Edition number 83; dateline 20 September 2016
National decisions, international consequences
Since the last issue of the Leisure Review was published, a momentous decision has been taken that will have a profound impact on the UK and its culture. For many, the future of the nation and its culture seem to have been dashed. Blanket headlines across all titles in all formats were an indicator of the shock created by a one-off, apparently arbitrary decision that many will have cause to regret long after the die has been irrevocably cast.
But wherever the Great British Bake Off decides to call home, life will go on. Sadder perhaps; culturally diminished, possibly; but eventually we’ll pick up the pieces and carry on, finding sustenance, support and joy where we can, while adding the whole thing to the long list of life experiences that we learn to endure even though we might not be able to influence or understand.
Like so much in modern life, the Great British Bake Off battle proved to be all about the money. How could we tell? Because a lot of people were bending over backwards to reassure everyone it that it wasn’t all about the money. Over the course of a week or so the story unfolded of why one of the BBC’s most popular light entertainment programmes was moving to Channel 4. It was definitely not about the money, said the production company. It definitely was about the money, said the BBC, and we haven’t got that sort of money any more. Whoever was right, it certainly seemed to involve a demand for £25 million a year, which is one big pile of cash whichever way you slice it.
How else could we tell it was all about the money? Because nothing in the Great British landscape is now not all about the money. We have become so used to the language of the marketplace that we can no longer imagine public life without it. We have had generations of politicians and business leaders explaining why making themselves rich while cutting public spending or tax contributions is a simple reality of economics. An overwhelming attitude of entitlement and superiority has been allowed to take hold where to challenge the apparent consensus of the neoliberal process of the enrichment of some and impoverishment of the many is to hold oneself up to ridicule. “If only you knew as much as we do,” they simper, “you’d understand that this is the only option. We don’t want to cut public services, terms and conditions, education or investment, and we certainly don’t want to take these huge salaries, but it’s the only way. It’s the way the world works. Do you see?”
Sport may well stand above politics but it is undoubtedly part of this system. Professional football is, of course, the exemplar, making millions for Premier League players and club owners while the long-promised trickle-down of riches has not quite reached the grassroots of the game. Give it time. Pitches may flood, changing rooms crumble, clubs and leagues fold but it won’t be long now. It’s the way the world works.
Other aspects of our sporting landscape, including our state-funded elites, are similarly immersed. The achievements of Team GB at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics have been a remarkable testament to the talent, skill and commitment of the athletes, teams and support structures but they are also testament to the importance of massive investment of public money in pursuit of medals. It also demonstrates the value of having a vision, a long-term strategy and committed funding in the pursuit of a clear goal, a process that could be applied to any facet of government policy or public service, but £350 million over the course of an Olympic cycle is one big pile of cash whichever way you slice it.
While this aspect of investment in sport is widely regarded as a Good Thing, sport is not immune from the questions that need to be asked when the value of public spending is being challenged from every perspective. It is an interesting debate, particularly in light of the government’s latest strategy for sport that puts a new emphasis on participation and physical activity, albeit alongside a desire that the ongoing success of our elite athletes be preserved. In this issue of the Leisure Review we have a number of articles that explore this new strategy and begin the process of challenging the balance between funding for the elite and funding for the promotion of participation.
At least the position of UK Sport and government investment has to date been clear: all this money is all about the medals. Whether this approach is right or wrong will be the subject of heated debate and the rather quieter process of long-term policy evolution but currently the objective is to produce Olympic success and, for once, no one trying to convince us, as Dave Brailsford probably never says, that it is what it isn’t.Sport in Great Britain is at least honest and open about its funding structures and its objectives. It is for the public, whose money it is, to decide whether these objectives are the best use of the funding available.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial