The government's strategy will help make us a sporting nation again

Sport is now the subject of editorials in the NS (28 June), which is evidence of its growing importance. But, while welcoming this attention, I feel you give a misleading picture of the government's vision for sport.

There is a craving in this country for more sporting success, and the government has a responsibility to respond to that. But this is not incompatible with wanting to broaden the base of participation in sport and give all young people a rounded sporting education.

You are right to stress the need for safe places for children to play sport. That is why we have introduced tough new restrictions on the sale of school playing fields and are making Lottery money available for the creation of new green spaces from brownfield sites.

Facilities are important - but so are opportunities to use them. There is no safer environment than school for children to play sport. Part of the challenge is to unlock sports facilities after school and boost extra-curricular sport. This is often a question of human resources and constitutes the gap that the new active schools co-ordinators will fill, supporting, not replacing, the crucial work of PE teachers.

It is by giving children the chance to try the full range of sports that they will find those they enjoy and are good at. This is the best way of encouraging young people to stay active as adults. Our commitment to supporting lifelong participation in sport is also evident in our decision to guarantee Lottery funding for community sports facilities such as swimming pools for at least the next ten years and to introduce legislation to provide a right of access for walkers to open countryside.

Playing sport competitively is an important part of a young person's sporting development. We have asked the new co-ordinators to revive cup and league fixtures between state schools in all sports and also to widen access to qualified coaching, particularly for children in deprived parts of the country.

We have got talent in abundance in this country but are still failing to make the most of it. Until we broaden the base of sporting activity of all kinds, we will not fulfil our potential. And it is by becoming more successful that we will encourage children to get out in the fresh air and emulate their heroes.

Rt Hon Chris Smith MP
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

This article first appeared in the 05 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, He makes us nice enough for export