Policy Spotlight: The strange disappearance of sport

Sport never has and never will be a vote winner, and we are in one of the tightest election campaigns in decades. Nevertheless, the sporting picture is still looking remarkably bare

(Reference: The Guardian)

Now let’s get one thing straight; sport never has and never will be a vote winner. Perhaps in the run up to the 2010 general election in advance of the UK’s largest ever sporting event – the London 2012 Olympic Games – people might have paid slightly more attention to sporting pledges made by the mainstream political parties. However in the run up to this year’s election, the lay of the land today is very much back to normal, with sport taking a back seat once more.

Given we are in the midst in one of the tightest elections in decades, for political parties it is perhaps unsurprising that sport was not at the epicentre of the general election manifestos issued by the country's main political parties last week.

Unsurprisingly they are looking to gain crucial electoral ground by making grand promises around the more traditional vote winning issues – notably the NHS, Economy and Education. Lest we forget, we have a budget deficit of over £90 billion and a current account deficit of 5.5% of GDP, so prioritising these areas seems fair enough. It would of course be naive for us to expect the same level of emphasis to be placed on sport as in 2010.

Nevertheless, the sporting picture is still looking remarkably bare. Given its impact on people’s everyday lives – not to mention the health aspect – I can’t help but feel surprised at how little it is addressed in politics. I will however do my best to unpick the rare mentions it has had in this election campaign thus far.

The Conservatives

By far the most space dedicated to sport comes in the Conservatives’ manifesto, with an unsurprising amount of referencing of the 2012 London Olympics – a clear highlight and success story of their time in government. What is particularly prominent in their manifesto are their reaffirming promises around building on the Olympic and Paralympic legacy, highlighting the delivery of many major upcoming events in the UK - notably the upcoming 2015 Rugby World Cup, the World Athletics Championship in 2017 and the Cricket World Cup in 2019 – as well as their continuation ‘to support elite sports funding'. Now whether you feel let down by the supposed legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games – an argument I certainly do not want to open up in this blog –  one cannot help but get excited at that list of events in our country.

Perhaps more surprising is their commitment to 'support new sports in the UK, in particular through greater links with the US National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, with the ultimate ambition of new franchises being based here.' Success here will of course come down to the commercial side and whether these can be sustained and prove commercially viable in the long run.

The continuation of commitments around school policies – after many years of governments’ flip-flopping around on sport policies within schools – is certainly a positive. This includes a commitment of £150 million per year of funding for primary school sport in light of the success of the School Games, launched by the Tories in 2010, to be paid directly to head teachers to ensure two hours of high quality PE per week for primary schoolchildren.

One cannot hide the fact however that despite these big pledges around sports funding, the reality is, in line with expected cuts – particular under the Tories themselves - local authorities who help subsidise many of our local sporting institutions - such as leisure centres – will ultimately see their funds inevitably cut. 

Labour

Labour’s manifesto opens with a mission statement for the benefits of sport and echoes large commitments made by the Tories. The particular standout sporting policy in the Labour Manifesto however focuses around football club ownership. A bold move certainly, but if successful, could yet play out in other sports suffering similar issues around club ownership. Here Labour claims football clubs are 'more than just businesses', and 'an important part of many people’s identity and sense of belonging'. Noting that 'too often there are no effective means for fans to have a say in how their clubs are run', Labour has committed to legislation to 'enable accredited supporters trusts to appoint and remove at least two of the directors of a football club and to purchase shares when the club changes hands.'

In other words Labour would make it a requirement for football clubs to offer fans both stock and a seat around the boardroom table. This is a clearly populist measure and undoubtedly taps into their narrative around standing up to big businesses. However, like their other notions around energy price freezes and reforms in banking, this is certainly easier said than done.

There is also a promise in the Labour manifesto to ensure that 'the Premier League delivers on its promise to invest five per cent of its domestic and international television rights income into funding the grassroots', a notion designed to have widespread interest given the current state of the national game.

 

(Reference: Daily Mail)

One final thing to note not featured in the manifesto, but a possible Labour government policy, is the introduction of sports betting rights, possibly designed to give governing bodies the power to decide the markets that are offered by bookmakers. Certainly this would also be one to watch out for.

All Other Parties

Aside from the two major parties, the Liberal Democrats manifesto refers to sport just twice. The most eye-catching proposal comes in the form of safe standing in football – a controversial issue in the beautiful game - stating it would require the Sports Ground Safety Authority to prepare guidance over where they should be introduced at grounds.

Also of interest is their aim to help tackle obesity, mental health problems and other health conditions, something that is also behind its commitment to “opening up more sports facilities and building more cycle routes”. This ties in nicely to the Lib Dems’ wider commitments on health, but it must also be noted here that details are rather thin to say the least.

There is even less sporting policy on the manifestos of the UKIP and Greens. The Green party would commit to 'half-day equivalent of sports in school' (timeline unclear), while the only reference to sport in the UKIP manifesto is a promise to abolish the Department for Culture, Media and Sport because its 'essential powers and functions can be merged into other departments' in order to 'make considerable savings at the same time as improving democratic accountability'. You cannot help but feel surprised to see no limits being placed on foreign players playing in the premier league. One for another day perhaps!

 

Julian

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search