise Lewis". But at school your facilities are only average. Sports are part of the curriculum but there is no specialist teaching for a child like you with a bit of talent. The local athletics club seems to spend all of its time fundraising just to buy basic equipment and to keep the club going. If a national athletics stadium costing £100 million is built you might one day get to visit it but, unless we invest in nurturing your talent, you certainly will not be performing in it in a few years' time. With our poor record of staging international events, you are unlikely even to be a spectator at a world athletic games.

The truth is that there is no point in having a modern, well-equipped national athletics stadium if children at local schools have no opportunities to do well at track and field events. Most schools do not have a decent running track or field. Many sports pitches are in a terrible state of repair, often because no full-time groundsman is employed to look after the pitch or track, whose condition therefore deteriorates. So they become unsafe and unusable. Changing room facilities are often awful.

Other countries do better and invest in athletics at grass-roots level, as my noble friend Lady Billingham said. In France virtually every small town and large village has a stade municipale, which offers a running track, a football pitch and a modern changing pavilion. The New Opportunities Fund, which is chaired with such distinction by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, is investing £581 million in England in physical education and school sport. There is also a huge expansion in the school sport co-ordinator programme, particularly at primary school level. Those two initiatives will, I hope, make a huge difference. But we have a very long way to go.

By contrast, one thing that we seem to be getting right is our support for top athletes. UK Sport is in the lead in terms of providing lottery funding for the world class performance programme—it is giving almost £2 million a year for four years. Eighty athletes are named as part of the world class performance programme—27 athletes are on Commonwealth Games packages for England and 140 athletes are on the world class potential programme, which is supported by Sport England.

That approach builds on the pioneering work of the Foundation for Sport and the Arts carried out in the first half of the 1990s. I declare an interest in that I am now a trustee of that body, as are my noble friend Lord Attenborough and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. In those days, the foundation had the money to make 4,250 grants to individual athletes, totalling £3.6 million. Then, recipients included Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent.

The difference made by the funding of athletes has been immense. In the past, a budding athlete had to combine a job with training. That meant not only getting up at the crack of dawn to train before work and for hours after work and at weekends; young athletes also had to depend upon the generosity of employers and supporters to help to raise the funds for their training.

That has changed, and the investment in athletes has already paid dividends. In the Sydney Olympics, Britain won 28 medals—11 of them gold—which made it the most successful games since Antwerp in 1920. Therefore, the lesson is: concentrate on the grass roots and the individual athletes and do not be obsessed and side-tracked by the big, unrealistic and grandiose projects.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative 7:21 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, we are all deeply indebted to my noble friend Lord Glentoran for initiating this debate today and for telling us the facts so clearly. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Coe on a brilliant maiden speech. This House is often derided for being out of date, and so on. But I doubt whether many legislatures in the world can produce in one debate two speeches from Olympic gold medallists sitting on the same Bench. That certainly cannot be equalled down the corridor in another place .

I declare various interests. I was Minister for Sport and the Minister with responsibility for sport in Scotland, and for five years was shadow Minister for Sport opposite Dennis Howell. He and I got on extremely well together and often discussed many of the appointments to the Sports Council and the detail of other policies before he made them. I believe that that is a policy that has rather disappeared in recent years. I have also been president of the three governing bodies of rugby football, motorcycling and shooting, and a member of the BOA and the CCPR.

I am afraid that I want to talk more controversially about the sorry story of incompetence and muddle concerning Wembley and other fiascos. Last week we had a Question on the subject of school playing fields. The matters raised took us a long way from the manifesto of the Labour Party in 1997. The tax exemption policy promoted by the Treasury last month has caused a shock wave through the CCPR and the National Playing Fields Association. I heard Sir Steven Redgrave say that, too. That is not what people wanted. They did not want a complicated tax exemption policy. They wanted something more along the lines of a mandatory rate relief, as applies to charities. That is certainly the most disappointing step to have been taken by the present Government.

Of course, people are highly critical, too, of the percentage loss of lottery money, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. They are critical not only of the total but because a percentage of the total has been taken away from sport and given to the New Opportunities Fund. That fund contributes to all sorts of things. But the Government should be making those contributions and not taking money from the lottery. Fortunately, this week the Government appear to have recovered their poise, but they had been dragging their feet seriously over the British Grand Prix in relation to the infrastructure at Silverstone.

