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Lord Coe: 'Strangling' youth funding makes it harder to fight knife epidemic

Speaking in new ITV documentary Run For Your Life, which airs on Tuesday, Lord Coe says grassroots sports provision is not funded properly. Credit: ITV Sport

Lord Sebastian Coe says he believes chronic under-investment in youth services by the government has led to ‘big problems in our inner cities.’

Speaking in new ITV documentary Run For Your Life, which airs at 10.45pm on Tuesday, the IAAF president and Tory peer says grassroots sports provision is not funded properly, and that politicians don’t understand what sport can do for communities.

His comments are set in the context of the programme, which highlights the devastating impact of knife crime on young people, their families and communities with the story of Paul Barnes, whose 15-year-old son Quamari was stabbed to death in 2017.

Lord Coe also backed a new campaign to get a PE teacher installed into every primary school launched by Connie Henry, whose Track Academy organisation is the focus of the documentary, particularly its impact in offering young people an alternative path in life to avoid them being drawn into crime and gang culture.

Set against increasing alarm about knife crime, the programme also features contributions from the likes of Dame Kelly Holmes and Daley Thompson CBE, and focuses on the impact of Track Academy on youngsters’ lives in offering an alternative path in life to avoid them being drawn into crime and gang culture.

His comments were backed up by Sir Keith Mills, deputy chair of the London 2012 Olympics organising committee, who says the rise in gang violence is a result of young people not being as engaged in things like youth sports clubs as they should be - and the government is spending much more money on the consequences than the causes.

Lord Coe says:

“It’s still not funded properly. We’ve strangled the life out of the youth services in this country, yet we are surprised that we have big problems in our inner cities.

“Politicians, they still really don’t get that... They don’t understand what sport is doing at community level.

"You're helping them navigate what is becoming a pretty complicated world and I think sport does that better than any other activity, we are (sport is) the most potent social worker in any community.

“It’s so bloody obvious and yet we’re still sitting in the same forums, the same conventions and nobody’s actually grabbing it and saying, ‘This can make a massive and a huge difference.’

“The reality of it is, is a good sports policy, particularly one getting the right physical education teacher, however we are defining them now, into schools, particularly into those communities where you have all of the sorts of things we know are closing in on large parts of the country.

“You need to incentivise it. Can you afford not to do it? No you can’t, so you find the money and yeah, if it means prioritising it in that particular direction then you have to do it because a good sports policy, is a good health policy, good education policy and it’s the best policy for social cohesion I can think of, it does so much more than simply being earmarked as, ‘It’s just sport.’”

Lord Coe also backed a new campaign to get a PE teacher installed into every primary school launched by Connie Henry. Credit: ITV Sport

Sir Keith says:

“The increase in knife crime and violent crime that we are seeing is a result of the fact that we have a lot of young people who are not as engaged as they should be.

“It’s a lot cheaper to engage young people through community sports clubs, rather than letting them roam the streets getting into trouble. If more public money were available to support the charities that do such great work, net, it would be economically better for the country. I do find it puzzling I guess, that government spend billions on funding the consequences and spend very little on the root causes.

On the chances of getting funding increased, he says: “It’s a very fragmented sector and government themselves are very, this is a general observation of government, are very disconnected so the Department of Health really don’t talk very often to the Department of Education, who don’t talk very often to the Department of Justice, who don’t talk to the, et cetera.”

Daley Thompson says: “I believe that kids’ health and wellbeing is as important as learning Maths, History, Geography and English.

“There’s a lot of crime and the like that goes on when sport isn’t available for kids to do.

“Kids do like to be in gangs and this is another kind of gang.”

Connie is a former Commonwealth Games triple jump medallist and founded Track Academy in North West London in 2007 aiming to turn young people’s lives around who, some by their own admission, might otherwise have fallen into crime. Her latest step is to launch a campaign to push the government to install a PE teacher into every school, which Dame Kelly Holmes describes as a ‘no-brainer’.

Dame Kelly says: “We spend so much money on so many areas of life that don’t make a difference… It’s long overdue, I do not get why we do not have a qualified PE teacher in every primary school. It’s a must, it is a necessity.

“In schools this is a massive part of a young person’s life, how long are we in school, a huge amount of our first part of our life. So sport has to be one of those pieces that becomes a priority in a young person’s development.”

Connie says: “A PE teacher in every primary school is something I believe in passionately. It's a big, big job and it's going to take an organisation and network to get it done, and I'm hoping I can be part of that. “

Run For Your Life tracks Connie mentoring her prospects in training and supporting them while they compete. And the young athletes tell the programme their stories of how sport influenced them at crucial stages of their lives.

Paul Barnes, whose 15-year-old son Quamari was stabbed to death in 2017, says the government is spending money in the wrong places.

He says: “Do you know what, they’re directing their funds in the wrong places, big time. I think they are just doing it to show people, ‘We are doing things.’ Do you know what, you can’t come and tell people like myself who have lost a kid - you ain’t doing nothing as far as I’m concerned. Or if you are doing something, it’s not good, or it’s not good enough. They need to distribute money where it is effective."

The programme shows how Track Academy supports teenagers who aren’t elite athletes, including Humza Parvez (16), who is among the many teenagers who are clearly now seeing the benefits sport can bring. He says: “Firstly, I wasn’t really interested in it, but then I realised it was fun. I felt like I fitted in, it’s like a family…. This keeps me away from doing what kids do these days, carrying knives, drugs and all that. That stuff is wrong.”

Run For Your Life is the latest documentary commissioned by ITV Sport following the acclaimed Out of Their Skin series shown on ITV and ITV4 Credit: ITV Sport

Run For Your Life is the latest documentary commissioned by ITV Sport following the acclaimed Out of Their Skin series shown on ITV and ITV4 in recent months.

ITV Sport’s portfolio of first class events includes exclusive free to air coverage of the England football team’s qualifiers for both the European Championship and World Cup, La Liga, the 6 Nations and exclusive coverage of the Rugby World Cup, top level boxing, UK horse racing, the Tour de France and the French Open.

A government spokesperson says in response to the programme: “Sport has a unique power to increase both physical and mental wellbeing, and connect people of all ages and backgrounds. But we know that efforts must be stepped up to encourage young people of all abilities and backgrounds to live healthy, active lives.

“That is why we are working across Government on a new strategy to ensure that all children have access to quality PE, sport sessions and clubs in school, after school, during weekends and holidays.

“We are also partnering with sport sector leaders including the Premier League and Sport England to better use sport to tackle issues such as youth violence and knife crime by expanding programmes that have a proven track record of having an impact in this area.”