Harriet Harman

Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election and I am no longer an MP

Speech to the Sport and Recreation ALliance on Sport and Physica

With Andy Burnham MP

House of Commons, 18 June 2012


It’s great to see you all here today to share this discussion with us. 

I’ve had so many congratulations, on twitter and elsewhere, on bringing the Olympics to this country – but just to let you know, I’m not Tessa Jowell!  

I’m Harriet Harman, and I’m here with Clive Efford, our Shadow Sports Minister. And I’m Shadow Secretray of State for DCMS, and delighted to see everybody here today.  

Especially with Andy Reed. Andy, who as well as doing so much when he worked with the ministerial team at DCMS, and as well as doing so much at national level, has always walked the walk – or perhaps I should say run with the ball – at local level in Leicestershire

  • in actually playing for Birstall Rugby Union Club, and
  • doing so much to build on and support the work of Loughborough University, which is massively impressive.

So congratulations to Andy on his OBE in the Honours List over the weekend, which is incredibly well-deserved for your work at local level and at national level. 

What we’ve all been thinking about and talking about is continuing the work of, and trying to build on the achievements of, what Andy and other colleagues did on sport when we were in government.  

And Gerry Sutcliffe, who’s in the audience – we’ll always remember you for Camberwell Leisure Centre, and being able to go swimming in the Camberwell Baths.  

Local community by local community, you can see the absolute backing of people like Gerry and Andy to get those facilities for local people.  

And I think it’s really great Andy Burnham has taken on the health portfolio, because it means you can carry on that passion and commitment.  

Although we’re not in government, we want to support the government when they’re doing the right thing and when DCMS is doing the right thing. And when the plug is being pulled on them by the education department or the Treasury, we will back them up when they’re doing the right thing.  

But obviously we will be very critical of them when they’re doing the wrong thing.  

Democratic imperative 

We want to see sport across the country as well as in our own constituencies. Because there’s a democratic imperative in sport for every MP, whether they’re sporty or not.  

When you are a sports-mad country, when you’ve got parents, kids, local communities, all participating in sport, supporting their children, watching sport on TV, it’s a democratic imperative.  

If we are to represent our constituents, we have to take sport seriously.  

People can’t imagine their lives without sport, especially this summer with Euro 2012 and the Olympics.  

It’s important for health. And it’s important for the economy as well. 

But it’s also so important in public policy because our constituents think it’s important. Especially young people. And I think Andy’s point – that sport is not a luxury that we can’t afford in a time of austerity, but is part of the answer to the future – is absolutely right.  

Sport and the economy 

I was very struck by a number of things when I visited Loughborough University. 

I met lots of excellent people there. And I wondered, why is it so different from the House of Commons?  

And then I realised it’s because many of the people I met there had muscles rippling under their suits.  

But also there were brains rippling as well as muscles rippling, on all these issues about how sport and leisure are important for our economy. 

The figures are very clear on this. According to a Business in Sport and Leisure report, the economic contribution of sports activities, health and fitness was £25.4bn in 2010, with sport representing £18.3bn of that.  

And you could see all the people in Loughborough knew that: they were not only passionate about sport but understand it’s going to be a future career and a part of our future economic growth.  

So when we talk about legacy – those fantastic facilities in Loughborough are an absolute credit to you, Andy. 


And sport is something we’re renowned for all around the world.  

You all know this.  

But I’ve travelled a lot in Africa (because many of my constituents come from Africa), and whether you’re in Ghana, or Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, you see the British footballers – English  footballers – everywhere, absolutely pre-eminent.  

I think the strength of that was reflected in last week’s £3billion deal for Premiership TV rights, and that underlines the huge success that English football is.  

But I think at a time when local community sport is suffering, we have to absolutely insist that this helps sport and football at the grassroots level. It must deliver for that.  

Football has its roots in all of our communities and this is one occasion where the Premier League in particular needs to remember the phrase: ‘we are all in it together’.  

And make it a reality. 

