If you are under 16 and going to an English or Welsh school, games are compulsory. State educational theory says that physical exercise and sport, over and above the physical exercise we all take by walking and performing our daily chores, is an important part of a healthy life and young development.
Once over 16 some people give up sports and PE for the rest of their life. Others enthusiastically carry on with their football club or their pilates class. In the euphoric post Olympic mood the state thinks more people should carry on with games as adults. We have a Minister of Sport, whose task is to spread the word, provide some money and encourage more to join in.
Does having state involvement like this help? Does it make much difference to how many people join in and enjoy sports? Doesn’t seeing a great sport on the tv, with a winning UK competitor, have a much bigger impact than a Ministerial statement or even a Lottery Grant to a local project?
The other day I was phoned by a research company on behalf of Sport England. They wanted to know all sorts of things about my walking, gardening and sporting habits. The drift of the questions seemed to be towards the provision of more public finance for sports facilities. I explained that in Wokingham the local community had just organised a great new Cricket Club with two pitches and changing rooms out of private sector transactions and voluntary effort. The survey did not seem to be good at picking up private sector, charitable and voluntary activity in sports.
How much do we want the government involved in whether we play team games, and where they should be played? Is PE or the adult equivalent necessary, or can you get the exercise you need by walking to the shops, digging the garden or running for bus?