Lord Moynihan says the high proportion of privately educated medal-winning athletes at previous Olympic Games is “one of the worst statistics in British sport”.
The head of the UK’s Olympic team called for an overhaul of the school sports system to try and remedy the lack of representation of state-school educated pupils at the top of British sport.
More than 50 per cent of gold medals in Beijing were won by privately educated athletes, but around 7 per cent of children in the UK are educated by independent schools. Rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning [pictured above] who won Britain’s first gold medal yesterday both attended private schools, Millfield and Gordonstoun respectively. However Bradley Wiggins was state-school educated.
Lord Moynihan’s comments follow exclusive data analysis by Channel 4 News of the current Team GB squads’ hometowns. It showed that the 542 athletes representing Britain in London 2012 are more likely to come from the affluent, less socially disadvantaged areas of the country. For example the south east and London have contributed more than 30 per cent of all Team GB athletes competing this year – 140 athletes in total.
Meanwhile the Midlands, which previous research from Channel 4 News showed holds some of the unhealthiest places to live in the UK, has yielded considerably fewer athletes at 53. Even when adjusted for population, the UK’s most affluent areas have still produced more Olympic athletes.
“It tells you that 50 per cent of the medals came from 7 per cent of the population,” said Lord Moynihan. “There is so much talent out there in the 93 per cent that should be identified and developed. That has got to be a priority for future sports policy.”
At the last 2008 Olympics in Beijing, one third of Britain’s athletes went to independent schools, nearly 40 per cent of British medal winners, and 50 per cent of the gold medallists. They included multiple gold medallists Sir Chris Hoy, who attended George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Ben Ainslie, who went to Truro School in Cornwall, and every single one of the equestrian medallists.
Dr Andy Smith from the University of Chester’s Centre for Research into Sport and Society said that huge inequalities exist in young people’s access to playing sport at an elite level.
“A disproportionate number of athletes in Team GB were drawn from groups that are advantaged socially, economically and culturally,” he told Channel 4 News.
Dr Smith said that a number of factors in athletes’ backgrounds should be considered in addition to school background. “It’s a rather complex set of relationships which help to determine athlete’s social background,” he said.
“Those who live in less socially deprived, more affluent areas, are more likely to be able to access better facilities, greater coaching and more sporting opportunities, and have. In addition, many young people at state schools will still be in receipt of the benefits of more middle class families.”
Lord Moynihan’s comments follow the education secretary’s decision to cut the ring-fenced school sports funding. Another disadvantage to state school pupils is the growing number of cash deprived councils over the last few decades who have sold school playing fields, reducing the public facilities available.
Some sports have already taken action to try and address the balance, including rowing. Moe Sbihi, who won bronze in the men’s eight on Wednesday is one of the beneficiaries of the sport’s outreach attempts, and 50 per cent of the Team GB rowers are from state schools.
Also on Thursday, News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch commented on how sport is taught in the public sector. “No wonder China leading in medals while US and UK mainly teach competitive sport a bad thing. How many champions state school background?” he wrote on Twitter.