Why England’s sports teams are dominated by the private ones


When the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals kick off tomorrow, the hosts will shine with their absence: England were knocked out of their own World Cup after just 15 days. The defeats against Wales and Australia reflected something much deeper than rugby: how England’s sports teams suffer from overdependence on the seven percent of the population who attend schools private.

In 2003, only 11 members of the triumphant England team for the World Cup were educated in fee-paying schools. This year 20 of their squad have attended private schools, as have 61% of England players in the Rugby Union Premiership. The sport “is missing out on a wide range of potential players from large parts of the country,” said Andy Reed OBE, director of the sports think tank. “Broadening the player and fan base would be a real benefit to the game.”

It is not only rugby that former students of private schools are increasingly over-represented. A third of current England international sportsmen have attended independent schools, an Offtsed report revealed last year. In the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, 37 percent of team GB medals were won by athletes trained in private schools, up from 26 percent in 2004.

The England cricket team is also increasingly the preserve of those who have attended private schools. Eight of the eleven who played the first Test against the West Indies in April attended independent schools, compared to just three of the 12 players used in the Ashes’ victory ten years ago. In 1987, only one of the 13 players who made the team against Pakistan came from a private fee-paying school.

Growing up in North London in the 1970s, Phillip DeFreitas learned cricket playing with an artificial wicket tennis ball and three concrete nets at Willesden High School. “It helped me love the game and showed me how much I enjoyed it, which encouraged me to join a club team.” DeFreitas has played 44 test matches for England, but he fears it wouldn’t have been possible if he had grown up today. “I went through school recently. These facilities no longer exist. It’s a bit sad, really.

During the Conservative governments from 1979 to 1997, over 10,000 school playgrounds across Britain were sold. Another 200 were sold under Labor between 1997 and 2010. There has been no concerted attempt to replace the playing fields that have already been abandoned. “You look at the public schools and what keeps coming up are the facilities,” says DeFreitas. “If you don’t have a facility, how can you encourage children to play sports? For James Allen, Policy Officer at the Sport and Recreation Alliance, it has become “too easy to build a housing estate without explaining how the opportunities for people to be active in it would be maintained.” But playgrounds matter little if they are not maintained. “The existing facilities are, in many cases, nowhere near as good as they should be,” Allen said.

The lack of good quality playgrounds is only part of the problem. The money for physical education and sport for young people has not been earmarked. Although the government has earmarked £ 150million for primary physical education and sports bonus, which helps primary schools improve the quality and quantity of sporting activities for pupils, this amounts to £ 35 per child. The total is less than the £ 162million annually allocated to school sports partnerships, which played a role similar to the sports bonus until they were abolished in 2010. Today, few public schools have a culture. dynamic sportswoman. Last year, only 13% of principals said they expected all students to participate in competitive sport, prompting Ofsted Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw to lament that it has become an “optional supplement” in many schools. The data on school sport has become “very, very spotty,” Allen says. This is not just a bureaucratic problem: the lack of information makes it more difficult to hold public schools accountable for reducing benefits.

Attitudes towards school sport could be another problem. “There is a completely ridiculous notion that everyone has to go home with a certificate or else their feelings will be hurt,” said Wasim Khan, a former First Class cricketer who was general manager of Chance to Shine, a charitable organization that focuses on the practice of cricket. to public schools. “What is life ?”

For too many talented sportsmen in public schools, the chance of keeping their promise depends on “total luck,” as Khan puts it; he attributes his professional cricket career to being spotted by a mad cricket teacher at the Birmingham school. “Children in public schools don’t get a good boost from an early age,” he says, citing the lack of physical education teachers in primary schools as “a major problem”. He thinks that many teachers only want to play football because they don’t know the rules. For children who play sport informally outside of school, there are few ways to develop their potential. “We’re very formal about how we identify talent in this country, both in cricket and in other sports,” Khan said. This is one of the reasons British Asians make up 30 percent of the country’s grassroots cricketers, but only 6 percent of professional cricketers.

The situation beyond the school grounds brings no comfort. The proportion of people with the lowest incomes playing sport has reached its lowest point since the Sport England records began a decade ago. “Sport is becoming less and less accessible,” says Reed. “Social class is now your biggest determinant in accessing sports facilities. In many disadvantaged communities across the country, sports facilities have disappeared.

As local governments have seen their funding from central government cut – the budget for 2016 will be 37% lower in real terms than in 2010 – they have not prioritized the protection of sports facilities. Rental costs increase while the quality of free facilities decreases. It also doesn’t help that ticket prices go up and many flagship events are only available on pay TV. After 61 years on the BBC, the Open Championship golf tournament will move to Sky in 2017, while all English cricket internationals since 2005 have been broadcast exclusively on Sky Sports.

“There has to be a balance,” says Khan. “We would like to have a test match on terrestrial TV during the summer vacation which is not available for Sky to purchase as part of their package.” England’s last day of victory in the first Test of the Ashes in July saw just 467,000 spectators, compared to an average of 2.5 million who watched each of the five Tests in the 2005 Ashes series, which aired in live on Channel 4.

Meanwhile, sport in private schools has transformed over the past decades. Coaches and facilities have improved “dramatically” over the past 15 years, said David Faulkner, athletic director for Millfield, who boasts that nearly 50 Millfield alumni play international sport each year. Faulkner cites three elements that underlie this record: the philosophy of “always putting the individual first”; the level of investment in coaching; and the range of facilities, which includes a 50-meter swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course and 13 tennis courts. A new equestrian cross-country course, designed by Adrian Ditcham, who also designed the 2012 Olympic course, opened this year at the school. Today, 17 former professional sportsmen are among the coaches of the school. The most talented students have access to nutritional advice and tailor-made bodybuilding and fitness programs.

No wonder three members of England’s rugby union team, including captain Chris Robshaw, attended Millfield. It is true that Millfield and other private schools do offer athletic scholarships (although the number of these at Millfield has not increased in recent years, says Faulker), but they should not be seen as a panacea. Those who get sports scholarships are often relatively well-off – they’re “almost self-selected,” Reed says – while doing nothing for lagging developers.

DeFreitas predicts that the dominance of English sports teams by those of private schools will only increase. He is now a coach at Magdalen College School in Oxford, where parents pay £ 16,275 a year for children to benefit from his expertise.

“In public schools, they may only play cricket once in a while,” says DeFreitas. “In private schools, you practice, you get individual coaching, you play regular matches and you have appropriate facilities. All of this highlights an unpleasant truth: whatever the public sector does to improve itself, the independent sector has the capacity to do much more. The government “will never completely bridge the gap” between private and public schools, Khan admits.

Without a revolution in school sport, deception will remain familiar to English sports teams. “The pressure on sport and physical education in the public sector may mean that there are potential world champions who have never had the opportunity to try the sport that would suit their abilities and talent. “Reed warns. “We may miss a generation of world class athletes.”

This article appeared in the October 7, 2015, issue of The New Statesman, Putin vs. Isis

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