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Richard Coopey and Peter Lyth

The part played by the media, especially BSkyB, in bringing about structural changes in English football and rugby league since the s are explored against this backdrop. Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter. Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.


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To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use for details see www. University Press Scholarship Online. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Classical, Early, and Medieval Plays and Playwrights: Classical, Early, and Medieval Poetry and Poets: Classical, Early, and Medieval Prose and Writers: Classical, Early, and Medieval World History: Britain's unpaid amateurs found it increasingly difficult to compete on the international stage against the likes of state-sponsored Soviet athletes.

British Sport Transformed: Sport, Business, and the Media since 1960

One s British Olympic diver living in London had to fund regular travel to Cardiff to access the nearest indoor high-board training facility. Conservative governments of the s maintained a minimalist approach, leaving sport to run its own affairs. This stance largely prevailed despite the publication in of the influential Wolfenden Report, which called for a range of state initiatives to enhance 'sport in the community'. However, there was no action on the central recommendation to introduce a 'Sports Development Council' as a focal point for the building of a new generation of athletic tracks and multi-purpose sport centres.

It was in the years spanning the Wilson-Heath-Callaghan administrations of that a government sport policy really emerged. Labour's Harold Wilson was the first Prime Minister to sense the potential electoral resonance of sport. He knew that sport was never likely to be a front-line electoral issue, although it came close in , when sporting links with apartheid South Africa and England's defeat in the football World Cup threatened to overshadow the general election campaign.

But Wilson calculated that it did no harm to his party's popularity to be identified with a more positive approach to sport. He sanctioned an unprecedented intervention in professional sport, providing Treasury funds to help ensure the organisational success of the football World Cup on English soil, and ensuring he was personally associated with the success of the English team. But it was in relation to amateur sport that fresh departures were most apparent after Labour thinking in opposition had long echoed Wolfenden's view that state funding was required to increase the range and availability of sporting facilities.

With this in mind, Wilson appointed the energetic and populist Denis Howell as the first Minister for Sport in , and within months he had established a Sports Council, initially as an advisory body with the Minister as Chairman. Despite periodic bouts of retrenchment, both Labour and Conservative administrations between and provided new momentum in sports development. The Sports Council was granted executive status in the early s, freeing it from direct ministerial control. It worked to provide travel costs and expenses to British amateur teams competing overseas at events such as the Olympics, fund coaching schemes across a range of sports, assist clubs in updating their facilities, and aid local authorities with the capital costs of new projects.

Between and the number of facilities for indoor sport in Britain almost trebled, and there were notable advances in the construction of multi-purpose leisure centres, up from just 12 in to in In the s this process was abruptly interrupted by Margaret Thatcher's indifference towards sport, and the lasting effects of her failed attempt to persuade British athletes not to attend the Moscow Olympics in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Elite-level sport could not rely at this time on sustained ministerial backing for bids to host the Olympics; failed attempts were made by both Birmingham and Manchester. On the domestic front, sections of Conservative parliamentary opinion questioned the need for either a Sports Council or a Minister for Sport, advocating a return to a s-style hands-off approach. And after years of progress for school sport under the terms of the Education Act, ministers anxious to reduce public spending embarked on a policy that was later held up as a symbol of Thatcher's disregard for sport: Some 5, fields across the country were lost during the s to new building development and, with teachers in dispute over pay and conditions, school sport went into a period of pronounced decline.

From , Thatcher's successor John Major went some way towards repairing the damage, inspired by his personal love of sport and his sense like that of Harold Wilson that the popularity of sport presented political opportunities.

Sport policy in historical context, 1945-97

Major's key achievement was to find significant new sources of revenue for elite and grass-roots sport, especially for capital projects, after the introduction of the National Lottery in Despite Major's efforts, by the time he left office, school sport remained in the doldrums, and generous new funding systems for elite athletes came on stream too late to influence Britain's poor showing at the Atlanta Olympics, when Team GB finished a humiliating 36th in the medal table. By state involvement in sport had been transformed.

Sports administrators and governing bodies still prized their independence, but they valued assistance though not control from politicians prepared to sanction funding for sport from the grass roots up to international level. More people than ever before had access to local recreational amenities such as pools and sport centres, and structures were in place to enable elite athletes to compete seriously at future Olympics.

On the other hand, optimistic s talk of 'sport for all' remained a long way from becoming a reality. Only about one quarter of adults took part in sport regularly, and school sport was at a low ebb. In weighing up the policy lessons of the period as a whole, four enduring difficulties can be highlighted:. Funding constraints were a major source of concern throughout the post-war years. Starting from a tiny base, direct exchequer funding for sport did rise after , but by the end of the s had still not reached the levels proposed by the Wolfenden Report in In the mids the entire budget of the Department of National Heritage the home of the Minister for Sport at that time amounted to just 0.

