Community Sports: Impact on Young People - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 3:43 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Monks Lord Monks Llafur 3:43, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Hannett of Everton on his excellent maiden speech. It demonstrated to everyone in the House that we have acquired a new Member with a deep knowledge of the rough ends of the world of work in the UK, combined with a strong record of working constructively with employers who seek to do the right things.

My noble friend will bring Liverpool wit and, because his office was in Manchester for many years, Manchester wisdom to the business of the House. I look forward to his future contributions and to those of my noble friend Lord Shamash, who will contribute shortly. I also thank my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield for his initiative in securing this debate and for the excellent and comprehensive way in which he outlined the issues involved. We have had Anfield in the past and now we have Everton; I can tell your Lordships that the banter will be unbearable.

Civilisations have long been aware of the power and importance of sport. It was often linked to military prowess, and the UK was no exception. There was always a recreational side to sport here and, as the British Empire expanded, sport went with it—and beyond it, in the case of football to the whole world. To this day, our heritage remains strong. Juventus plays in the colours of Notts County, which donated its original set of shirts, and in Bilbao, Sunderland shipyard workers influenced the establishment of Athletic Bilbao, which still plays in colours like those of Sunderland.

However, politics was never far away. The poor physical state of many men from the industrial towns and cities worried the British Army in the Boer War and was an influence in developing support for the welfare state, which started shortly afterwards. English public schools evangelised, especially among boys, the role of team sports. They codified rules and spread an ethos of sporting excellence, manners and sportsmanship—which is not always the most fashionable thing to pay tribute to, but it is important. It spread quickly, and the vibrant institutions of working-class Britain—chapels, churches, local factories, the Scouts, the Guides, the Boys’ Brigade and, above all, the schools and local authorities—formed teams and leagues, especially in football, although rugby prevailed in some areas and a range of other sports came up as well. In retrospect, it was a huge effort by the community. We should remember that when talking about the social history of this country. It was commonplace to see 40 or 50 teams playing on a Saturday afternoon on a patch of grass such as Wormwood Scrubs and its equivalent in other towns and cities.

I think everybody in this debate appreciates that the role of sport is crucial in so many ways. I want to pick on three areas. It is a key weapon against the burgeoning growth of obesity, which is a national crisis. I know that the Government have applied their mind to this on more than one occasion, but we have so much to do that the profile of this campaign needs to be right at the very top. I was in the Netherlands just last weekend. If you go down a street there, you see the different physiques of the people compared to those of many in our own country, particularly in the poorer parts. Obviously, cycling has a lot to do with that, but participation in sports is also high and developing, and is publicly encouraged to a considerable extent. We need new ways of making sport and exercise generally attractive across all the population—able, disabled, regardless of gender and so on. It cannot just be for the elite and the enthusiastic.

The second problem—my noble friend Lord Wood touched on some of this—is the fact that, since pay-for-view came in, some sports have edged away from promoting mass participation and interest. In my view, cricket has suffered by not having test matches on general view. Sports need to rethink whether they have the balance right between paywalls on TV rights and the population in general having access to their sport. Even the existing listed events, which are free to air when transmitted live, are not protected in the digital on-demand coverage of sporting events, which is growing considerably as viewing of live events declines. We will lose free access in a few years’ time if we do not do something to regulate the digital world in this area, so I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Are the Government considering this issue in relation to the Media Bill, which is before the House? Do they have plans to extend the existing list of 10 free-to-air sports in relation to individual sports and, importantly, to the fast-developing digital world?

Finally, I will touch on medicine and medical research into sports and the many injuries that can come from sports. The current worries about dementia, particularly in rugby, must be a huge turn-off for parents who would like their children to play the game but want to know that it is safe to do so. I know that the football and rugby—both union and league—authorities are trying to improve research and tighten the rules. However, for contact sports—not just rugby—rapid improvements are necessary in the knowledge and treatment of potential risks.

For some of us, exercise and sport are a crucial part of our lives. In some form or other, they should be a crucial part of everybody’s lives. Can we, in our time, develop a surge in interest like the late Victorians did across the whole of the United Kingdom?