Sunday, March 26, 2006

Government support for elite athletes

A couple of weeks ago I argued in Liberal Democrat News that there was something sinister about the government's rush to associate itself with British sporting success:
It's good to praise people when they have done well. But somewhere behind all these congratulations is the belief that all achievements by British people are really government achievements. And that is downright sinister.
Tony Blair was at it again in Melbourne today. Praising Scotland's success in the Commonwealth Games, he said:

"Scotland has done superbly well with 11 gold medals and sixth place in the medal table.

"I think people worked hard before the games as well and I know that Jack McConnell, (Sports Minister) Patricia Ferguson, the Scottish Institute of Sport - they've all been putting their shoulder to the wheel and it's paid off."

The people to be praised are the medalists themselves, their coaches and (I suspect most of all) the parents who gave up their spare time to ferry them from event to event when they were younger. But you will rarely hear a Labour politician admit that. It all has to be down to the Scottish Executive.

These days it is taken as a given that state investment in elite athletes is a good thing. Governments boast of it: opposition parties demand more. Which makes Michael Johnson's condemnation of the set up in British athletics all the more interesting:

"We as American athletes used to be a little envious of the support that British athletes got but that system in Britain, that support that the athletes get, can hurt you at times.

"These athletes have it all - the status, the support - before they have done anything.

"All of those young guys wanted to be a champion when they came into it and now they are satisfied with being a relay gold medallist."

So perhaps there is another side to this argument?


Iain Sharpe said...

Good post. The other point, though, is that if the government claims credit for sporting achievements, should they not share the blame too?

Perhaps Tessa Jowell should have been sacked after England's embarrassing home defeat against Ireland in the Six Nations championship but reinstated following the test match victory over India.

Tristan said...

Iain misses the essential point of this government:
Good things are this governments doing.
Bad things are either the previous government (how we still hear that trotted out occasionally) or those dasterdly individuals acting outside the wonderful benevolance of government.

Aside from that, state funding of sport and arts always makes me uneasy, even more so when we have a Soviet style system geared towards winning medals rather than the general population being given the option to partake in sport...