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A Minister for Sport would change the game. If only politicians listened

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  Yellow jersey Tour of Britain winner Dylan van Baarle of The Netherlands and Garmin-Sharp rides in the peloton on the final stage of the 2014 Tour of Britain, an 88km criterium around Whitehall on September 14, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Yellow jersey Tour of Britain winner Dylan van Baarle of The Netherlands and Garmin-Sharp rides in the peloton on the final stage of the 2014 Tour of Britain, an 88km criterium around Whitehall on September 14, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Sport matters to me. A lot. Probably to you too, otherwise why else are you reading this? Physical health, mental displacement, tribal identity, emotional immersion, empathy, joy, endorphins. All these gifts and more – including an appreciation of sport’s value to the society I live in. Enough to want our politicians to nurture it. Actually invest in sport, both with cash and collective will, not simply pay it electoral lip service.

A six-week snap election has found all major parties wanting. Candidates yet to be identified across a slew of constituencies. Manifestos in early draft form. Billboards unbooked. The battleground issues are well understood though. The economy (stupid), health service and immigration.

Sport is as likely to trip politicians up as win critical swing votes. The arts too. Hard as leaders in these sectors are scrambling now to have their voices heard, they are unlikely to be able to create debate, let alone shape it to promote their ideas. Expect a few token paragraphs towards the back of each major party’s manifesto. There will be a big wooly, sporty promise or two about getting the nation active, especially the more marginalised groups in society, but nothing that will come back to bite. Or even make a difference.

A manifesto for sport

I published the Sport inc. manifesto at the start of the year. It hasn’t changed:

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Vote for Ed Warner, and what would you get? Tax breaks for volunteers who give their time to sport, and simplified paperwork that fits in with their busy lives. Health service ‘credits’ for all to be spent on sporting activity. A levy on broadcast revenue to support clubs lower down big sports’ pyramids. Sport to be carved out of DCMS and given a permanent seat in Cabinet. A bonfire of red tape and bureaucracy, banging together back offices within the funding agencies and between individual sports. But above all else, multi-year investments in school sport – its human capital and physical facilities.

Ed Warner’s manifesto

I’ll now add a commitment that the Minister for Sport would stay in post for a whole parliamentary term – barring scandal, arrest or ill health. Stephanie Peacock is Labour’s current Shadow Minister for Sport, Gambling and Media, so presumably a fair bet to step into the real role after the General Election. She’s been two years in the shadow post. Her website cites a London Marathon run in 2019. The sport sector must hope she has a distance runner’s mentality.

Sport can make a difference

There are signs that constrained public finances are cutting into Britain’s sporting infrastructure. UK Sport, the elite funding agency, is in the process of removing 25 per cent of its workforce. We wait to see what areas of its work will be most affected. Are major sporting events at risk? Or will support for Olympians and Paralympians be crimped. Will grassroots agency Sport England be next, whatever the electoral result on 4 July?

I’m all for funding efficiency (see my manifesto above). Lean often means swifter, both on the track and in the office. But after decades of lobbying about the potential benefits of a healthier nation – including lower healthcare costs – we are as far away from genuine acceptance among politicians of all hues as we ever were. Any way the wind blows.

Tricky right winger

Starmer is a Gooner; Sunak a Saint. After the (yawn, cliché) ‘richest game in world football’, the leaders’ teams will now meet again in the Premier League next season.

I know which man my money would be on if the two leaders took to the pitch themselves. Check out the Prime Minister on the footballing campaign trail this week here

Fine dining

Labour held a ‘Sports Dinner’ at The Oval the day after the General Election was announced. Obviously booked a while back, it was billed as offering “good opportunities to network across sporting bodies and with politicians” over champagne and petit fours.

Ticket prices started at £275. I’d have been interested had politicians been paying me and my peers for our views rather than the other way round. You could have had me for the price of a half-time Bovril.

Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes his sport column at sportinc.substack.com