The Olympics: Sport for all, or just for the elite?

Shelley Lawson

The Olympics were enthusiastically enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people. But estimates are that a medal won by Team GB at the London 2012 Games cost an average of just over £4.5 million from government and lottery funding through UK Sport.

Many people will be asking if such funding is a waste, especially when the basic living standards of ordinary people are being slashed from all angles.

Total UK Sport funding for the London 2012 Olympics was £264 million, up from £235 million spent for the Beijing games. Since 2008, a total of around £100 million a year has been invested in 1,200 athletes across 47 different sports in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

37% of Team GB medallists were privately educated, although private schools educate just 7% of the population. This reveals serious problems in how sport is funded and organised, who controls the funds and what the sports organisations seek to achieve.

Previously the Sports Council, with the motto ‘Sport for All’, directed and governed sport in the UK. In 1994 the then Tory government replaced it with UK Sport to concentrate sports funding on fewer sports – those in which the UK succeeded.

The Sports Council concentrated on around 110 sports and employed around 470 staff. UK Sport concentrates on around 30 sports and now employs around 90 people.

The idea behind this change came from Olympics chief Seb Coe who saw financial support to elite sport as the overriding priority, putting local authorities in charge of mass participation in sport.

But over many years of both Tory and Labour attacks to public services, funding for helping mass participation in sport has often been one of the first victims of local authority cuts.

Elite v grassroots

So currently elite sport is funded instead of the grassroots sports which aim to increase mass participation in different sports.

This has excluded the majority of working class people from ever getting the opportunity to try out a lot of sports.

For decades the ruling class has attempted to block working class people from sport. The famous ‘mechanics exclusion clause’ was adopted by many early amateur sports bodies in the 19th century, such as rowing and even athletics, in order to keep out the early successful professional working class athletes.

This excluded not only those who made a simple living from the sport but also anyone “who is or has been by trade or employment for wages a mechanic, artisan or labourer.” Later these sports, predominately Olympic sports, allowed workers to take part but banned ‘professionals’. This restricted the sport to those who could afford not to work every day or at least put those workers who did take part at an extreme disadvantage.

Despite this, many workers throughout the 20th century continued to pursue their chosen sport to the highest level. This often involved training multiple hours a day around full-time manual work. Today, low wages and long working hours are still an insuperable barrier to many aspiring athletes.

While cricket allowed amateurs and professionals to play together, it wasn’t until 1962 that the distinction between amateurs (aka the Gentlemen) and professionals (aka the Players) was ended.

A socialist society would see a complete change in how sport is organised and run. All sports and facilities would be opened to be used and enjoyed by everyone and organised democratically by fans, athletes, coaches and local people.

It could be based around workplaces, communities, schools and local clubs as part of a nationally planned set-up sharing expertise and facilities.

This would allow everyone to play and take part to whichever standard they wish – to keep fit or to be a full-time athlete.

The Paralympics and Atos

Mark Wright

Disabled people should be able to enjoy sport too. I’ve watched closely the news and reports and reaction to the Olympic Games over the last few weeks but now attention turns to the Paralympics.

I’m registered blind myself and attend a gym once a week. I’d love to go more often and engage in a lot more sports but the costs are astronomical. To be fair British Blind Sport do a good bit in promoting blind people taking part in sport. I am really pleased to hear my old college the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford will be hosting the blind football during the Paralympics.

This is all very well but for many disabled people the chance to take part in sports on a regular basis or to simply exercise to some extent is becoming increasingly difficult with less and less funding from local government and central government alike.

Disgracefully private vultures Atos are one of the Olympic and Paralympics Games’ main sponsors. Only a government happy to make disabled people pay the price for the failures of the capitalist system can think having a sponsor such as Atos is ok.

This company makes big profits out of removing disabled people from benefits through the hated work capability assessment and finding them ‘fit for work’. Having this company as one of the main sponsors is sick in my opinion. It rubs the noses of people who have been on the raw end of Atos and their techniques in it.

Only the other week on BBC Panorama, the rigid rules to which Atos work were exposed. They apply a system which is designed against disabled people and which leads to tremendous stress on the person being assessed.

Constant assessment and appeals only makes people’s worries and lives worse – not knowing if they’ll be able to keep their benefits to live on or not. In one horrific case one man with a heart condition who struggled to breathe was unbelievably found fit for work by Atos. Several weeks later he sadly died of heart failure.

Atos’ methods feared by disabled people

Atos are a private company who the government have brought in to assess people who can’t work because of illness or disability.

They have just won another £400 million contract to privatise Disability Living Allowance assessments which are currently carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Atos test 11,000 sick and disabled people every week, then decide whether they’re “fit for work”. The tests are deeply flawed, driven by targets and designed to push people off benefits in an effort to slash billions from welfare spending.

There have been 600,000 appeals since the tests started, costing £60 million; 40% are successful, rising to over 70% when people have proper representation.

Disabled People Against Cuts are holding five days of action against Atos nationally. On 28 August they are organising protests outside the assessment centres. For more details see

  • Kick ATOS and other private companies out of the DWP. Redeploy their staff into the public sector
  • Reverse cuts to disability benefits as part of a campaign against ALL cuts

Up to 150 angry protestors took part in a loud and vibrant demonstration against plans to close the Aston Arena in Birmingham, the only leisure centre in the area. The plans were started by the previous Tory council, and are being continued by the Labour administration.

Is this what the Olympic legacy looks like? Closing down facilities in the poorest areas robbing people of the chance to take part in sport and other activities?

The council say they are developing the area to create over 1,500 jobs – but they have not raised any possibility of alternative sites within Aston for a new sports facility to be built. This is very similar to the situation in Coventry, where the Labour council are closing Foleshill Leisure Centre, in one of the most deprived areas of the city.

Opening ceremony review

I must applaud Sarah Wrack’s review of the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games (socialist 729), I really enjoyed reading it.

Watching the ceremony reminded me of a fast forwarded musical version of the People’s Century, not a ‘socialist programme’ but never the less a celebration of the endeavours of ordinary people.

Yes, quite rightly we attack and condemn the commercialism and contradictions that capitalism brings to all sport, and yes we can and do point to how sport freed from these constraints would allow, encourage and create more athletes/sports women and men to compete and achieve even greater goals under socialism.

I for one haven’t been duped into becoming a flag-waving jingoistic nationalist and I’m sure the overwhelming majority of viewers haven’t either. Neither have we forgotten the crisis that world capitalism has dumped us in, and the struggles that lie ahead. But yes I did cheer on the athletes I watched during the games including many of the ‘Team GB’ ones!

Who can fail to be impressed by events like Jessica Ennis’s dogged determination in the heptathlon or Mo Farrah’s double gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races, and the deafening reaction of the crowd? Or marvel at David Rudisha and his race from the front against the clock to set a world record in the 800 metres? Or the sheer drama and expectation surrounding the Usain Bolt triple?

Each of which were inspiring examples among many others, that showcased the athleticism and determination of human beings, striving to achieve their full potential.

Mick Cotter Hackney

Elephant in the room

Overall, London 2012 was a wonderful Olympic Games. Loads of sporting memories, a great performance by Team GB with the unfair ticketing system the main negative.

The ‘elephant in the room’ however, will be the question of “legacy”, especially for the host boroughs (some of Britain’s poorest areas).

The media will try to use the ‘feel good’ factor for years to make people forget the lack of jobs, growing inequality, smashing up of the NHS etc, but it doesn’t change the underlying social and economic conditions in Austerity Britain.

Bill Gordon Waltham Forest