The SIG Column - 11 May

11 May 2007

Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement of his resignation on 27th June has left many reviewing his legacy to the country. For the sport industry there can be little doubt of the enormity of his success as Drew Barrand, head of media at Sport Industry Group, explains...

Due principally to the unpopularity of the involvement in the Iraq war, there are many corners of the UK who are jumping for joy this week following Tony Blair’s announcement that he will stand down as Prime Minister on 27th June.

Sport should not be one of them. As much as Blair has taken an increasing battering for a war which, rightly or wrongly, looks set to be the legacy for which he’s remembered, for those in our industry his term of office should be reviewed in a far more positive light.

There is little doubt that sport is higher up the agenda then ever before. Securing the London 2012 Olympics – the success of which most observers would agree was almost single-handedly delivered by the Prime Minister’s hands on role at the election meeting in Singapore – has created a sizeable opportunity for the UK to position itself as a leader on the sporting map in terms of hosting events, prowess on the pitch and grass-roots participation.

A brief overview of the financial facts of Blair’s reign, as provided by the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, showcase perfectly the growing prominence of sport within government.

- The annual amount invested by the government in sport through the national budget and lottery funding during the 10-year Blair era has risen from £222m to £580m – an average year-on-year increase of 16% which saw sport marked out as an investment priority in a similar vein to education and health.

- As a result of these rises, total investment in sport has amounted between £4-4.5bn since Blair took power in 1997.
- By 2006, the government and the National Lottery had committed around £1bn to develop new or refurbished public sports facilities, representing over 4,000 new or refurbished facilities.

- In the five years leading up to London 2012, UK Sport – a Blair government creation - will invest £508.6m in elite sport, up from the £92.1m invested in the five year build up to Athens 2004.

- In 1997, government targeted investment in school sport was negligible. Now over £1.5bn is being invested in the five-year build-up to London 2012.

- 80% of pupils are now doing at least 2 hours of school sport a week beating the government target of 75% for 2006 and up from an estimated 25% in 2002.

This overview makes impressive reading and signals Blair out as perhaps the most prominent Prime Minister this country has ever produced when it comes to sport.

Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing. The Wembley Stadium fiasco, a lack of clarity on the 2012 budget, and the growing confusion of government’s place within the governance of football are the major black spots of the Blair era for sport.

However, there is little doubt that the good outweighs the bad. In the eyes of the sports fraternity, Prime Minister-elect Gordon Brown has large shoes to fill. Sport is now one of the fastest growing industries in the country and it will require a similar concentration to ensure these high standards are maintained.

Not that the continuation of a Labour government is anything close to a certainty. With a General Election on the horizon perhaps as early as next year, Conservative Leader David Cameron looks set to provide a sterner test for Brown than Blair ever faced from the Opposition Party.

What can Cameron bring to sport? The bar has been set high but he will undoubtedly look to raise it further as it becomes a prominent electoral policy battlefield. His inaugural comments on sport at the Sport Industry Lecture on 22nd May will make for interesting viewing.

The legacy Blair has laid out for UK sport is clear. Can Brown or Cameron take it even further?

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