But the main interest in the debate this evening is athletics and stadiums. The Government seem to have lost their way and caused turmoil, which I fear will take years to put right. I certainly do not need to repeat the withering criticisms of the Select Committee or of many Members of Parliament in the debate that took place last week in the House of Commons.

As noble Lords have said, we did well in the last Olympics. Great credit should be given to the British Olympic Association, UK Athletics and the governing bodies of the individual sports—sailing, rowing, cycling, equestrianism, and so on. All those sports did exceptionally well. Indeed, in recent years this country has done well in world sports. The sporting bodies certainly have not deserved the slap in the face that they have received from the Government over the past year or two.

It is sad to reflect on the loss of our world influence in sport and sports bodies. I refer to Sir Stanley Rous, Lord Exeter, Lord Killanin, who was Irish but was very much in the British Isles context. It will be a long haul to regain the prestige that we had in world governing bodies. The Government must do their share to help through diplomacy and social activities. We must give cocktail parties to visiting sports officials in order to make them feel wanted in this country. In time, they will elect some of our members to the major governing positions.

In October the Government gave their response to the White Paper, Staging International Sporting Events. I must say that it was very disappointing. Throughout their response to the Select Committee they seem to find a difficulty for every solution and do not show much enthusiasm. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Coe and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. We must have a focus to bring world events to this country. If we do not make an effort to do so, the reward that we reap will be very disappointing.

We must take a risk, as Sydney did. One has only to look at how the success there reverberated throughout Australia, both in terms of prestige and financially. We must be prepared to look ahead as the Australian Government did and to help ourselves rather more than we are doing at present. We should not concentrate always on cost-effectiveness, value for money or nit-picking over the last dollar.

I turn to matters of wishful thinking and nostalgia. My noble friend Lord Higgins will well remember the great days of the White City, when Bannister, Chataway, Kuts and Zatopek hurtled round on an old cinder track but drew enormous crowds. That is something we no longer have. We must try to bring those crowds back to athletics, while bearing in mind that television was in a far more infantile state in those days than it is today.

However, we have a basic problem in that a 400-metre running track cannot go round the outside of a full-sized football or rugby ground. That would cause immense problems inside a stadium. If an eight track and another track or a jumping pit is built around a pitch, the spectators will be too far away from the football action. Therefore, it is almost impossible to have a good football stadium and a good athletics stadium at one and the same time. I remember that when the Commonwealth Games came to Scotland, we asked whether we should try to put a running track inside Murrayfield instead of building, as we did eventually, Meadowbank. But it involved digging out half the terracing and a great deal of the seating around the stand and making a mess of one of the finest rugby grounds in the world.

I now turn to what the Government tried to do. They hatched the Wembley plan together with the athletics configuration for the World Championships for 2005, which had been promised. But taking the athletics aspect into account would have cut the number of spectators to 67,000. That would have been insufficient for an Olympic bid, which needs 80,000 or more spectators. Therefore, the Wembley proposal was finally scrapped. In passing, many of us asked why the event needed to take place at Wembley. Why do we not continue the idea of going round the major, impressive football grounds throughout the United Kingdom, which will be enhanced in a few years by new grounds at Arsenal and Liverpool? Despite all the handicaps, the Government tried to press on with a £650 million project, which would have covered the infrastructure as well.

I want to raise a point which was referred to also by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I cannot understand how Sport England allowed £120 million to go to the FA at an early stage before any final decisions were made. I say that that money should be repaid in full by the FA to Sport England so that it can be regenerated into sport generally. After all, football seems to be a very wealthy sport—one has only to look at the transfer fees and at the weekly salaries of the many great players. One wonders why football cannot pay for its own stadium if it is determined to have one.

When all that fell through the Government set course for Picketts Lock. We know how impractical that turned out to be. That then fell through and with it went our application for the World Games in 2005. As the noble Lord, Lord Coe, said, it was naive of the Government to suggest to the president of the IAAF that we should transfer our application from Picketts Lock to Sheffield. That was the height of indiscretion and highlighted the lack of understanding of international procedures in the world of athletics. The episode of Wembley, Picketts Lock and all the other options put forward by the Government was disgraceful.

