Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wales' Young Ambassadors quiz Sport Wales chief

Wales' Young Ambassadors recently put Sport Wales' Chief Exec Huw Jones in the hot seat. Find out he got on when he was quizzed about sport in Wales...

How do you personally feel that London 2012 will reach the local communities of Wales?
It would be naive of us to think that just by having the Olympic & Paralympic Games in London that sport is going to develop in all part of the UK.
But the challenge for us is to use the profile that the Games will bring to raise the profile of sport and physical activity. People will see sports and that will create a demand. We need to make sure that we have clubs and coaches in place to cater for that. Young Ambassadors play an important role. Sport happens locally and is driven locally. So it’s you guys that we’ll be relying on as well as local clubs, people in leisure centres, local sports development officers to profile what’s happening in your communities and encourage people to go along.
How important is it that sport is compulsory in schools?
When I grew up many, many years ago in Rhosllanerchrugog in North Wales, physical education mainly comprised of football. But I loved getting involved and made an effort to play a whole range of sports outside of school.
I had the confidence to play lots of sports because I knew the rules. I’d know what kit to wear, I’d know how to warm up and cool down, I’d know how to hold the bat, the racquet or whatever. That’s actually quite important. A lot of people don’t know these things and they don’t make the effort to play sport outside school.
To get back to your question, sport in schools is absolutely vital. It’s important that young people have a broad range of skills in a broad range of sports. It’s what we call ‘physical literacy’. They have the confidence to take part, they know where to get support – they have confidence to play outside of sport, in a club and when they’re older.
It’s important that it’s within the curriculum but it’s also vital that children & young people can practice those skills outside of school and in the community. We can’t totally rely on physical education.
So do you feel that young people can affect attitudes to sport better than adults?

