Mary Creagh

Working hard for Wakefield

Wakefield Express column September 2016

What a summer it’s been! The Olympic and Paralympic Games have had me glued to the TV set.

We have so much to be proud of. At the Olympics, Team GB beat its own record from 2012, winning 67 medals - of which 27 were gold. Yorkshire athletes won 14 medals, including five golds. If we were a country, that would put us seventeenth in the medal tables, just behind Jamaica, which - let’s not forget - is home to Usain Bolt.

Yorkshire’s finest Olympians include triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and Vicky Holland, who won gold, silver and bronze medals respectively. In the Paralympics, flying the flag for Yorkshire are gold medal winners like rower Laurence Whiteley and wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft.

The best thing about the Olympics and Paralympics is everyone back home coming together to celebrate. I know we’re all looking forward to welcoming our champions back to Yorkshire with the parade in Leeds next Wednesday, 28 September. Perhaps most importantly, our athletes can inspire kids to become the next generation of medal winners. They can also help to encourage people of all ages to try out new sports.

With such success in 2012 and just this summer, you’d think that, as a nation, we’d be a bit more active. But Government figures reveal that participation in sports has actually fallen. Of the 26 Olympic sports, participation has increased in just three since 2012. Fewer than one in five children between five and 15 play competitive sport outside school. Over a quarter of a million more adults were completely inactive last year than in 2012, and nearly half of that increase is among the least well off. In Yorkshire, 70,000 fewer people exercise or play sport at least once a week.

Why, then, are we less likely to get active? The Tories in Government have taken an axe to sport. They scrapped Labour’s target of ensuring at least two hours of PE for every child every week. When Labour left Government in 2010, more than 90% of school children were doing two or more hours of sport – and over half were doing at least three hours a week. The Tories also cut £162 a year for the School Sports Partnerships programme, and their stripping back of funding for local councils means that even the basics of maintaining facilities like swimming pools, football pitches and gyms.

Keeping fit and active has huge benefits not only for physical and mental well being, but can help boost academic achievement, improve community cohesion and reduce youth crime. It’s a pity the Tories have done so little to encourage it.

The best activity is one you can stick to. I cycle to work every day, channelling my inner Laura Trott on the way to Westminster. A week tomorrow, Saturday 1 October, I’ll be putting on my trainers and heading to Thornes Park to celebrate the anniversary of parkrun. It’s a weekly 5k run (although lots of people, like me, choose to walk or jog!), open to everyone, regardless of age or ability, and free to attend. Find out more at Parkruns are a fun way of getting a bit of exercise - and maybe getting into running!

The best way to celebrate the success of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes would be for this Government to show its commitment to sport. It might be a bit late for me, but the next Hannah Cockroft or Brownlee brothers are counting on it.

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