Democratising Sporting Passion – Do We Need a National Sports Service?

Who is the Star?

The passion and energy that’s on display at the London Olympics isn’t confined to the athletes on the the field. If there is one unexpected star of the show at this Olympics it’s the crowds. It’s the many thousands of people cheering and urging on the sportsmanship and achievement of world athletes. All of a sudden thousands of people have got access to sports that they would never have dreamt about following. Now they are watching contests between competitors from nations they have never heard of, and are witnessing the intense drama of winning or loosing at first hand.

This is a transformative Olympics, not just for the sports themselves, but for the status of British sporting spectatorship and participation. If anything is going to be a legacy from these games, and lock-in that interest and support for sports that otherwise don’t get much attention, it’s the coverage of many thousands of fans cheering athletes on as they strive to achieve their personal best.

Would this be a good time to think about re-democratising Britain’s sporting infrastructure? Is it time to break the dominance of the pay-television channels and reinvigorate the BBC by making coverage of the minority sports their public service priority? There is very little love for BBC Three and CBBC in their present form, so why not amalgamate them with other channels and establish a full-time BBC Sport channel? The aim of the channel? To provide a platform and introduction to sports that don’t otherwise get much coverage on any national broadcaster. To provide a showcase of sporting and talent and ensure that with this highly visible spotlight the levels of investment in infrastructure are maintained and more people are brought into the sporting arena – both as competitors and as spectators.

Perhaps we need the imagination to create a National Sports Service? Taking over where LOCOG – the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games – leaves off. Every year we bring together British amateur athletes in a celebration of sporting commitment, and all broadcast live by BBC Sport. The British economy needs diversification. We need a more balanced approach to Manufacturing, the Creative Industries, our Food Heritage, Financial Services, Healthcare and Green Technology – so why not include sport in this mix? Every school would receive investment in sporting facilities, every town would be expected to provide sporting resources for everyone.

Universities could be organised into leagues were the focus is on non-professional sporting achievement. These leagues would form a new tier for sporting focus for each town. Not for profit. Community owned and run. Based on principles of merit rather than elitism. Building and sustaining sporting communities at a grass-roots level. An antidote to the remoteness and detachment of professional football. The Olympics shows that we can create the demand for a magnificent, world-class stage of sporting ambition. This is the stuff that we can do if only we have the imagination.

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