UK: Sport on the political agenda - 2015 general election manifestos

16 April 2015

Jamie Herbert

With a budget deficit of over £90 billion and a current account deficit of 5.5% of GDP (the largest since modern records began in 1948), it is perhaps not altogether surprising that sport is not front and centre of the general election manifestos issued by the country's main political parties in recent days. Nevertheless, dig deeply and, buried in amongst 'Budget Responsibility Locks' and pictures of smiling party leaders, a number of manifesto promises focused on sport can be found.

The Conservatives predictably name-check the great national sporting success story of their 2010-15 Government, the 2012 London Olympics, promising to build on the Olympic and Paralympic legacy with the delivery of more major events, such as this year's Rugby World Cup, the World Athletics Championship in 2017, IPC World Championships in 2017 and the Cricket World Cup in 2019 and to 'continue to support elite sports funding'. Perhaps more surprising is the commitment to 'support new sports in the UK, in particular through greater links with the US National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, with the ultimate ambition of new franchises being based here.' Away from elite sport, the Tories point to the success of the School Games, launched in 2010 by then Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, and commit to £150million per year for primary school sport, to be paid directly to head teachers to ensure two hours of high quality PE per week for primary schoolchildren. Finally, there is a promise to work with local authorities, The FA and the Premier League to improve local sports facilities and fund investment in artificial pitches, together with a commitment to lift the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25 per cent by 2017, and seek to increase participation in sport by women and girls.

The Labour manifesto begins with something of a mission statement for the benefits of sport: '[s]port brings us together in an expression of our local and national pride. It is where young people learn about leadership, teamwork, the pursuit of excellence and strength of character.' Labour echo the Conservative promise of two hours of sport per week for schoolchildren, but do not limit it to the primary level. Next is a pitch to the nation's football fans. Labour claim to recognise that football clubs are 'more than just businesses', but instead are 'an important part of many people’s identity and sense of belonging'. Noting that 'too often there are no effective means for fans to have a say in how their clubs are run', Labour have committed to legislating to 'enable accredited supporters trusts to appoint and remove at least two of the directors of a football club and to purchase shares when the club changes hands.' Finally, there is a promise to ensure that 'the Premier League delivers on its promise to invest five per cent of its domestic and international television rights income into funding the grassroots.'

Aside from Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats refer to sport only twice in their manifesto: firstly, to promise that they will 'require the Sports Ground Safety Authority to prepare guidance under which domestic football clubs, working with their supporters, may introduce safe standing areas'; and secondly, to note that obesity and heart problems can be reduced by 'opening up more sports facilities and building more cycle routes'. There is no specific manifesto issue on this promise, however. The manifestos of the UKIP and Green parties are even more sparing in their commitment to sport: the Green party commit to 'half-day equivalent of sports in school' (presumably each week, although the manifesto does not clarify this), while the only reference to sport in the UKIP manifesto is a promise to abolish the Department for Culture, Media and Sport because its 'essential powers and functions can be merged into other departments' in order to 'make considerable savings at the same time as improving democratic accountability'.