Absolutely! Everybody looks up to someone else. Children will look up to you and you’ll have your own heroes. Children won’t listen to me about the importance of physical activity. But they will look up to their own peer group or those that are just a bit older than them. You play a big role in motivating and setting people off in the right direction.
What are your priorities leading up to 2012?
I think one of the first things is the whole-school approach. What we really want is schools, particularly headteachers, to have a vision about how they can develop sport and PE within their school environment.
What’s PE going to look like? How’s it going to link between primary and secondary? How’s it going to link between secondary and community and extra curricular activity?
We need to have more consistency and it needs to be joined up so that young people can take part in sports whether they’re at primary, secondary or in the community.
That will help young people progress in clubs. That’s a big priority for us.
If young people are really good at what they do, we need to have structures within regions across Wales – such as regional academies - which support progress.
Local authorities are fundamental and so are national governing bodies. We’re working with them to ensure consistency.
Any plans to get more people with disabilities into sport?
There’s good news and there’s challenges. In Wales, we’re far more advanced in disability sport than any other country in the world. I don’t make that claim lightly.
At the Beijing Paralympics, we came back with a quarter of all Team GB gold medals. Given that we’re 5% of population, that’s phenomenal. We achieve at the highest levels.
At the grassroots, we have a disability sport officer in every single local authority. There’s no other country in the world that can say that, as far as I’m aware.
Disability Sport Wales are offering around one million community opportunities to get involved in sport which is fantastic.
But are we doing a good enough job? No, there’s always more to do. There’s all sorts of disabilities and we need to make sure that there are opportunities for everyone. When children have severe disabilities and are in special education needs schools, they tend to do a lot of physical activity because it’s absolutely vital for their health and wellbeing. Movement is hugely, hugely important.
However, we do need to make sure that children in mainstream schools have the same opportunities as the rest of us. It’s improving but there’s more to do.  We need to look at the challenges of being able to provide generic opportunities for all and balance this with ensuring that we are not excluding anyone because of their disabilities.  I am not convinced that this is the case at the moment.
The Vision for Sport in Wales states that the aim is to get every child in Wales hooked on sport for life. How will you set about accomplishing that?
I believe very strongly in the principles of sport for all. What that basically means is opportunities for everybody – male, female, whether you have a disability, whatever your background.
We can’t just provide opportunities for those who live in wealthier areas. We can’t just provide opportunities for those who are able-bodied or just for boys. This would be unacceptable.
This is why the phrase, ‘every child hooked is important.’ It would be unacceptable to set a target of, say, 85% – because that means that the 15% are likely to be children living in more deprived areas and they are likely to be disabled. They’re going to be children who have fewer opportunities.
We have to address difficult questions and think differently about how we’re going to achieve this aim. How will communities link in with sport? How can disability sport be more integrated into mainstream clubs and schools.
We need to keep asking difficult questions, rather than thinking ‘Well, the numbers are going up so that’s fine’. That’s not good enough.
What are the benefits of sport – apart from being healthy and fit?
Well, we shouldn’t underestimate the health and fitness factor because there’s a massive cost to the NHS of physical inactivity. There was a report produced some years ago by the audit office that identified the cost of inactivity. The annual cost runs into several hundred millions. The numbers of the population that are forecasted to be obese are increasing so the costs of the NHS are going up. But the amount of money available to the public sector in real terms is going down. So the situation is not sustainable.
That’s why getting more people fit and active is really, really important.
There’s also a cost associated with crime and anti-social activity and sport can play its part in combating this. We need to engage young people and then we can significantly reduce this behaviour. We’ve worked with the police on projects around Wales and we can actually show that sport makes a positive impact.
It’s also important to make people feel part of a community, to come together for the benefit of everybody, to respect each other regardless of age, gender and ethnicity and so on. Sport helps make that happen.
Are you going to make sure that people feel part of the Games and not just watching it on the TV?
It comes back to people doing sport within their communities. People need to feel that they are part of something. We have got some challenges but there’s no reason why schools, leisure centres, governing bodies and clubs can’t use the profile that London 2012 will give to attract new participants – whether it’s football, judo, sailing or whatever. It’s a great opportunity to showcase sport and offer people a taster of a sport. If they don’t, it’s a big opportunity lost.
The 2012 Football Tournament is being taken around the UK and it’s great that we have matches in Cardiff. It’ll be interesting to see the impact of that in Wales. If we get Great Britain versus Argentina or Germany, I’m sure a lot of people would want to see that.
Sport unites Wales but I feel that there is a North-South divide in facilities, opportunities and even national selections. Will the Vision for Sport in Wales and London 2012 affect this?
As a North Walian, the first thing I can say is that sometimes when I go around the country, people will say that there is prejudice against North Wales. Let me reassure you, I can’t imagine a situation where I would allow that. Can you imagine what my family would say?!
I accept that there are perceptions though. I strongly believe that North Wales sports facilities are the same quality as those in the South. Where people have perceptions is usually because of national centres.
By their very nature, you can usually have only have one national centre. And North Wales comprises 22% of the population of Wales so most of those national centres do tend to be in South Wales – except for outdoor activities – eg, Plas Menai, Canolfan Tryweryn, Pwllheli etc. The challenge is to make sure that we have appropriate regional facilities. They may not be as big but the standard is the same and the challenge is to be able to provide similar opportunities.
For me, the most important issue –and I totally accept that there is a weakness - is coaching. If you live on the M4 corridor, you have a much better chance of accessing some of the best coaches than if you live along the A55 or Mid Wales. There’s no doubt about that. There is a real deficiency and that’s something we must address over next couple of years.
There’s not much we can do about travel to squad sessions. If you’re going to have a squad session, most of them are going to train in South Wales. But what can we do in North Wales that doesn’t actually require squad training at a national level?
Squad training should be about tactics and preparation for the next match. It shouldn’t be about getting fit – you can do that anywhere. It shouldn’t be about basic skills - you can do that anywhere. The fundamental role that coaching provides should be able to do that regionally without people having to travel far. We don’t do that well enough yet.
The other thing that shouldn’t be a disadvantage is the cost of participating and being involved in the national team. People have a perception that if you get into a national team, all costs are covered. That is not the case. That only really happens in men’s football or men’s rugby.
In all other sports, you’ll be asked to contribute because there’s not enough money in the system. Whether that’s right, whether that’s wrong – we can have a debate about that - but that is the fact of the matter.
What we don’t want is a situation where people who have to travel further having to spend more than other members of the squad – on petrol or bus or train fares, for example. We’ve said to governing bodies that that can’t happen. The cost that they bear should be the same as everyone else in the squad. Individuals should not be financially disadvantaged on the basis of where you live.
Is Wales putting a bid in for big international events?
It was announced recently that golf's Senior Open Championship will come to Royal Porthcawl in 2014. It’s a surprisingly big golf tournament – you’ll get big names like Ian Woosnam competing.
If you’re talking about very big events, like the Olympic & Paralympic Games or Commonwealth Games, that’s much more challenging. I don’t think there will be an Olympic Games in my lifetime and I suspect not in yours.
Will there be a Commonwealth Games? That’s a possibility! Maybe 2026? But there needs to be some things put in place to do that. The standard of facilities is similar to what’s needed at an Olympic Games.
If you take swimming, it would require two 50m pools next to each other for warm up and competition. It would require about 4000 seats which could be demountable after the Games.
The footprint of most of our facilities is currently not big enough to cope with spectators, warm up, media etc.
Can we come along to the next board meeting of Sport Wales?
That would be fantastic. We'd love to have you along! It's really important that we genuinely and actively listen to young people. We'll get that booked in!
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Huw? We'd love to hear from you.
And thanks to all our Young Ambassadors! Keep up the good work.