The acting minister of sports minister David Evennett (no, I haven’t either) has called on Stoke Gifford council to “reconsider” the decision to charge the Park Run organisation for using the Little Stoke playing fields for their weekly runs. Mr Evennett says: “We want to remove barriers to participation and encourage more and people to get involved in sport. This is the key message that the government wants to get across.” Hooray to all that, except that the facts do not tally with the evidence.
Since this government came to power in 2010, spending on sports has been slashed. Something like half of all funding to local councils has been cut since 2010. Sports have taken the appropriate hit from these cuts. So when a lowly minister says that the government wishes to “remove barriers to sport” to say he is being disingenuous doesn’t go close.
The government’s commitment to sport has not extended to paying for it. On the contrary, there are 750,000 less people swimming than there were six years ago. The cost of municipal football pitches has soared, by over 100% in many places. So less people are playing football. Less people are playing tennis, less people are playing cricket, less people are playing golf. Two thirds of people play no sport at all and the numbers are getting worse.
I had never previously heard of Mr Evennett and suspect I never again will, but this is another reason why so many people despair about politics. It is a matter of absolute fact, beyond reasonable and unreasonable doubt, that public spending on sport has been cut to the bone. And yet he talks about wanting to “remove barriers to participation”. Can I be blunt about this? He’s lying. He’s not even being “economical with the truth”: he’s not in the same room as the truth.
This brings to a head something I was arguing last week. The Park Run debate has opened a can of worms, or at least it should have done. Other sportsmen and women pay an arm and a leg to participate, often with dismal or even non-existent facilities (I watched my sons play football on council pitches for years, almost never seeing the inside of a changing room, and it cost me a fortune). Park Run pays nothing to use the facilities.
The danger is that we get in a race to see who can charge the most, but it’s not about petty jealousies. It shouldn’t be about politics, either, but it is now. It is about politics because one of David Cameron’s underlings has got involved and in so doing has exposed the truth of what is really happening in Britain. Far from trying to “remove barriers to participation”, by squeezing local authority spending, Mr Evennett’s government has erected barriers.
This is no longer an argument between a parish council and the Park Run company, it’s now an argument involving national government where the political moves to diminish participation started in the first place.
The Parish Council is still in discussion with the Park Run organisation so hopefully soon we can all put this behind us. But spare me the crocodile tears, Mr Evennett. The mess in local sport is down to your bosses and don’t you forget it.