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Maiden Speech: My Lords, it is a great honour to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House. I want to begin by thanking your Lordships for the wonderfully warm welcome I have received from all sides of the House. The assistance and, above all, patience shown to me by noble Lords from across the Chamber and by the clerks of the House and all the staff whom I have encountered since I took my seat here have been truly wonderful—so, thank you.
My career in sport started in 1993 when, at the age of 23, I became the managing director of Birmingham City Football Club. There I was, desperate to look at least 25, turning up with my big shoulder pads and my big hair. During those early days, I was banned from boardrooms, ridiculed as a publicity stunt and displayed in the media as everything from a ball-breaker to a bimbo—all because I was a woman, and a young woman at that. However, when, at the end of my first year, my football club made a profit for the first time in its modern history, people began to raise an eyebrow. When I sold the club in 2009, it was profitable, playing in the Premier League with an award-winning stadium, a community programme and sell-out crowds and, notably, 75% of the senior management team were women. A lot more than an eyebrow was raised—a whole hairline! It has been wonderful journey of knocking down stereotypes and encouraging women and young people into my industry, and I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with many people whose lives have been transformed by sport.
Sport is an industry worth more than £20 billion. Our Premier League, considered the greatest league in the world and in which my team, West Ham United—I declare my interest—is fifth, is one of the UK’s best exports, with a global audience of 4.6 billion. It is clear that sport helps to ensure that our country maintains its status on the global stage, but it is at a much more local level that I have seen sport at its most effective. Its ability to break down barriers and provide opportunity, particularly to young people and those who need it most, is its true power, as is seeing it being utilised to promote equality and diversity. That is why I have chosen to make my maiden speech on the governance of sport, which I hope will act as a catalyst for debate both inside and outside Parliament.
The Governance of Sport Bill, which my noble friend Lord Moynihan presented to the House, provides the background to our debate today. It seeks to capture the inspiration of a nation looking to government to deliver a sports legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games—a lasting legacy capable of transforming the sporting landscape of the United Kingdom in terms of facilities and opportunities, especially for children, able-bodied and disabled, in all our schools.
One need only look back to London 2012 to witness how sport can bring people, and in this case our entire nation, together. At West Ham, we were delighted when Mayor Boris Johnson made the historic decision, which he described as,
“a truly momentous milestone for London’s Olympic Stadium, ensuring its credible and sustainable future”,
to award us as the anchor tenant who will occupy the stadium from 2016. The Olympic stadium and, indeed, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as a whole, presents a real opportunity to rejuvenate and regenerate the east of London. It will be a hub for commerce, culture, education and sport, but it also provides the unique opportunity to reconnect communities. Football may be a sport, but it is also a language that seeks to unite people. We have always known that we have a crucial role, which West Ham United will play in acting as the focal point for this powerful community convergence. As my noble friend Lord Coe himself said of our proposals:
“It lives with the commitment we made in Singapore”.
Our move to Stratford will create more than 700 jobs, provide over a million visitors to the park each year and be an opportunity to help tens of thousands of disadvantaged youngsters through our community outreach. I assure noble Lords that work is already well under way to begin to deliver a lasting Olympic legacy for London. West Ham’s own Community Sports Trust has offered 1.5 million opportunities and developed an extensive model of health, education and sports development programmes. Social mobility is the key driver for the trust. This year alone, 10,000 youngsters in Newham and 8,000 in Tower Hamlets engaged with our Kickz scheme, which has had a tangible impact on reducing anti-social behaviour. Our Inspire centre provided out-of-school study support to 6,000 underachieving children in Newham, and these numbers will grow exponentially now that our move is confirmed. My personal passion, our employability, training and mentoring scheme, has engaged with more than 15,000 youngsters via our programmes this season, but our delivery in this area is now set to double as a result of the move. Our partnership with Leadership Through Sport reaches young people whom employers may otherwise struggle to find. Every single trainee has an east London postcode and, for us, it is wholly unacceptable that local youngsters grow up within earshot of a flourishing Canary Wharf and yet, too often, are effectively worlds apart. Schemes such as these will, little by little, change that through sport.
Encouraging engagement with sport can result in wonderful things; it changes people’s lives for the better. Sport has enabled me to change and develop two great clubs in this country, to pioneer charities that support causes close to my heart, to champion equality and enjoy the camaraderie that fighting for a common goal can often achieve. I am honoured to be in this House, and I hope that from within Parliament I can continue to encourage and promote the aims of sport, the benefits of good governance and the realisation of the dreams and aspirations of young people; and thus work on an all-party basis in this House for the betterment of life through sport and recreation throughout the United Kingdom.