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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:12 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Nye Baroness Nye Llafur 4:12, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow that excellent maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Shamash. My noble friend has been a devoted public servant, and I and many colleagues across both Houses have had the benefit of his wise counsel over many years. I know his family are hugely proud of him. Among the many accolades that followed his appointment to this House, he has been described as a “legend” in electoral law. While we on this side of the House want an election sooner rather than later, I rather hope that we do not call upon that particular expertise too often. I also thank my noble friend Lord Wood for securing this debate and for his tour-de-force opening remarks.

I declare an interest as set out in the register and also speak as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, but—more importantly to me at least—I speak as the mother of two professional golfers, which means I have some experience of the highs and lows of that sport.

It is clear that everyone speaking in this debate will start from the consensus view that sport has a vital role to play in its power to be a force for good that brings communities together, as well as improving the health of the nation. But the Minister will know that, sadly, less than half of children currently meet the daily guidelines for sport and physical activity, and the majority of children would like more. The long-awaited government strategy for the sports sector is long on task forces but short on granular delivery. Will the Minister give some more detail this afternoon about how those plans are to be funded?

If the Government are serious about transforming activity levels, they must start in schools. That is why the Government should commit to giving PE the focus and time in the curriculum that it needs, with properly trained and resourced staff, so that sport and physical activity continue as lifelong habits, with the consequent benefits for health and mental well-being. Traditional PE and competitive sport work for some children but not all. Being active has also to be fun.

One example of the power of non-traditional school sport is the initiative recently launched here in Westminster by Nick Dougherty in his role as president of the Golf Foundation. This is a charity which introduces golf to children from all backgrounds and works in schools and youth clubs as well as golf clubs. Through its work, the foundation became increasingly aware of the decline in young people’s mental health since the Covid lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. To help combat this, the foundation launched an initiative called Unleash Your Drive, which seeks to promote mental well-being in schools with mental toughness tools embedded across six weeks of fun golf games. The programme can be taught by any teacher and in any school hall or playground and has already been rolled out in 500 schools. Children can achieve success straightaway, and the games can be adapted to all abilities. There is also a potential link up with the local golf club and community.

The programme works because golf is an ideal sport to set personal best scores, develop persistence and discover strategies for how to improve and track progress, which are all crucial transferable skills that can be used inside the classroom but also outside the school environment. The programme will cost an estimated £15 million to roll out across all 32,000 primary and secondary schools. I know that the Schools Minister has agreed to meet the Golf Foundation to discuss the scheme, and I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will also support the calls for government funding.

The R&A supports the work of the Golf Foundation, but it also runs programmes of its own to promote the health benefits of playing golf. Eighteen holes is the equivalent of walking four to five miles—significantly more than the 10,000 daily steps recommended—and if that is not enough, research from the Swedish Golf Federation has shown that golfers live five years longer than non-golfers.

The benefits to the economy can also be calculated. Research by Sheffield Hallam University, supported by the R&A, in 2023 showed that the gross value added of the golf industry was £2.6 billion and that it brought £338 million to the UK economy in inward golf tourism, with consumer spending on golf being nearly £5 billion, and the industry employs nearly 64,000 people.

It would be remiss not to say that more should be done to make golf more diverse, and that is recognised by the R&A. As part of its drive for change, the R&A has launched the Women in Golf Charter, to attract more women, girls and families into the sport, and its #FOREeveryone campaign to develop a more inclusive culture within the golf industry. In order for women’s golf to continue growing, there needs to be greater airtime for women’s professional golf. Every sport needs visible role models—we only have to look at what has happened with women’s football following the success of the Lionesses. There are some signs of success. In 2020 in the UK, 25% more women tried golf for the first time during the pandemic, but in England the regular participation rate for men is still five times greater than that for women, and people from ethnically diverse backgrounds and deprived areas are also underrepresented.

Golf should be accessible for all. It is a game that can be enjoyed by people of all abilities and all ages because of its unique handicap system. It teaches decision-making skills and persistence, but above all it relies on honesty and integrity. I, too, would like to share a quote with the House that is used quite often when my professional daughter and son return from a round of golf. The late Bobby Jones said:

“Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots—but you have to play the ball where it lies”.