London 2012 legacy: Coe warns that children likely to be less fit than parents
Organising committee chairman makes plea to politicians to capitalise on the success of the Olympic Games
In a plea to politicians to capitalise on the success of the London 2012 Olympics, he implored them to recognise the complexity of the issues surrounding school and grassroots sport.
London’s organisers won the Games promising they would inspire the nation’s youth to play more sport. Coe said he was convinced that they had lived up to it but the “complex” debate over school sport should not be about political point scoring or become sidetracked by a debate over the relative merits of competitive sport and exercise.
“That cross-party debate I hope is a grown-up debate. The one thing that politicians of any hue now recognise is there is an appetite for that,” said Coe, a former Conservative MP.
“People have voted with their feet in millions to support British sport. There are sports out there that have never been so popular. There is an appetite.”
The shadow Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, has called for a cross-party consensus on the best way to capitalise on the Olympic legacy.
“We mustn’t confuse high quality physical education within schools, and competitive sport. They are, in essence, two different things,” she said. “Done properly, they take you to the same virtuous outcome. Everybody recognises that giving young people a competitive outlet through sport is a very good thing.”
Coe said he was wary of getting embroiled in a party political debate, but appealed for a particular focus on sport in primary schools. Specialist support for primary schools is set to be scrapped during the next academic year.
“It is my instinct that if you haven’t got that pattern and love of sport and that pattern of exercise by year 10 or 11, it is going to be quite hard to introduce that to 14- to 15-year-olds with the cluttered landscape that you are then competing against,” he said.
Coe called for a mature discussion that could lead to a long-term plan. “It is really important that we promote competitive support in schools,” he said. “It is [also] very important that we recognise that has to be underpinned by good quality physical education and by getting people into patterns of exercise. We have to recognise that we are probably going to be the first generation of parents that are marginally fitter than our kids.”
He insisted the inspirational effect of the Games on young people was real and there was a “limited window of opportunity” to capitalise.
“We have really inspired a lot of young people. When I go round the park, I see a lot of young people; in the venues, I see young people; in the streets, I see young people. There are a lot of young people in our venues,” he said.