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Hugh Robertson, the Shadow Minister for Sport and the Olympics (note the title), along with his "team", has spent three months researching British sport in order to make a statement about future Conservative sports policy. The result, published in March 2009, can be described as a "more of" approach in relation to the existing government. New Labour with knobs on and a powerful tribute to the former Soviet Union: more direct state money for sport, more sport within state education, more competition, more inclusiveness, more medals, more enthusiasm for the Olympics. It is all very predictable and can be put in the context of what has become of Conservatism in this century so far.

But here I am more concerned to develop the principles which should lie behind a genuinely conservative sports policy. Britain has only had a sports policy for approximately half a century since the publication in 1960 of the "other" Wolfenden Report, Sport in the Community. That is, unless you count not having a sports policy as a form of policy, though a gallant attempt to maintain the no-policy policy was made by Lord Hailsham in the latter days of the Macmillan government when he added sport to his bulging ministerial portfolio with the express intention of doing nothing about it.

It is generally agreed that policy towards sport in the period since has been shallow in conception, essentially reactive and mainly imitative. The issues of football hooliganism, for example, or of British failures in international sport have been typically forced onto the agendas of governing personnel who had little original interest in them or who had been content to leave well alone. There are exceptions: in the 1970s Labour's rather extreme version of "Sport for All", and its preoccupation with persuading Muslim ladies to use swimming pools, was the only approach to sport which might be said to have followed from fundamental party principles. John Major is generally thought of as the only Prime Minister with a personal interest in sport and a personal impact on it. The introduction of a National Lottery in 1994 and the policies for spending the money on sport outlined in the document Raising the Game (1995) have proved to be a success and we owe our elevated fourth place in the 2008 Olympic medals table to them. But they are in many respects more Soviet than Tory, the applied ideas of a professional politician who can see some percentage, personal and partisan, in sporting success rather than the particular approaches of a genuine Conservative. To be fair, John Major didn't have a lot in common with Joseph Stalin, but both sought to make an impact on the Olympic medals table and both succeeded in doing so.

The no-policy policy belonged in the era I have called the "amateur hegemony", which was collapsing in the early 1960s when Hailsham made his gesture. After decades of sports policy and administration there must now be a policy, even if it is only to undo previous policies. There are, I believe, some pretty obvious steps that follow from the nature of conservatism, but also some more difficult issues which create dilemmas.

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August 14th, 2009
7:08 AM
Pulling the plug on the Olympics is a brilliant idea. Perhaps we could hold the IOC to ransom and demand that there be: - no sponsorship, - no advertisements - no professionalism and - no national anthems. The IOC prides itself on adapting to the realities of the world. This will be one such reality.

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