The fans 

As to the question of fans. The Premier League wouldn’t be able to have the success it does without the fans, and the passion that people in this country feel for the game.  

But many people do ask – and we see that again with the television rights purchase – how much of it is going to get down to local level?  

Is it actually going to make season ticket prices go up rather than down? Why is it that Premiership players can be on an average of £22,000 a week, over a million pounds a year, and the season tickets at Arsenal start at over £950?  

And of course there’s always the demand on all parents for football shirts which cost so much.  

It is paradoxical, at a time when the Premier League is receiving £3billion from TV rights, fans are worried not only about the cost of the game but the financial threat to their clubs, from Rangers to Portsmouth.  

And that’s why one of the things Clive has been strongly arguing for is more access to information, more transparency for fans – from clubs to fans – to let them see what is actually going on. 


One thing I just want to mention, and in football in particular – something we’ve seen highlighted recently – is tackling racism.  

I think when we all saw those images on the TV from Poland and Ukraine, we all thought two things:

  • Firstly, we were horrified, and also had a sense that everybody in this country would be horrified
  • But also a sense that we have made a lot of progress on this over the years, and that is because of incredible hard work.

Everyone felt aggrieved that the family of Theo Walcott, whose performance was so important against Sweden, couldn’t comfortably travel to the game.  

And I think it’s really important that we emphasise the support we have for initiatives such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card.  

But we should never be complacent in that work. We are a million miles from where we used to be, and from where they are in Poland and Ukraine, but we mustn’t be complacent and everybody knows that.  

In my own borough, in Millwall, where 48% of the population in Southwark is black, if you see Millwall fans flooding into the stadium they’re nearly all white, and we need to make sure we keep working so people feel comfortable to support their local team.  

So we’ve got to continue making strenuous efforts on that.  

A nation that loves sport 

It’s because sport is so important that we did do all the things that Andy described when we were in government. 

Investing in school sports.  

I think it’s also part of the equality of opportunity agenda: you shouldn’t only have access to sport because your parents have got the money to finance it, or because you go to a school with lavish private facilities.  

Sport is absolutely a question about equality and equal access, but that doesn’t drop down from the sky. It has to be worked at as part of public policy.  

We all saw the effect of introducing School Sports Partnerships, which increased the children taking part in 2 hours high quality PE each week from 25% in 1997 to over 90% by 2010. That was spreading access to sport.  

Competition and participation 

And I think about the kids in John Ruskin school in my constituency. The School Games are very important indeed. But to get to that there has to be competitive sport within John Ruskin primary school. Then there’s got to be competitive sports between that primary school and other primary schools in the local area. And then London-wide.  

All before that person – who might be, for us, the future Usain Bolt – gets picked up. 

That’s why the argument that poses wide participation against competitive sport is an egregious one. A phony argument.  

The kids who we need to extend participation to are going to be every bit as interested as the ones who are going to be the highest level achievers in competitive sport, so I think it’s terrible when one is posed against the other. 

We need the widest possible participation not only for its own sake, but also because we want to support the next generation of world class elite sports men and women.   

School sport cuts 

That’s why we’re so worried about the triple-whammy hitting school sports.  

Central government funding for school sport has been cut by 60%. In some areas that might not be so much of a problem where parents can chip in.  

But I can tell you, the parents in my constituency are often doing more than one job to make ends meet, and they don’t have the money to be able to chip in when the government pulls back 60% of funding.


  • Cutting the funding.
  • Axing the School Sports Partnerships.
  • And at the same time, getting rid of the School Sport Survey.

And I really want to hear from you – and this is something I discussed with people in Loughborough – how do we measure in the absence of that survey?  

I think the government is hoping it will go under the radar.  

We need to measure and see what young people are doing in order to make sure that we hold the government to account for what they said they would do for school sport. 

Women and sport 

I want to back up too what Andy said about women and sport.  

I think that argument you made, Andy – that sport is not just for a part of the population, it is for the whole population – is absolutely right.  

