What the Olympics tell us about inequality
August 8, 2012
On the day I learned that Eton Dorney isn’t a posh pudding, Lord Moynihan (chair of the British Olympics Association) drew attention to the fact that 50% of UK medallists at the Beijing Olympics were privately educated. This wasn’t a surprise (unlike my pudding disappointment) but sometimes it takes someone stating the obvious to remind us it’s not acceptable.
David Cameron had already alluded to this before the Olympics started, on a visit to Loughborough University where he asked, ‘Why is it that in so many schools, sport has been squeezed out and facilities run down? The result is that in too many cases it’s independent schools producing more than their fair share of medal winners.’
Instead of asking a group of business people and academics he should look into why Michael Gove has forced sport out of the curriculum, axed the successful school sport partnerships (SSP) and continued to sell off school playing fields despite a coalition agreement commitment not to. As a replacement for SSP schools are invited to sign up to the annual Olympic-style ‘School Games’, which gives me nightmares because I’m worried it might be a prototype Hunger Games, soon to become this government’s solution to youth unemployment.
Cameron only needs look as far as his old school Eton to understand why the privately educated excel at some sports. Eton Dorney is a man-made rowing lake, privately-owned by Eton, which cost £17m (£500,000 contributed by the taxpayer, the rest from tax-dodging donations one assumes). As a charity it’s necessary for it to advertise an ‘open door approach’ and claims visitors are welcome. However, visitors are only welcome once they’ve received an invitation and due to its success ‘there is now a need to restrict access completely or partially’: so that would be guests only and a closed door approach then. Hardly elitist at all.
Swiftly eyeing a bandwagon she vaguely knows something about, Bristol west Tory Charlotte Leslie claimed on Radio 4’s PM programme that lack of facilities has nothing to do with state schools not producing elite athletes and instead blamed the culture of state schools because children get ridiculed for excelling at sport. Really? Since when?
Leslie attended Badminton School (like Eton £30k per year) and Millfield, which has 130 sports coaches to look after its 1,000 pupils. That’s not a typo; I meant one hundred and thirty. According to the school website, Millfield also has: 2 eighteen-hole golf courses and a driving range; 2 multi-purpose sports halls; 3 Olympic-quality water-based astroturfs; a 50-metre indoor swimming pool; a fencing salle; a full-sized cricket pitch with pavilion and practice facilities; a judo dojo; a large equestrian centre (including an indoor riding school); a large gym and a free weights room; a running track, with track and field facilities; an indoor tennis centre with numerous courts; large multi-use playing fields for rugby and football pitches; many tennis courts, darts centres, squash and netball courts.
Darts? Can’t they leave the working classes anything?
In a ConservativeHome blog she comments on Lord Moynihan’s call for better funding of state school sports by asserting, ‘If we concentrate on facilities alone, we will not identify, let alone tackle, the deeper roots of the problem. You are not ‘entitled’ to a gold medal, any more than you are entitled to that job, or exam result.’ Call me a chippy old leftie, but doesn’t it stick in the throat when one so privileged blames the disadvantaged for their disadvantage?
She pontificated further on her peculiarly brutal view of working-class life in our local paper when she proposed boxing as a solution to rioting: ‘It’s as close as you’ll get to a silver bullet in tackling the kind of behaviour that leads to kids rioting in our cities. A lot of them have pent-up anger and aggression because they’re from difficult backgrounds, and would have no other option but to join a gang.’ I suppose it’s cheaper than tackling inequality and if they’ve got each other to thump they won’t need to chuck lumps of concrete at posh people.
Responding to Moynihan’s call for better funding, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (who to my knowledge has only been called by his correct name once in public), has admitted that ‘school sport provision is patchy in some places’ which leads to an ‘an element of luck’ in how pupils fare. Having the attention of 130 sports coaches and Olympic standard facilities makes some a little luckier than others.