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Sport: Governance — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 4th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 3:01 pm, 4th December 2014

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, can have 30 seconds of my speech for that.

When I knew that we would be debating sport and governance in sport, I first had to have a little think about what exactly we mean about governance. Is it the structure of governance, the governance of sport itself or an approach? Fortunately, I was let off that hook a little by my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who expanded on that point. I felt that sport is far too important to be left in those little tight groups we have heard about already—the “blazerdom” of the old. Indeed, Will Carling may have had a very great career in rugby, but when he lobbed that grenade about “57 old farts”, he probably did more to change rugby union than anything he did on the pitch. That body now has to look out.

We are in a post-lottery funding age—post public money going in. We have a greater opportunity to demand to know what is going on, and it is checked, than we have ever had in the past. We have a culture of the amateur running things. They recruit their funding from their membership, with a little sponsorship from outside. That culture is effectively now a previous stage of evolution. We have gone on to something new and different. We must make sure that everyone knows what is going on if we expect everyone to give support. Even if you do not directly take public money, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, if sport is seen to have a direct link to health and to be an important part of the education system, you are still a part of that system, so government should be prepared to intervene when necessary. We can argue for ever about when that necessary point comes, but everybody agrees that it is there somewhere.

What do we expect to get out of this? We expect a sport that people can enjoy, either as spectators or, more importantly, as participants, so the mass of the population have access to it in a way that is not totally confined to—let us say—pressing a button on a remote control and watching an image on a screen. We are inclined, in this new professional era, to put too much emphasis on that process of watching as opposed to the process of participating. I hope that we can have a degree of focus on allowing people to participate and feel that what they are doing is being rewarded and valued; and, when it comes to governance, making sure that that process is enabled to happen is the first thing we should ask any governing body—or any person who runs and controls sport—to do. What is the duty and interaction between those who are on the front line in this—those who provide the basis? Professional sport needs you to take part to find its talent.

All that interaction has to be looked at, but we must never forget those people I have heard described by professional sportsmen as the “weekend warriors”. My comment on that was, “Great. These are the people who allow you to function, so I’d change your language”. If those people are allowed to get out there, take part and give you the basis for what you do, you must support them. I remember that I promised to give the House back a few seconds. If we are to do that, we have to make sure that everything we do affects beneficially those at the bottom, on the ground. If we do not support those at the bottom, ultimately, regardless of whatever we do in a committee room, or however much we pay and hone those at the top, we will fail.