For a nation so immersed in sport, we do surprisingly little to nurture our most gifted athletes from a young age. Compare our 2,769 coaches holding Uefa’s B, A and Pro badges, its top qualifications, to the rest of Europe: Spain has produced 23,995, Italy 29,420, Germany 34,970 and France 17,588. Yet we still expect to compete. Investment is needed to bring our sporting culture up to standard.
That is why the cuts included in the comprehensive spending review are so demoralizing. Cuts, as we have been hearing consistently from those implementing them, are inevitable but the scale and ferocity with which school sporting budgets have been trimmed is shocking.
The Youth Sport Trust has had the entirety of its £160 million in funding cut from the Department of Education budget, meaning that the 450 School Sports Partnerships it runs across the country are left penniless.
The YST and the partnerships primarily focus on improving the way that sport teaching is delivered in schools and as a body they bring some much needed professionalism to what can often be an amateurish and half hearted enterprise. The work that they continue to do in educational institutions that often don’t have the facilities, know-how or simply time to care about sport is invaluable. Very soon it will end.
As a sporting nation perhaps we are guilty of complacency when it comes to the production of talent. For too long we have been blessed with brilliant individuals, gifted youngsters that slot in comfortably when aging legends reach retirement. But these precocious talents never seem to blossom to full fruition; they never possess the qualities to really cut it at the top level.
We have to question why it is that players like Wayne Rooney falter when their equally gifted counterparts succeed. The answer must lie in nurture rather than nature. There is a culture of excellence that has been cultivated in so many other nations that simply doesn’t exist here.
How will England be able to produce another ‘Golden Generation’ if there is no funding at school level to train and educate. Academies can and do take a lot of the burden but will the next Jack Wilshere be interested in football if his school doesn’t have the facilities to encourage both participation and excellence from the earliest possible age.
The YST and the Sporting Partnerships were trying to change British Sport. They were attempting to overhaul outdated attitudes at the very seed level of grassroots sport to provide a cornerstone on which Britain could build a system to emulate our successful rivals. The YST described the cuts variously as “devastating” and “a black day for us”. When these cuts take affect, perhaps our hopes of real, tangible sporting change in this country will vanish.