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About this book

Sport has a huge social and cultural significance in contemporary Britain. This insightful study provides the first exploration of the causes and consequences of the increased interaction between sport and the state since 1945.

Kevin Jefferys sets policy towards sport within the evolving socio-political context of post-war Britain and balances an appreciation of continuity and change from the 'austerity Games' of 1948 through to the multi-billion pound extravaganza of the London 2012 Olympics. Ideal for students, historians, social scientists and sport enthusiasts alike, Sport and Politics in Modern Britain provides the fullest assessment yet of this important topic, bringing sport sharply into focus as a contested domain in public and political debate.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In July 2005 the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, flew to Singapore, where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was meeting to decide the venue of the 2012 Olympics. Blair later wrote that there was a ‘fierce debate’ among his advisers about whether he should go in person to Singapore. Although recently returned to power, securing an unprecedented third successive Labour election victory in the spring of 2005, Blair’s popularity had taken a battering because of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. He also faced considerable behind-the-scenes pressure to step down and pave the way for his brooding heir apparent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, to assume the reins of power. The Prime Minister knew that to go to Singapore risked further damage to his authority and credibility. Informed observers believed that, although the organizers of London’s bid had done everything in their power, Paris remained the front-runner in the race to host the 2012 Games; unlike the British capital, Paris had the advantage of a main Olympic stadium and many of the required facilities already in place. After much agonizing, Blair decided he would make the trip, primarily for political reasons: the danger of being humiliated was outweighed by his desire ‘to avoid being criticised for not trying hard enough’.1
Kevin Jefferys

1. Sport and Politics in Austerity Britain, 1945–51

Abstract
The second half of the 1940s was characterized by immense everyday hardships as the nation struggled to recover from six years of total war. But all was not gloom and doom in austerity Britain. As historian Paul Addison notes, the stock images of the immediate post-war period — in which the nation was always in the grip of hard winter snow, men were digging coal and women queuing for offal — should not overshadow the fact that ‘there was plenty of fun to be had in the Attlee years’.1 In reality, summers were generally long and hot, and the playing and watching of sport, regarded by foreign observers as a British obsession, resumed with a vengeance after the restrictions of the war years. The continuation of rationing made daily living conditions stressful, but high levels of employment gave the majority of families more disposable income than ever before, and while commodities for the home remained in short supply, leisure pursuits provided a valuable outlet. With television still in its infancy, long-established spectator sports quickly revived and reached new levels of popularity. Almost 100,000 people attended the first post-war Cup final at Wembley in April 1946, and the spring and summer witnessed the return of other traditional dates in the annual sporting calendar such as the Boat Race, the Grand National and Wimbledon.
Kevin Jefferys

2. Britain in the World of Sport, 1951–59

Abstract
Britain in the 1950s is often associated with a sense of national well-being, in which sporting achievement played a key role. In the words of the election expert David Butler, writing in the mid-1950s, ‘Everest had been conquered, an Englishman [Roger Bannister] had been the first to run the four-minute mile, and England had regained, and then held, the Ashes’.1 As wartime rationing finally came to an end, the stirrings of an ‘affluent society’ — with many enjoying the benefits of consumerism for the first time — helped to underpin a period of Conservative domination of politics, reflected in three consecutive general election victories, each more emphatic than the previous one. Winston Churchill secured a narrow win by 17 seats in 1951, and improving world trade conditions meant he could retire and hand over to Anthony Eden in 1955 confident of electoral success; the government’s majority duly increased to 59 seats. Eden’s premiership proved short-lived, and he left office under a cloud early in 1957 after his handling of the Suez Crisis, but his successor Harold Macmillan engineered a renewed consumer boom. Voters were sufficiently persuaded by Macmillan’s ‘never had it so good’ message that the Tories triumphed with a resounding majority of 100 seats at the 1959 election.
Kevin Jefferys

3. The Impact of the Wolfenden Report, 1960–64

Abstract
After lengthy deliberations, involving meetings on 58 separate days, the ‘Wolfenden Report on Sport’ was finally published in the autumn of 1960. The Report was quite short, at little over a hundred pages, but was immediately received as being erudite, balanced and wide-ranging. It began with an assessment of the value of sport, which was described as a contribution to ‘decent living together in society’, valuable in its own right but also delivering social benefits such as ‘character building’. It covered several areas in depth, including the provision of facilities, coaching, organization, amateurism, international sport and the so-called gap, the break between taking part in games at school and participating as an adult. In weighing up the ‘present picture’, the Report acknowledged several positive features of the sporting landscape: the general rise in numbers taking part in many sports, the sterling work done by unpaid volunteers and the good quality provision in schools. But while not everything found overseas was worthy of imitation, ‘we are convinced that we have a great deal to learn, particularly in the planning, construction and use of facilities’.
Kevin Jefferys

