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12 August 2012

Why Cameron can’t win over school sport

Cameron tries and fails to jump on the Olympic bandwagon.

By Martha Gill

While politicians jostle to turn the Olympic legacy to their advantage, Cameron seems to be falling ever further behind the pack.

This morning he clashed with Ed Miliband over school sport, continuing to claim that activities like Indian dancing would be used to fill proscribed time set aside for PE, defeating the object of having the two hour targets in the first place. Milliband defended the requirement, telling BBC News:

“I think at least two hours of sport in school a week, that was the idea that the last Labour government had, I think it was the right thing to do and we saw a dramatic improvement in the number of kids doing two hours sport – from something like 25 per cent to 90 per cent.”

The figures are on Miliband’s side, according to today’s Guardian

“It is worth noting that when the coalition came to power, 90 per cent of children were doing two hours of sport a week… Under the present government, however, funding for organising school sports under the School Sport Partnerships is in the process of being cut from £162m to just £9m next year.”

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But it seems Cameron has been worked into a corner where he really can’t win – the same Guardian article compared his (vague) plans for compulsory competitive sport in schools as “com[ing] out of the same box as his desire for all 16-year-olds to do national service.”

The problem for any Tory trying to jump aboard the Olympic bandwagon is that the conservative legacy for school sports is fairly poor (the worst decline in school sports participation came under John Major), and Labour are pressing their advantage. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, will today announce a series of policies that Labour is to include in its manifesto, focusing particularly on women’s sports. Labour has criticised the BBC for its “negligible” coverage of female athletes before the London Olympics, and demands that this be corrected as part of a wider scheme to get more girls involved in sport.  In the current wave of enthusiasm the proposals are likely to go down well – and will highlight just how much better Labour are doing at the Olympics.