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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:51 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:51, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, the first and very pleasant task for anybody who is winding up today is to welcome the “new boys”. It is good to see them on the Benches and taking part. I slightly challenge the emphasis on football. It is not my favourite sport, but it is the biggest one. I welcome them and look forward to hearing from them on this and other subjects. I hope that we will become allies in the great cross-sectional activity of this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who is a friend of mine, leads the drive on sporting matters. We are missing the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who has a wonderful expression: “a friend in sport”. There should be more of us driving this agenda.

When we talk about the importance of sport and the economy—I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wood, for bringing it forward—football has a key place as the big money-spinner. It is also the sport that has managed to annoy its own fan base by changing structures. There is a limit to what people will accept in changes to their leisure activities. I have always felt that people will fight much harder to defend a hobby than a job, bizarrely. That seems to be what is going on here. Let us face it, the Government did not want to bring forward legislation. They gave football every chance to avoid legislation, but it has it.

I do not know what is going to happen but, when the Bill comes forward, I would like to see us doing a little more about social responsibility. When people told me about how great various charitable activities were, I said, “Yes, but what would you say you are going to give back to us if we make it so that, for instance, the Premier League is going to guarantee a better chance of survival for those below it and, let’s face it, an exit strategy if things go wrong? That is something we are building in”. They did not seem to quite grasp that. I hope that, when we get the Bill, we will have a little caveat that anybody who is instructed in any of those football clubs has some duty to support local voluntary groups.

My starter for 10 on that would be training people to be secretaries, treasurers and chairmen of voluntary groups and charities. That would be good because you would have a way of building into the local voluntary structure—not only sports clubs, all of which need it—something that says, “You have a commitment to those communities”.

At the heart of this process is, what are we doing to encourage grass-roots sport? First, we need to encourage people to play it. Schools sports partnerships were probably the first attempt to make a formalised link, brought about because of the break of the link between school sport and local community groups. It had to come in, we tried it, but it got cut. It was one of the things that I was very annoyed about in the coalition. I should have rebelled on it, but I waited.

We have to try to get something else that encourages the link from school to club, and to keep that going. If you only take your sporting activity in educational circumstances, in the majority of cases you stop when you leave those educational institutions. The link between ages 16, 18, and 21—when people drop out of sport—is incredibly well-established. We have to make sure that people carry on. If we get a reply here saying that school sport is wonderful and we are doing far more of it, it makes absolutely no difference if you stop when you leave school; you might as well have not bothered.

There is also the fact that we know it ups grades. It is weird that we do not actually think about this and push it forward; possibly because the Department for Education and at least one former Secretary of State for Education really did not get the idea at all. We have to establish this and make sure that it goes across and carries on.

The noble Lords, Lord Hayward and Lord Hampton, gave very focused examples of the fact that, once you get into a small club, you build a community—hopefully a community for life. Noble Lords would never guess that I am an old rugby player, still turning out for the parliamentary team. The description is “a life in rugby when you are close to death”—but, let us face it, physiotherapists have to eat as well. I go back to the small club I started with, which was then the Lakenham Hewett Old Boys, from the Hewett School in Norwich. It was a community club that has had to merge again, which tells another story, and is now Lakenham Union. There, I have a group of friends who will be with me for life. The same is true of other clubs I have played for, but that is the one I started with and where I had my last game in a league structure. If you can create that, you have something which you can go back to, and somewhere where you can use those skills and encourage people coming up to believe that they have a future.

All sports have a similar structure to this. Rugby is one of the property-owning sports, where buying your own clubhouse, or at least running, it is encouraged. Cricket follows on. If you encourage this and work hard at it, you have an asset which can go out to the rest of the community. Will the Minister please give us an idea of what the Government are doing to encourage this? Local government has a lot of this responsibility, but it is skint at the moment. How are we encouraging people to take on this great social asset and push it forward? It is something through which you can interact with your community. We have to encourage this link and encourage clubs’ survival by pushing new players through. Veterans’ teams are all very good, but they are not the future.

How are we going to encourage this? How are we going to make sure that we have that asset—that point at which we can interact? There are many examples of what sports clubs can do and of good sporting practice, but one which builds on what the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, did is the wonderful rugby union project, Tackle London. It gets youngsters to interact with that sport. The odd thing about rugby is that it seems to be growing in popularity in the female community at a phenomenal rate. More than half the participants in this project are female.

In the coaching department, it is very good at providing a stable base for people who have problems. The acronym is ACEs: adverse childhood experiences. Other sports have their strengths and weaknesses, but rugby’s strength is that it is very structured, with a central figure who is reliable and who is there—often a volunteer who is turning up because they like it. They will be very reliable. They are building into their club and its structure. When you get that kind of person, the response is that people keep coming back: they are a stable centre. You can start to build the kind of community that we have all been talking about, and you can get something that builds up with it.

If we are to encourage these voluntary groups—yes, these are voluntary groups—to come in and make sure that they are supporting groups outside, such as schools or other educational establishments, we need to have the support and structure from government to allow it to happen. It should be local government, but if it cannot afford to take on things such as making sure that your new clubhouse is built on a bus route, central government will have to do so.

Think about it: we have built and developed a wonderful new clubhouse, but we have put it three miles down the road. Can you think of a better way to get rid of your junior teams? Mum and dad have to drive them—but what if mum and dad do not have a second car, or even one car? You have to make sure there is access. So central government will have to push, local government will have to listen and somebody will have to make sure that the money is there for either the continuing bus route or the new bus route that gets you back from training as well as to it—and remember, this is voluntary activity, so it has to be after work.

Can the Government tell us exactly what their attitude will be to encourage amateur sports clubs—the social bedrock of many communities—to function properly and deliver these benefits to society? If we do not do that, we will miss something that, when all is said and done, is rather more important than who you cheer for on the odd Saturday or Wednesday afternoon.