We do not know what the statement by the Football Association will say tomorrow, nor do we know what the future holds for athletics in the world situation. We have Tyne stadium, Meadowbank, Gateshead, Manchester, Birmingham, Crystal Palace, Sheffield, Antrim and others, but none of those is big enough to take world or Olympic competitions. We have to find a way to enable those competitions to come to this country. To have international competitions in this country means so much to our young people. They follow the success of international competitions, which is to be encouraged . If we do nothing else in this debate, we must encourage the Government to put their house in order and to make the correct decisions to forward the interests of the youth of this country.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 7:31 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, this is an interesting and timely debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on undertaking a job that I did not want at any price. When I heard that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, was to make his maiden speech today, I did not want to have to sum up his achievements in athletics in a debate on the subject.

This debate has been overshadowed by the disaster of the national stadium, whether at Wembley or Picketts Lock. After everything went wrong all those involved are still pulling out the splinters. It will colour the debate on sport far into the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said that we should concentrate more on grass roots and talent development. He is right, but he missed one point. For sport to be successful one important component is necessary: sport has to be fashionably acceptable. Generally that is achieved in any sport by exposure and by success. If that is not present, the interest is not built up and people do not become involved. We often overlook that. Even in our sporting culture, we have had upturns and downturns in our major sport, football.

For a brief period England's Rugby Union team, conquering all before it, made rugby a fashionable sport. Unfortunately, due to arcane laws, Rugby Union was forced to open up rather than staying a strictly amateur game, the money boys came in and they nearly destroyed large sections of it. Suddenly the sport stopped being fashionable because the success dried up.

Success and the culture around sport is vital. That is probably the best argument that I can think of for holding a major championship. The Commonwealth Games, in which all sports come together, is a wonderful event and will give us some of the glamour and success, but it does not have the bite of the World Athletics Championships, the Olympics or the soccer World Cup. Those big events are required to keep the interest and the focus alive, so that children will say, "I want to do that". That is why such events are so important.

Dozens of other spin-offs are involved. Big events bring an immediate boost to tourism and the economy. I totally agree that we have to fund amateur clubs properly to ensure that people can take part in sport at some form of competitive level or as recreational pursuits. If patterns and habits are established, we can ensure that we cut down on our health bill.

We have pumped large sums of money into the National Health Service, but we do not appear to take on board the idea that many diseases from which we suffer are caused by our sedentary lifestyle. We also are paranoid about children walking anywhere, and to do so probably is not much more dangerous than it was in the past. People refer to children adopting a "Gameboy culture" rather than running around outside. Making sport fashionable and providing good coaching will help the health bill and benefits will be reaped in terms of a healthier society with less loss of production. For that reason it is important to have an overview.

I feel that we have wasted one of the greatest opportunities in terms of sports funding that we shall ever have. The slices of the cake from the National Lottery have become smaller due to the New Opportunities Fund. Initially we were told that some things would not be paid for out of the New Opportunities Fund. As everybody predicted, a smaller amount of money is being received from the National Lottery. It was almost inevitable that that would happen.

I now turn to the expensive part of funding sport, ensuring that things are run properly and coaching. It is difficult to raise funds for matters of that kind. Building a stadium or a new facility is comparatively easy; running one is the difficult part. That was made clear in the old Soviet Union. That country could always build structures, but could not repair them.

We shall have to look closely at whether sport and other good causes can live together in the New Opportunities Fund or whether something will happen to push the matter back into government funding. It does not matter which ones go where as long as they receive the resources required.

This is an important period in sport. Sport has to be taken seriously and the vision and the will to see through the mission are necessary. At the moment we are saying, "Let's do everything", and in the end we have changed our minds and failed. Unless we have an overall vision that takes into account the whole economy and the way in which we live, and unless we bring in joined-up government, we shall continue to miss the target because there will always be a new fashion icon.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative 7:38 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Glentoran for giving us the opportunity to consider how to ensure that athletics has a healthy future as a sport in the United Kingdom. As noble Lords have pointed out, it is important that we should enable young people to have the opportunity to develop excellence in athletics. It is also important that we make it possible for those of us who will never be a Seb Coe to develop our skills as far as possible and to enjoy doing so.

