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Tracey Crouch

The newly appointed sports minister is a self-confessed sports nut and an FA-qualified football coach. She is now on a mission to create a new strategy for sport with the focus on grassroots, fairness, the welfare of athletes and the continued success of Team GB

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 3
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Tracey Crouch
Tracey Crouch

Tracey Crouch, named sports minister in May, is likely to be more knowledgeable about her sector than many of her predecessors. An enthusiastic fan of all sports, the MP for Chatham and Aylesford fell in love with football at a young age and managed an under-18 team in her native Kent for nearly a decade.

Her passion for sport has been evident during her time in Parliament. First elected in 2010, Crouch has been a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee since 2013 and has also served as vice chair for the All Party Group for Women in Sport.

“Ever since I was a kid I played sport – every sport you could possibly imagine,” says Crouch. “It was a passion I took throughout school into university and then adult life. I also cultivated my love of politics during that time so it’s incredible to have a job in which the two meet.”

Entering the fray
One of the first things Crouch has had to deal with since her appointment is criticism over the London 2012 Olympic Games’ legacy. One of the most vocal detractors has been Labour’s Tessa Jowell, who in her former roles as secretary of state for sport and then as Olympics minister, was heavily involved in the London 2012 project before Labour’s election defeat in 2010. Jowell claimed that a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to use the London Games to inspire children to play sport had been squandered and blamed her “wicked and negligent” successors – namely the Conservatives – for the perceived failure.Another critic has been Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow sports and culture minister, who has attacked the government for its “complacency” in the House of Commons. Crouch says the attacks are unfortunate and – at times – wholly unfair.

“If unnecessary attempts at political point-scoring were an Olympic sport, Chris Bryant would win gold every time,” Crouch says. “He has done his best to impugn the legacy of London 2012, but the simple truth is that we have a great deal to be proud of and it’s a shame that the consensus has been shattered.

“Despite the opposition’s attempts to say otherwise, we have a good story to tell about London 2012 and its legacy. The Games were the perfect showcase for the skills of our people and our businesses, which led to £14.2bn of trade and investment benefits to the UK. British business has already won £60m-worth of contracts for the Rio 2016 games, with another £100m to come. About 200 people who worked at London 2012 helped deliver the European games in Baku and are assisting Rio in its preparations.”

Facing down criticism from Labour quarters hasn’t, however, affected Crouch’s view that the future of British sport relies on having cross-party support and input. Crouch is adamant that the opposition will have its chance to influence the action plans for sport. “There will be a proper cross-departmental approach to the strategy,” Crouch says, and adds that she has already established strong ties with a number of Labour members.

“John Mann (Labour MP for Bassetlaw) is incredibly passionate about sport,” she says. “He is a man of great foresight too – we spent 21 days climbing a volcano for charity, during which he lobbied me on facilities for his constituency, a full 12 months before I was even sports minister.

“I’ve also worked closely with Labour’s Barbara Keeley on the issue of women in sport and she has raised some important issues. We both agree that while there has been progress, challenges remain, and I look forward to working with her on those.”

This woman can
Women’s sport is clearly something which is close to Crouch’s heart – not least due to her background in being a passionate athlete herself. In 2011 she hit the headlines after highlighting Football Association (FA) rules which prevented her from playing for the parliamentary football team because she was a woman – and it wasn’t the first time she had been told that.

“Even though it’s 2015, sport is still not as open and welcoming for female athletes and spectators as it is for men,” Crouch says. “We’ve come a long way since a teacher broke my heart by telling me I couldn’t play football because I was a girl. Britain’s female sports stars are among the best in the world, regularly outperforming their male counterparts.

“Earlier this summer we had Women’s Sport Week – an idea that would have been laughed out of the room not so very long ago. But there’s still a lot more work to do, and we all need to work together in order to achieve success.”

Get them on board
When talk turns to participation in sport – whether female or male – it is inevitable that London 2012 and its impact is brought into the discussion. Jowell hasn’t been the only voice to suggest that the failure to encourage more young people to play more sport in the aftermath of the Games represents a missed opportunity.

For Crouch, to say that there has been no improvement at all – and to suggest the chance offered by 2012 has been squandered – is too simplistic. “I’m happy to have an open and honest debate on participation,” she says.

“The fact is that 1.4 million more people are playing sport than in 2005 and sport participation has increased by 300,000 since October 2010. While it is right to say that is not enough, London 2012 has, without doubt, inspired many people to get involved in Olympic and Paralympic sports.

“There has been an increase in the number of people doing athletics, cycling, archery, judo, sailing and many other sports. Let us not forget that inspiration and measurement do not always run concurrently. A group of girls I met recently in my local boxing gym are in the ring because of Nicola Adams. They are not measured on any survey because they are under 14. We will have examples like that from all over the country.

“The strapline of London 2012 was ‘Inspire a Generation’. The participation results show that our 16- to 25-year-olds are, on the whole, ‘steady’. That’s good, but not good enough. When the last active people survey results were issued in June (2015), I made it clear that I’m not happy with the decline in the number of people participating in sport.

However, the last time an all-encompassing sports strategy was drawn up was in 2002, and it has been the template for sport delivery since then.”

For Crouch, this means that when Labour criticises the government’s strategy, it is criticising something that it created. “We’ve been working on the basis of a strategy that was delivered in 2002 and is no longer fit for purpose,” Crouch says. “So I have ripped up the old strategy, and before the recess began (on 21 July) I published a consultation on a brand new sport strategy which will reform how we deliver sport in this country.

“I am sure the opposition parties will embrace this opportunity to revive the consensus that helped deliver such a successful Games.”

Strategic approach
While exact details of the new strategy won’t be revealed until its publication later in the year, it is likely to be based on four key points already identified by Crouch. These are the importance of grassroots, a drive for fairness in sport, the safeguarding of all athletes and ensuring Team GB’s successes at major events.

“The first of those points is recognising the importance of the grassroots and the fact that it’s not just about the players,” says Crouch. “We also need coaches, officials and volunteers, all the people that modern sport needs in order to function. Nor am I only focused on organised, competitive sport. I know that’s not for everyone. What matters to me is getting people active and if that means someone’s registering 10,000 steps a day on their smart phone then that’s fine with me.

“The second area, fairness, is that sport should be the ultimate meritocracy. Everyone competes on the same terms and the best player or team comes out on top. But for too many people the playing field is far from level. Disabled fans are too often denied the right to take part in active sport, or even to access stadiums as a spectator. There’s a huge amount of money at the top of the sporting pyramid, but precious little trickles down to the lower levels.

“Third, I want to see a greater focus on the welfare and wellbeing of athletes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re turning out for your pub team or for your country. If you’re involved in sport at any level, you deserve to know that the government, the sports industry and the governing bodies are looking out for your safety.

“Finally, I want to see Team GB continue its staggering success at the highest level, whether it’s the Olympics and Paralympics or the women’s football World Cup. And I don’t just want us winning on the field. I want Britain to carry on winning the right to host world-class sporting events.

“Last year we had the Giro, the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games and this year we host the Rugby World Cup.”

It is clear that Crouch is passionate about sport and has a vision of how to improve it. She is excited about being in a position in which she can make a difference.

“This is my dream job. It gives me the chance to help people up and down the country to have the same opportunity to experience and enjoy sport that I did.”

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