Recurrent funding problems stemmed in part from the unstable administrative framework in which sport policy was set. Making the case for state investment was not helped by Sports Ministers' junior status never above Minister of State level and frequent shuffling of the sport portfolio within Whitehall. This picture of fragmentation at ministerial level was compounded by other departments retaining responsibility in specific areas: Achieving policy continuity was also difficult in the face of ongoing disputes over the role, status and functions of the delivery bodies.

The Sports Council was granted executive status in the s largely on the grounds that it would be less prone to ministerial interference, but by the s the Council was again under attack for lacking independence. Arguments continued to rage into the s as to whether the Sports Council needed strengthening, adapting or abolishing. In Major's government shelved plans for a restructure, only to decide a couple of years later to separate responsibility for elite and community sport between new bodies including UK Sport and Sport England.

Funding shortages and disputed administrative structures contributed to a third problem, determining the balance between the needs of recreational and elite sport. In , when the emphasis was on building new facilities, community initiatives were the top priority. By the early s the Sports Council gave a higher priority than in the past to developing Olympic sports, a trend intensified by John Major's diversion of large-scale lottery funding towards training elite athletes.

The perennial difficulties of sport policy reflected both the shallow levels of political support - among MPs at Westminster, across Whitehall, and around the Cabinet table - and a high degree of dependence on the personal interest of successive Prime Ministers. Thatcher's only prolonged intervention came when she was forced to react to events, such as s football hooliganism. For the most part, sport occupied a lowly place in the political pecking order, its profile only occasionally raised by one-off events, and successive sports ministers were heavily outgunned in the battle for resources by bigger-spending Whitehall departments.

With the economy in reasonable shape and the luxury of huge parliamentary majorities in and , the prospects for sport were more promising under Tony Blair's premiership than at any time in the previous generation. Progress was slow in coming, however, and in the short term all spending was constrained by Chancellor Gordon Brown's desire to work within the financial framework laid down by the previous administration.

But over time the government overcame, at least partially, the characteristic shortcomings of previous policy. Sport received a sympathetic hearing in Downing Street as Blair, like Major before him, felt there was political capital to be gained, describing sport as 'an asset which is massively under-utilised'.

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After , the duo of Tessa Jowell as Culture Secretary and Richard Caborn as Sports Minister had close links with key figures at the heart of government, such as Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, helping to explain why sport policy temporarily established a profile in the corridors of power to which it was unaccustomed. Direct Treasury funding doubled between and , with wide-ranging effects.

In only a quarter of pupils in state secondary schools were doing two hours of Physical Education PE per week; a decade later the figure was nine out of ten. In addition, the government created almost School Sports Partnerships SSPs , responsible for stimulating inter-school games in local areas, and widely regarded as reversing the decline of school sport.

Progress was also facilitated by a more stable administrative framework. Caborn, himself a sports-fan, remained in post for longer than most of his predecessors, and worked hard to ensure that at the roles and expectations of the main delivery agencies were settled and clarified: Sport England concentrated on increasing participation, UK Sport on high performance sport, and the Youth Sport Trust monitored school sport. Above all, government policy was distinguished by its attempt to achieve a more integrated approach, trying to knit together school, community and elite-level sport, regarding recreation as part of a 'joined up' approach to deliver wider policy goals such as improved health, civic renewal and social cohesion.

Blair described sport as 'a pro-education policy, a pro-health policy, an anti-crime and anti-drugs policy. These were the foundations in place when in the Blair administration secured its single most high-profile success in sport policy: Protracted arguments followed over whether the scale of public investment represented value for money, and whether Britain could deliver on the ambitious legacy promises that were essential to winning the bid.

British Sport Transformed: Sport, Business, and the Media since - Oxford Scholarship

One of these, that Britain would maintain its high ranking in the Olympic medal table, seemed readily achievable. Lottery funding on a scale that dwarfed what went before, together with UK Sport's 'no compromise' targeting of funds at likely medal winners, helped to transform Britain's performance. At Beijing in , Team GB surged to fourth in the medals table, behind only China, the USA and Russia, a position that, ironically, has only ever been bettered at the London games, with medals including 56 gold, though with only 22 participating nations.

On the other hand, it became apparent after Gordon Brown took over from Blair in that it would be difficult to deliver on ambitious targets to increase sporting participation.