I was privileged to be present to hear my noble friend's maiden speech. He reminded us that athletics has given us some memorable moments in British sport. I certainly remember him taking part in some; I never thought that I would be a colleague of his, which is certainly a pleasure.

Hosting international events can raise the United Kingdom's sports profile internationally and raise the profile of a particular sport within the UK. The World Athletics Championships is the third most important international sporting event after the Olympics and the World Cup. Hosting it raises our international sporting profile. Vitally, as pointed out by noble Lords today, it has an important impact on the thousands of young people who see an event taking place in their country and are then inspired to take part in that sport, and perhaps to develop their skills to the full.

A home venue also gives athletes a competitive advantage. The World Athletics Championships would have brought significant benefits to our sports people. But we have lost any chance of that with the Government's meddling in and mishandling of the issue of where the 2005 championships should be held.

As noble Lords have mentioned, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of another place recently published an excoriating report which details its catalogue of evidence of the Government's culpability in the story of the Picketts Lock fiasco. As my noble friend Lord Monro pointed out, the report describes how a national athletics centre at Picketts Lock was plucked out of the air by the Government and then abruptly dropped. It describes how the Government got involved beyond their scope and powers in conjuring up a project that the Select Committee judged to be unviable from the start.

In July 1999 the right honourable Chris Smith launched the Wembley project saying that the new stadium,

"will be a magnificent venue for athletics as well as for football".

Yet just a few months later he told Parliament that the venue was a dud. It was no good as a basis for an Olympics bid and,

"it seems unlikely that it could provide an appropriate venue for the world athletics championship".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/12/99; col. 306.]

It was at that stage that the Government decided to remove athletics from Wembley and find another venue. The Select Committee concluded at paragraph 23 that,

"the initial decision to remove athletics from Wembley was beyond the proper responsibilities of the then Secretary of State and was taken in a hurry on flimsy and subjective grounds".

The report added that the national stadium concept was developed precisely to solve the problem that an athletics-only stadium for the largest of the events would be economically unsustainable. To abandon that solution precipitately and propose in its place an athletics-only stadium was therefore, it said, perverse. To abandon athletics at Wembley on the grounds of its possible unsuitability for an embryonic Olympic bid, and then to substitute efforts to build an athletics-only stadium which was, by design, not suitable as a main Olympic venue, can only be described as—the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred to this earlier—bizarre. That was one of the interesting adjectives used by the committee in its report.

By the time that the IAAF council had accepted London's bid, Picketts Lock had been identified as the venue for the championship. The IAAF only accepted the UK bid on the condition that UK Athletics could demonstrate that clear progress had been made on the stadium by October of this year. Ministerial confidence in the project continued unabated, even though the problems of Picketts Lock grew daily.

Indeed in the committee's third report, an earlier report to the one mentioned by noble Lords, published on 30th March, highlighted the problems that had beset Picketts Lock: a shortfall in the assembled capital funding; the lack of an underwriter for the event; a question mark over the quality of the stadium and its long-term sustainability; transport and infrastructure issues—bad 30 to 40 years ago, as I know having grown up in the area, let alone now; and a short timetable because the plug had been pulled on athletics at Wembley.

But the Government's manifesto this year was still clear. It stated:

"We will maintain the elite funding we put in place for individual athletics with a first-class athletics stadium for the World Athletics Championships in 2005".

But the first act of the Prime Minister after the election was to sack his existing ministerial team at CMS. The new Secretary of State commissioned Patrick Carter to look at the problems of Wembley and of Picketts Lock.

The Government finally woke up to the problem at Picketts Lock. It was a project in terminal difficulty. They pulled the plug on it and tried to shuffle the world championships off to Sheffield. The Government's last ditch attempt to divert attention away from their meddling in the whole issue simply set up Sheffield to be knocked back by the IAAF. It quite rightly said that it could not simply shift such championships without reopening bidding. It at least had to follow proper procedures.

