Saturday, 25 August 2012

Independent Olympians - why sport matters

You would have thought that the only people disappointed by London 2012 would be the doom-mongerers who predicted it would be a disaster zone of unfinished venues and a broken transport system.  In the event, it was of course a huge triumph.  London looked amazing, the venues were astonishing and commentators around the world have been hailing it as one of the greatest Olympics ever.

To top it all, Team GB came third in the medal table and national pride, heightened no doubt by being in the year of the Queen's diamond jubilee, went through the roof.  But our performance is even more impressive when you compare the size of our nation to the two countries who beat us.  The US topped the table with 104 medals.  Impressive but with over 300 million inhabitants that equates to one medal per 3 million people.  China came second with 88 medals - or a paltry one medal per 15 million people.  Meanwhile Britain, with 65 medals and 60 million people, can claim to have one medal per 923 inhabitants.

I owe this slightly maverick way of measuring success to a Scots / Bahamian friend who is very fond of using it to argue that the Bahamas are second in the all-time league table of Olympics success and that Scotland should start every game of rugby against England with a head start of 17 points.  Naturally I don't let him get away with such tricks but it's a fun way of pointing out how significant our success was this summer.

Ben Ainslie
All should have been happiness and light but a strange thing happened half way through the games. It started to become apparent that many of Team GB's medal winners were educated at independent schools.  It was interesting, and a little depressing, that the slant put on the story by many in the media was that this was a bad thing with independent schools stealing all the toys.  It has been pleasing recently to see the debate shift to where it should be - why is that independent schools produce so many good sportsmen and women and how can improvements be made in the state sector?

In turn, this has raised the old story of school playing fields being sold off and the decline of coaching in many maintained sector schools.  A great outcome has been a focus on the importance of sport as part of a healthy lifestyle amid rising obesity in the nation.  The government has been swift to start talking about raised expectations of sport in the national curriculum which is great news.

Sir Chris Hoy
Independent schools focus on sport because they understand, and are committed to, the value of sport in the education of young people.  Sport both in terms of PE lessons and games sessions are a key part of the week.  There is a good dose of 'a healthy mind in a healthy body' to this but it is also because it develops values such as camaraderie, tenacity, commitment and leadership in a way that the academic side of the curriculum cannot do.

Let's not forget that it is also expensive to take this approach both in terms of time in the week and the cost of provision.  However we do it because it is important.  King's Rochester is an excellent example of this as we are in the process of acquiring a sports centre from the local council.  In addition to the excellent facilities indoors, this gives us 9 tennis / netball courts outside and access to further playing fields and Olympic standard astroturfs for hockey.  We will be putting in £500,000 of investment over the next few years to bring it up to standard and, crucially, making it available to the local community.

So, congratulations to all the medal winners at the Olympics and let's use this as an opportunity to praise and promote sport in schools.