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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:01 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 5:01, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I first congratulate my noble friend Lord Wood on initiating this debate and my noble friends Lords Shamash and Lord Hannett on choosing to make their maiden speeches in this important debate.

My dear and noble friend Lord Shamash has demonstrated what a great addition he will be to our debates in your Lordships’ House, particularly with his experience of working with the most deprived people in our communities and with his expertise on electoral law.

I say to my noble friend Lord Hannett that I am a former member of USDAW, because I worked for Co-op for 12 years; it was a great trade union to be a member of. I am particularly pleased to welcome him to our House, because he has a great record of championing women and issues around low pay, and he will be a great addition to our debates. I note that Everton have not been relegated this season, despite the odd problem I am told they have had.

I am grateful to the many organisations and the Library for their briefings, which I have read and of which I have taken some notice, occasionally.

This has been a stimulating debate. Was it too football orientated? Football looms large in our nation, with clubs contributing billions to the economy, generating substantial social value, which many noble Lords mentioned, and otherwise capturing the national imagination. I join with my right honourable friend Thangam Debbonaire MP, who said at Second Reading of the Football Governance Bill in the Commons:

“The prize could be greater financial sustainability across the whole football pyramid, and, crucially, fans having a greater say in how their clubs are run. It could be those things, but it is up to us to make sure that it is. That is what fans deserve, and what Labour has called for in our last three election manifestos”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/4/24; col. 837.]

In line with everybody confessing their football teams, I probably need to note that my husband is a passionate Leeds United supporter, so in our household I fear there is some tension, with the playoffs looming.

We are all united in our recognition of the importance and love of sport in the life of our nation, and this debate recognises that in abundance. It has not actually been dominated by football; we have heard about many other sports. My noble friend Lady Nye talked about golf, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, about cricket, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, about rugby and my noble friend Lord Drayson about motorsports. However, I join my noble friend Lord Wood in saying that it is worrying that there was a report today that three in five adults in England say that extreme weather events are impacting their ability to be physically active. Can the Minister say whether the government schemes recognise the particular challenges raised by climate change, including new and increased pressures on our health service?

I will talk a little about social enterprises, co-operatives and charities and their role in sport and in sports centres. I declare an interest as the founding chair and patron of Social Enterprise UK and an associate of Social Business International. As a Labour and Co-op Party member, I am committed to and interested in the role that democracy, ownership and community-based organisations can play in bringing access and inclusivity at a local level. The Labour and Co-operative parties have a long history of supporting fans on this issue. In fact, it was under the last Labour Government, in 2007, that we founded the fan ownership organisation Supporters Direct and campaigns for further funding and resources to support increased fan ownership.

In this capacity as a passionate advocate for charities, social enterprises and co-operatives, I have been a supporter of GLL since it was founded in 1993 as the first social enterprise operating leisure centres in Greenwich, taking over its leisure services, which were about to be sold off or closed down. As many will know, GLL operates under the name Better. It is an independent charitable social enterprise. Across the country it operates 230 leisure centres and swimming pools, 50 libraries, and world-class sporting venues such as Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, the London Aquatics Centre and Copper Box Arena at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It runs numerous children’s centres, recreation grounds, spas, ice rinks and other spaces, making it the UK’s largest leisure provider. The point is that it is community based and community owned, does not serve shareholders and is not going anywhere. During the pandemic it turned itself around on a shilling to support its local communities, and we should value that.

Better is not alone: there are hundreds of other social enterprise leisure services in the UK. Therefore, I ask the Minister: given the pressures on and under-resourcing of local government when budgets are so stressed, how can we ensure that these important community facilities continue to be the sort of places people want to go to?

It is important in these debates to pay tribute to those who make such a huge contribution to our sporting life in this country, particularly the volunteers. As one of the staff in the office said to me in preparation for this debate:

“One of my cousins’ husbands is a football coach and he gives up most of his Saturdays because he loves working with the kids and has thick enough skin to tolerate comments from parents. There’s no pay and very little thanks, but him and others keep kids fit, healthy and happy, rather than getting up to no good”.

There are hundreds of thousands of volunteers like this, and we owe them our thanks. They often make the difference, in that a young person has a trusted adult who introduces them to the joy of sporting activity. That also raises the question of coaching in the community being even more important, in the context of PE being cut back in our schools. Have HMG been assessing the impact of the reduction in timetabled PE hours?

I turn to the challenges of equality and access, because as well as being the DCMS spokesperson I am the women and equalities spokesperson in your Lordships’ House. As a Yorkshirewoman, I am deeply ashamed about the racism exposed in the Yorkshire cricket club in recent times. However, I was not surprised. I grew up in Manningham, in Bradford, in the 1960s and 1970s, where there were boys playing cricket in the streets and parks. They knew, and my schoolmates knew, that they would never play for Yorkshire, however good they became, because they were from Caribbean, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi families, who had come to Yorkshire to work in our mills and hospitals and drive our buses. Even those who were born in Yorkshire would not be chosen. It took until 1992 for the first non-white player to play for Yorkshire.

What subsequently happened to non-white players is a shaming and well-known story, which came out when Azeem Rafiq described the racist abuse and bullying he faced during his two tenures at the club. What is also profoundly depressing is that racism still lurks in the Yorkshire cricket club, despite everything. Yorkshire was docked points and fined last year by an independent commission appointed by the England and Wales Cricket Board after admitting to failing on four charges, including a failure to address and take adequate action against racist and discriminatory language. It is time for this to stop. Race, colour and religion should be irrelevant for our cricket team in Yorkshire, which should be a beacon reflecting the best players in our diverse and rich communities.

The excellent Kick It Out campaign was set up to fight racism in football in 1993, and in 1997 it expanded to tackle all forms of discrimination. It does an excellent job. It says,

“right now we’re here to put an end to every form of discrimination. We won’t stop until it stops”.

As we know, there is still work to be done on the terraces and in the clubs.

I thank Women in Sport for its excellent brief for this debate, with its description of the challenges and proposals for change. The headline message is that sport has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the health—including mental health—and well-being of everyone who takes part, but too many girls and women are being excluded from that positive impact. No one should be excluded from the joy, fulfilment and lifelong benefits of sport. It is deeply unfair on women and girls, and a huge missed opportunity for society.

The role of the Lionesses is huge, and I feel tearful with joy and admiration at their journey and the impact that they have. It is a matter of personal celebration that my 10 year-old granddaughter plays football at school. She is in the squad and competes rather well in Camden—in fact, better than the boys’ team. But 1.3 million girls drop out of sport between primary and secondary school.

I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, all the best in the Bingham Cup in Rome next week. His record of championing and founding the Kings Cross Steelers is of huge benefit for everybody in rugby and for gay rights. I am proud to know him as a friend.

Today, the leader of my party, the right honourable Keir Starmer MP, announced the first steps we will take, if we form the next Government, to begin a decade of national renewal. Given the importance of sport in our national life and our well-being, and given that the last Labour Government won the Olympic Games for our nation, who knows how the next generation of young people will benefit and what we can achieve? Watch this space.