4. Creating and Running the Sports Council, 1964–67

Abstract
Harold Wilson’s term as Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970 has been viewed in contrasting ways by historians. Some point to the gradual fading of 1964 promises of a ‘New Britain’, with economic difficulties resulting not in economic regeneration but in a humiliating devaluation of sterling and a lower growth rate than in the so-called wasted Tory years. Others reach a more sympathetic verdict, arguing that despite various bouts of retrenchment, Wilson presided over some significant achievements: spending on education and health rose as a proportion of public expenditure; the Open University was created amidst a massive opening up of opportunities in higher education; and a raft of social reforms were introduced including equal pay for women and statutory redundancy pay.1 The evidence presented in this chapter indicates that sport should also be added to this list of creditable advances in the early years of Wilson’s premiership — a period when Labour secured a comfortable majority at the 1966 general election.
Kevin Jefferys

5. ‘Ballyhoo’ about Sport in the Late 1960s

Abstract
In the summer of 1967 Denis Howell attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Sports Committee (PSC), chaired by the veteran Labour MP Philip Noel-Baker. In introducing the Minister for Sport, Noel-Baker spoke of the ‘great work being accomplished by the Sports Council under the Chairmanship of Mr Howell’. In his comments, the Minister described some of the activities being undertaken by the sub-committees of the main Council: the International Committee was offering grants to unpaid amateur athletes for pre-Olympic training; the Coaching and Development Committee was giving support to the governing bodies of sport in preparing individual five-year plans; and the Facilities and Planning Committee was working harmoniously in conjunction with eleven regional councils, including one in Scotland and one in Wales. The reaction of the PSC to the minister’s address illustrated that he continued to make a good impression at Westminster. When Howell asked for backing in pressing for the ‘improved growth’ of state funds for sport, the PSC — which represented all shades of political opinion in the Commons and the Lords — offered ‘wholehearted support’.1
Kevin Jefferys

6. Battling for ‘Sport and Recreation’ in the 1970s

Abstract
‘Almost everyone who has reflected seriously about Britain in the 1970s agrees that the decade was little short of a disaster’, writes the historian Nick Tiratsoo. The charge sheet is long and well-known. This was a period in which successive governments, Conservative from 1970 to 1974 and Labour from 1974 to 1979, appeared to be overwhelmed by one economic disaster after another. Trade union militants were said to have become ‘robber barons’, holding the country to ransom with excessive wage demands, precipitating Heath’s fall from power in 1974. A massive rise in world oil prices heralded an era of relentlessly high inflation, necessitating the humiliation of intervention by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ‘save’ the British economy in 1976. It seemed fitting that the decade ended with sustained and sometimes violent industrial unrest in 1979, when Prime Minister Jim Callaghan (who replaced Harold Wilson in 1976) was rendered helpless in the face of trade union power during the ‘winter of discontent’. ‘Nobody could sensibly claim that Britain was at its finest in the 1970s’, Tiratsoo concedes, but he goes on to argue, in an attempt to modify conventional perceptions of the period, that ‘the country’s problems have frequently been exaggerated and distorted’.
Kevin Jefferys

7. The Olympics and International Sport

Abstract
Links between international sport and politics have a long pedigree. The political scientist Trevor Taylor has noted that while sport rarely if ever dominated interstate relations during the twentieth century in the same way as security or economic issues, there were obvious connections between sport and diplomacy. Among the reasons for this, Taylor pointed to sport becoming an organized global phenomenon, one that aroused considerable emotional commitment; on this basis alone, contentious questions concerning relations between nations were bound to arise. In addition, sport was consciously employed by some regimes as a tool of foreign policy, and the international controlling authorities of sport, who set the rules and organized worldwide events, were frequently drawn into political processes by having to interact with governments, corporations and the media. Taylor went on to describe why — despite claims to the contrary — the Olympic Games, the most high profile of all global sporting endeavours, was particularly vulnerable to political involvement and interaction. The use of the Olympics for propaganda purposes, divisions within the Olympic movement and the interaction of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with participant nations: all contributed to what Taylor calls ‘the politics of Olympism’.1 Lord Killanin, refiecting on his experiences as President of the IOC in the 1970s, lamented that nearly all problems he encountered arose from issues in national and international politics: ‘politics are “in” sport and have always been. Everything in our lives is governed by political decisions’.2
Kevin Jefferys

