Must losing be a national sport?

Last updated at 17:25 02 July 2004

Failure, failure everywhere. Tim Henman crashes out of Wimbledon (again). England's footballers lick their wounds. Our cricketers struggle to regain pride after their initial humiliation in the NatWest series. Even our rugby world champions have been put to the sword in New Zealand and Australia.

The amazing thing, given the politically-correct attitude of our ruling classes to sport in schools, is that matters aren't even worse.

According to Ofsted, fewer than two-thirds of pupils are doing the recommended two hours of PE each week.

Meanwhile, the traditional sports day is becoming a thing of the past, with half our schools abandoning competitive events. Throughout the state sector, team games are disappearing because of a lunatic antielitism that seeks to discourage the concept of winners and losers.

All this comes on top of the sale of school playing fields, a policy crassly introduced by the Tories but now carried on - despite its promises - by New Labour. Meanwhile, contact sports such as rugby are under threat because of a compensation culture running out of control.

And now the politicians warn that obese, unfit, disease-prone children may die before their parents.

Does that signal a change in policy? Not a bit of it. Instead, we are offered handwringing, targets, consultations and recommended diets, while an avoidable health crisis goes from bad to worse. Joined-up government it ain't.

Yet there is no mystery as to why other countries vigorously promote competitive games. They know sporting endeavour encourages fitness, discipline and teamwork, besides absorbing energies that might otherwise land adolescents in trouble.

Moreover, it has huge social value too, by giving non-academic pupils a chance to develop a sense of self-worth and perhaps to shine. Isn't it folly to close off that route to opportunity, particularly for fatherless, under-privileged boys in sink estates?

The case for a radical rethink of the nation's approach to sport in school is unanswerable. Those politically correct panjandrums who hate competition have had their way. We're all equal now... and when it comes to sport, we're all losers.

Brown's challenge

Without question, granting independence to the Bank of England has been Gordon Brown's most innovative decision. Many believe it his greatest contribution to our economic stability.

Now he is discovering just how awkward that independence can be. For the second time in a fortnight, Governor Mervyn King warns that the Government's deficit - over £30 billion this year - may not be sustainable.

Mr Brown, the most successful Chancellor in modern history, doesn't appreciate such intrusion on his territory and has confounded critics many times before. His officials worry that the Bank may be talking up a crash in house prices and underestimates how well the economy is doing.

In truth, he should be glorying in Mr King's independence. The Governor has a duty to be cautious. If he thinks increased interest rates are necessary to prevent inflation, isn't he better qualified to judge than politicians with an eye on the next election?

Gordon Brown has been a brilliant Labour Chancellor. His most immediate challenge is to prove he can keep his promise to make public-sector savings.

His challenge in the longer term is to show he can provide an efficient NHS, improve transport and reinvigorate education without the ballooning public borrowing that many fear can only be sustained by inflating the currency.

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