So today we have no Wembley, no Picketts Lock, no Sheffield and no 2005 World Championships in the UK. The effects of the U-turn by Ministers are far-reaching. The International Olympic Committee president said:

"Of course the Picketts Lock situation was a very serious one. A country not being able to fulfil its pledge to host a major competition is not a trivial matter".

It is a mess. How do we get out of it for the future good of athletics and the athletes in this country? There are urgent questions that the Government should address. Are they seriously considering the recommendation, at paragraph 67 of the report, of whether there is a last opportunity to return to the original strategy of a national stadium at Wembley for football, rugby and major athletics events? As the report points out, without that it seems clear that there will be no suitable venue for athletics in London capable of staging the world championships or the Olympics and therefore little prospect of attracting these events to the capital for the foreseeable future. My noble friend Lord Monro carefully described how difficult it is to combine athletics and football in the same stadium. It is a problem to which I assume the Government will want us to return tomorrow, but I hope that the Minister will give some response on these issues with regard to athletics today.

Do the Government accept that they must state clearly whether or not they want the UK to be a host for the larger sporting events as a facet of their wider sports policy, including the encouragement of grassroots participation, and as an element of the way that the UK is perceived internationally? How will the Government respond to the plea by UK Sport for a co-ordinated world-class facility strategy for the whole of the UK to underpin any bids for international events?

I noticed that the Secretary of State announced a review on 23rd October by the Performance and Innovation Unit within the Cabinet Office of the policy in relation to the bidding for and staging of major events. What is the timetable for that? Some while ago I tabled a Written Question with regard to this matter. I am still awaiting an Answer. It may be that the noble Lord will give me a pleasant surprise today and be able to provide it.

Do the Government accept that they must now establish a proper relationship between the managing body that bears the responsibility for delivering sporting projects and a government which should be an enabler. They should enable and help the project to deliver without interfering in the way that they have done so far. My noble friends Lord Glentoran and Lord Monro clearly pointed out how important it is for a government to assist and to support organisations deliver sporting events but not to interfere in them.

Whatever the Minister's response today, it is clear that we have lost the World Athletics Championships. That is a terrible blow. However, it is important now that we move forward; the Government must work with Sport England and all the athletics bodies throughout the UK to ensure that there is a positive legacy for athletics. Our athletes need it and they certainly deserve it.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips) 7:48 pm, 18th December 2001

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for introducing the debate. It has been well informed with some outstanding contributions, but also it has reflected the deep interest, indeed passion, of those who participate in sport.

Not all of us in the House can boast of the outstanding achievements of the noble Lord, Lord Coe, who has taken this occasion to make his maiden speech. But he communicated effectively just how much athletics has meant not just to him but, as he has discerned it, to the nation. All of us who have participated in the debate today have also in our own less distinguished ways sought to reflect the commitment to sport and, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, emphasised, to the question of sport for its own sake but also for the health of the nation. We all recognise the valuable role that sport has to play in that.

Let me begin by emphasising that the Government do not have policies for individual sports, but we have published a detailed strategy for developing sport as a whole in this country. How those policies are best applied to individual sports is a matter for the sports councils working in partnership with the governing bodies of the sports concerned.

The Government seek to provide an environment in which sport can thrive and, through the sports councils, to offer leadership and co-ordination to an important, but diverse and fragmented, field of activity. I may add to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that we intend—it is in our published expenditure plans—to increase expenditure on sport from £66 million to £103 million in 2003. Our policy is backed up by Government resources, as well as funds available from the National Lottery.

As has been emphasised this evening, athletics is one of our major sports. The noble Lord, Lord Coe, said—with a slight air of regret—that athletics has never been our foremost national sport and paid tribute to football in that role. However, in recent surveys, achievement in international athletics ranks second only to achievement in football, so we are discussing a sport of major concern to the nation. Therefore, the Government greatly regret the circumstances arising from our withdrawal from the 2005 World Athletics Championships bid. Those circumstances have been explored in the House today, in numerous parliamentary questions, and in Select Committee and debates in the other place.