8. The 1980s: ‘Years of Concern’

Abstract
Margaret Thatcher divided opinion in Britain sharply. When she fell from power in 1990 after eleven years at the helm, spanning three successive general elections victories, the admiration of her supporters remained undimmed. For her acolytes, the Conservative governments of the 1980s restored pride in Britain abroad and at home, curbing unbridled trade union power and modernizing the nation’s industrial infrastructure through extensive privatization. In the eyes of detractors, Thatcher left a trail of victims in her wake. While the economy grew rapidly to benefit many in the mid-1980s, the beginning and end of the decade witnessed deep recessions where the Prime Minister insisted ‘there was no alternative’ to the free market nostrums of sound money and minimal state intervention that left millions unemployed. One facet of Thatcher’s premiership which is widely agreed upon is that she was, in the words of a leading sports administrator, ‘wholly indifferent to sport’.1 Her massive volume of memoirs, published after she left office, made almost no mention of sport, other than to lament the decision of British athletes to defy her wishes by participating in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Kevin Jefferys

9. Raising the Game, 1990–97

Abstract
The fortunes of government policy towards sport fluctuated after 1945 in line with the attitude of individual prime ministers. We have seen in earlier chapters a correlation between the higher priority accorded under leaders with a personal interest in sport (Wilson and to an extent Heath after 1964) and a lower focus than the norm under incumbents who were indifferent or even hostile (Churchill, Eden and Macmillan in the 1950s, Thatcher in the 1980s). By this standard, governmental involvement reached unprecedented heights in the 1990s, for John Major — Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997 — displayed perhaps a stronger commitment to sport than any of his post-war predecessors. In his memoirs, published after he lost power at the end of the decade, Major described a lifelong attachment to cricket in particular as well as a desire to see improvements in the nation’s cultural and sporting infrastructure. For too long, he believed, these had been considered ‘not very serious matters’ in the corridors of power; optional extras rather than part of the ‘sinews of society’. His aim on taking over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990 was to give culture and sport ‘the higher profile they deserved’.1
Kevin Jefferys

10. Regions and Localities

Abstract
The influential study Britain in the World of Sport, published by Birmingham academics in 1956, contrasted the minimal central government involvement in sport at that time with long-standing and often generous provision made by local authorities. ‘One may conclude’, the authors wrote, ‘that in Britain, sport is largely financed by local effort’.1 The tradition of local government providing public recreation facilities went back to the middle of the nineteenth century, though the development of such facilities proved to be a haphazard process. Some of the county, borough and municipal authorities in existence vigorously used the powers available under legislation such as the 1846 Baths and Washhouses Act to develop a range of services, notably swimming baths and recreation grounds. But local worthies were not obliged by law to act in this sphere. Rather they were free to determine the scale and type of their own provision, with the result that there was no uniform pattern across the country. Where municipal involvement in leisure was most pronounced, it seems to have been prompted, as Jeffrey Hill notes, ‘by a mixture of motives — utilitarian, moral, political, financial and economic’.2
Kevin Jefferys

11. New Labour and Sport, 1997–2010

Abstract
In 2009 the Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw claimed that, after more than a decade in power, Labour had presided over a ‘silent sporting revolution’. Bradshaw, having recently been appointed to the government department responsible for sport, gave a speech in which he argued that there had been a revival of school sport (‘virtually dead under the Tories’); investment in community and elite sport had risen ‘several fold’; and the Labour government had secured the right for Britain to host the most prestigious event in the international sporting calendar, the Olympic Games, in 2012. ‘None of this has happened by accident’, Bradshaw maintained: ‘This has all reflected Labour’s fundamental belief that everybody has a gift or a talent and should be helped to realise it.’1 There can be no doubt that Tony Blair, like his predecessor John Major (and like Harold Wilson before that, in the 1960s), believed there was political capital to be gained through a progressive sports policy. With the British economy in reasonable shape for the bulk of Blair’s ten-year premiership, and with the luxury of huge parliamentary majorities in 1997 and 2001, the prospects for sport under New Labour were more promising than at any time in the previous generation, especially as Labour MPs were keen to show they had more natural affinity with sporting concerns than their Conservative counterparts in the Thatcher-Major era.
Kevin Jefferys

Epilogue: Towards 2012

Abstract
The proximity of the Olympics meant sport featured in a minor way at least during the general election campaign of May 2010, alongside the traditional heavyweight themes of the economy, taxation and the National Health Service (NHS). Gone were the days, common before the 1960s, when sport had no place in the appeals of the main parties to the electorate. Labour’s manifesto promised a move to a new phase in improving school, community and elite sport provision. The Conservatives responded by noting it was John Major before 1997 who facilitated a large-scale injection of funds into sport by introducing the National Lottery; the party pledged itself to continuing high-levels of funding via additional resources from the Lottery.1 Watching these exchanges from the sidelines, Guardian journalist David Conn wrote that Labour arrived ‘at this landmark election with a record of investment and improvement to defend’. But, Conn noted, with all parties keen to show they fully supported London 2012, the Conservatives were determined not to be outmanoeuvred. The journalist was struck by the tone adopted by Hugh Robertson, MP for Faversham and Mid-Kent and Shadow Minister for Sport since 2005.
Kevin Jefferys
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