And we are not a minority, but it is very odd that sometimes you get the impression that people in sport are talking about women as if we are a minority.  

Actually, we’re 50% plus of the population. So that is something we’ve got to think about, about how we encourage wider participation amongst women and girls. 

I think the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s survey was very interesting, finding that young women wanted to get more active but that they’d been put off by the way PE was run in schools.  

Part of that is making sure that PE goes with the grain of what young people want to do. 

And I think another part of that is giving our amazing sportswomen a higher profile.  

It really did tell us everything we needed to know that the last BBC Sports Personality of the Year could not even get one woman onto the shortlist.  

The shortlisting panel appeared to include representatives from Nuts and Zoo, who have women in their sights in one way – but clearly not in the right way. 

I’m a huge supporter of the BBC, but when they manage to include a panda on their women of the year shortlist but not any woman on Sports Personality of the Year, it’s absolutely crazy.  

So we need to have action on that, and cross-party working, as Andy’s been doing. 

Parenting and sport 

The other thing I would say is that sport is not only economic policy, not only is it health policy, but it’s also family policy.  

I think there’s been a big recognition within the education department that it’s not just schools and brilliant teachers that teach children how to read – vital though they are – it is also parental support that actually makes all the difference in the world.

That has been recognised, and policies adopted for that, in relation to reading in particular. But if you actually look at our sports participation, and parents being able to support their children in their sporting development, it’s absolutely critical. 

And I think that we should do more to acknowledge and celebrate and facilitate parents being involved in their children’s sporting activity. 

If you look behind all of the sport that’s going on at local community level, there are parents there, and we should be recognising that sport is something that brings families together.  

If you look at sports stars, there are parents there – people like Tom Daley, and we think about his dad; Andy Murray, and we think about his mum; and Jenson Button, and we think about his dad.  

And yet there is not necessarily a policy approach to how we actually recognise that and support that.  

My parents supported me in sport. Just because I’m not an international sports star, it doesn’t mean my parents didn’t try!  

And just because my children aren’t international sports stars, it doesn’t mean I didn’t try. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t on the touchline of the football pitch, or on the balcony of the swimming pool.  

It’s part of parenting.  

It should be part of education, part of our economy, but part of parenting as well. 

And I think we need to celebrate those mums and those dads who are actually being pivotal to their children’s sporting success and helping them get on in their lives. 


None of our sports would run without volunteers – community-minded people – and not just parents.

Running sports clubs and helping run sports clubs, the massive amount of volunteering that goes into sports – there should be a recognition of that. 

I think of a woman I met on the train on Friday: Nikki Hennessy from West Lancashire.  

She was coming down on the train because she was going to try on her purple uniform as an Olympic volunteer, and was absolutely delighted about it.  

She’s a volunteer. She’s actually paying her own train fares, her own hotel costs, because she wants to contribute to what we’re bringing to this country.  

And she is part of the legacy of the Olympics that we have to keep faith with, the legacy of all those people who’ve participated in it, and all the aspirations of the kids watching it. 

We’ve got to make sure that we pressure the government at national level.  

And we will support all of our councillors at local level.  

When they’re being told ‘it’s such tough times in local government, it’s a luxury we can’t afford, we’re having to cut adult social care, so how on earth can we keep this facility or that facility open?’, that we work as a team.  

That we say, actually, it is important and you’re right to know and believe it is important.  

Because those things you are doing today in local government – they are important for people tomorrow. In the economy, and in their health, and in their families and their local communities.

So I think we feel – in very challenging times – we’re going to work as a team, across departments, to support sport.  

If the government does the right thing, they will find us unstinting in our support for them.  

When they don’t, we will be there to criticise them and hold them to account.  

I’m very fortunate in my work, not only from all my parental and local experiences, but by having a great shadow sports minister in the shape of Clive Efford, and being able to work with someone who is a beacon – as well as a nifty footballer himself – in Andy Burnham.

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