The Government recognise that we have a significant obligation to the development of athletics. Let us derive good from misfortune. The loss of the athletics championship through the failures regarding the stadiums is to be regretted. Nevertheless, it releases funds for us to cherish and develop opportunities for athletics. Several noble Lords have said that the Government need to pay attention to that and the appropriate bodies.

The money that would have been spent on Picketts Lock is now available to spend on sport in schools. Several noble Lords have mentioned the tremendous importance of improving our schools' facilities. My noble friends Lady Billington and Lord Faulkner emphasised how much they welcome the attention being given to improving facilities for school sport. That is costly; the Government are committed to a considerable expansion in schools' sports facilities, some of which is made possible by funds that would have been used elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Coe, also emphasised the crucial role of sporting clubs. We all glory in our athletics and sports clubs. After all, they are the basis of a great deal of volunteer support in the community and develop our subsequent high-level talent. Of course they need support. In reply to the penetrating speech, drawing on substantial experience from his previous role as Minister for Sport, made by the noble Lord, Lord Monro, of course the Government are considering how to support sports clubs.

I emphasise that the Government's mind is not made up on how best to afford that. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has signalled his intention to provide support, and it is for sports bodies to explain to the Government how they think that that can best be effected. It has been recognised by the Government at a high level that support for sports clubs is necessary and that the interface between school sporting opportunities and clubs is of colossal importance.

It is still to be regretted that not only are many of our young people leaving school and other educational facilities far too early, but far too many of them have their last sporting experience at school and do not take up such opportunities thereafter. It is our task in the wider society to ensure that facilities are available for that to occur.

That is not just to provide the great achievers of the future, but it is important for us to recognise sporting excellence at the highest level. That is why resources to develop elite competitors is of great importance. Lottery funded programmes are investing more than £40 million a year in elite sport through the World Class Performance programmes run by UK Sport and Sport England. They target funds at top sportsmen and women—as my noble friend Lord Faulkner said. That provision is there to ensure that we achieve excellence at the highest level and recognise the inspiration given to our nation by high-level achievement.

I think that every Member of the House has reflected with gratitude on all those who have hit the highest level in athletics and thrilled the nation in the past. We pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and others for their achievements. There is no doubt that inspiration from such achievements has a significant impact on sport.

I am a little more reserved on the question of whether hosting great sporting events in the country necessarily brings an automatic spin-off in sporting achievement—or even sporting enthusiasm—among the young and older people in the country. I am conscious of the fact that the world's greatest lawn tennis tournament has taken place in this country for many years. I share with so many others our deep disappointment that that is not reflected in tennis achievement at the highest level, and has not been since the days of Fred Perry. So we should not think that great events and occasions produce such a spin-off, but there is no doubt that it would be remiss of me not to say that there is regret in government that the Wembley Stadium and Picketts Lock projects foundered.

The analysis of the Wembley Stadium project given by the noble Lord, Lord Monro, was entirely fair. There is a real difficulty in the present day and age with combining the requirements of modern football and the expectations of spectators at modern football events with an athletics stadium. The attempt at Wembley Stadium to solve that problem was unsuccessful. I entirely reject the idea that the Government could just have stood back from a project to which so much public money of one kind or another had been committed. But of course, the then Secretary of State did not take a unilateral action, he was involved in deep consultation with the bodies concerned on the feasibility of the project.

That led to the attempt to develop Picketts Lock. That stadium foundered not on the construction of the stadium but on the provision of support facilities—especially accommodation for athletes—in the time available. All noble Lords must recognise that we could not have provided a first-rate opportunity for international athletes if almost an hour of every day on which they sought to compete had been consumed in travel to the arena because of the inadequacy of accommodation around Picketts Lock.

That has released significant sums of money to be invested in school sport and sports clubs and to provide government support in increasing the opportunities for athletic prowess. I have no doubt that all those aspects take a considerable time before producing results. We all recognise that top athletic achievement is not produced overnight but is the product of considerable support over a number of years.

In once again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for introducing the debate, I want to emphasise that despite the many charges which have been made against the Government, they are firmly committed to enhancing the opportunities for athletics. The resources now available as a result of their release from the national stadium project can be devoted towards increasing athletic opportunities at grass roots and I have no doubt that the country will benefit from that development.