The unsung hero of our golden Olympic summer is…John Major

by Peter Watt

Rightly over the last few weeks we have marvelled at the sports that we have witnessed during the Olympics and currently at the Paralympics.  If we were worried about whether we could pull it off as country before, then now all we can do is push our chests out and rightly gloat.  We did it!

It is difficult to find anything that has not gone well and the memories that we are left with are sublime.  Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir; we will all have our favourites.  It has been a sporting experience that is being shared in some shape or form by the majority of the population.

The rest of the world has rightly looked on and has been impressed by our organisation, by our sporting success and by the sheer joy with which we have embraced the games.

Inevitably there have been some rather lame attempts to get political kudos from all of this.  Labour has mentioned “once or twice” that it was a Labour government that had the courage to secure the games in the first place.  The Tories have made much of the fact that the delivery was completed on time and on their watch.  They have also hoped that a national focus on the weeks of glorious sport would give them a break from the relentlessly bad news of the previous months.

Our politicians have had photo-ops with athletes and with supporters.  They have presented medals and flowers to winners.  Twitter has been full of the political community discussing the multiplicity of sports and publicly congratulating our sporting greats.  The hope was that the greatness and feel-good factor would rub off.  It worked for Boris but definitely not for George or Theresa.

In fact I suspect that the booing of George Osborne may become an enduring and defining impression.  But that aside, on the whole, the activities of our politicians have thankfully gone unnoticed during the sporting festivities.

But I have been inspired by the spirit of fair-play embodied by the Olympians and Paralympians.  And in that spirit, there seems to me to be one politician above all others who can justifiably feel self-satisfied at the role that they have played in the success of London 2012.

And that is John Major.

John Major has somehow been written out of history by many in politics.  Certainly the Tories don’t really talk about him or his term in office.  And Labour isn’t that bothered about referring to the Major years either.  It is almost as if nothing happened politically between 1990 and 1997 that really matters anymore.  Surely it was all about sleaze, internal fights over Maastricht and assaults on John Major’s leadership?

Well in 1994 his government introduced the National Lottery.  If we are honest, we on the Labour side weren’t that enamoured at the time.  We worried it was a stealth tax on the poor.  We said that it was just an excuse for the government not to fund things.  And we worried it would encourage gambling.  The Tories barely noticed it was passed into law as they were too busy bickering.  But John Major was right to persist, and on November 19 1994 the first draw was made.  If you’re interested the first numbers drawn were 3 5 14 22 30 44.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

The concept is simple.  For every £1 spent on a ticket 50p goes to prizes, 28p to good causes and the rest to the government, retailers and the operator.  The odds of winning are tiny but it doesn’t matter because millions and millions of tickets have been sold.  And the result is that billions and billions of pounds of grants have been made to good causes.  In fact according to Camelot, 380,000 grants have been made across the UK.  The arts, charities, education, the environment, health, heritage and voluntary organisations have all benefitted.  And of course sport with athletes being supported directly and £2.2 billion going to help fund the games.

It is true to say that much of our sporting success over recent years has been down to money raised through the national lottery.  Just look at the numbers of medals won at the most recent Olympics:

The impact has been colossal as athletes and coaches have been able to devote more time to their sport and have access to world class facilities and support.  And if our Olympians were under funded before the advent of the National Lottery just think about our Paralympians!   As we sit admiring GB sitting in second place in the London 2012 Paralympics medal table, we know that the dedication of our Paralympians has thankfully been enhanced by secure funding.  An incredible legacy from the 1993 National Lottery Act!  And that is before we start talking about the impact on the thousands of non-sporting good causes.

And now that the games are over there will be several billion pounds of National Lottery money that no longer needs to go to building the Olympic facilities.  And that is several billion pounds that could be used by a future Labour government to invest as it sees fit – and at a time of austerity that won’t happen often!  So we should commit to invest in the money in school sports.  Equipment or facilities could be invested in, but we could also ensure that we directly increase the number of PE Teachers and sports coaches available to lead competitive school sports.  It would be popular and it would be impactful in terms of health, aspiration and self-confidence of children and young people.

So it might be unfashionable to say it but I think that the quiet and unsung hero of London 2012 is The Rt Hon John Major.  Without him we probably wouldn’t have bid to get the games.  Without him we certainly wouldn’t be celebrating so many British winners.  And without him we wouldn’t be confidently looking forward to continuing success through to Rio and beyond.

Thanks John!

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party

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One Response to “The unsung hero of our golden Olympic summer is…John Major”

  1. David Ward says:

    Sport England are an arms length body, so Labour can’t just commit to making their decisions for them. Also school sports are not funded through them but through DfE.

    As you refer to early in the article the big danger is this govt is taking an approach to culture and sport which runs down regular funding and increasingly relies on lottery. This could have negative consequences very quickly if ticket sales start to fall. It also makes it harder to get the regular cash back into those causes once other uses for it have been found.

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