High flier: Wales' sporting prodigy Anna Hursey. Pic: Getty Sports

How To Turn Wales’ Gold Coast Triumph Into Golden Future

The Commonwealth Games are over and Wales did well. . . very well. . . . better than ever before. But Rob Cole says that when the politicians have taken their bows for the performances of the athletes, they need to deliver and fund a new sports strategy fit for the future.

It wasn’t so long ago that the work of Sport Wales – the governing body for Welsh sport – was being trashed by the politicians, ridiculed, and looked set to be ripped up by their new poodle of a chairman. In short, Welsh sport was in turmoil.

While all this was going on, there were serious concerns as to how it was all going to impact on the performance of Team Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. It was a self-induced hiatus that brought huge discredit on the politicians behind it and left the leading administrators at Sport Wales fighting to keep sport on track.

What the magnificent performances of Team Wales at the Gold Coast prove is that much of the work carried out by the governing bodies of sport in this country, along with their coaches, administrators and volunteers, is succeeding more than ever in producing elite sports men and women who can inspire future generations of youngsters to get involved in sport.

The impact of 11-year-old Anna Hursey in making the table tennis team, the dedication of golden girl Alys Thomas in breaking through to world class level in winning the 200 metres butterfly at the age of 27, of husband and wife shooting team Sarah and Mike Wixey both making the medal rostrum . . . the list goes on.

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Don’t forget the determination of the Wales netball team in winning a quarter against New Zealand, of the women’s hockey side defeating India and the men ending on a high with that 3-2 triumph over South Africa. So many sports grabbed their moment in the sun and shone to prove that it is not just the massive professional winter sports that matter.

When you look beneath the surface at the Welsh sports that took part in the Commonwealth Games the picture is developing all the time in terms of administration and participation. There is real growth, despite miserly levels of finance from a Welsh Government that expects Sport Wales to deliver across not only a sporting, but also a health, agenda.

Anything is possible, but to give the interim chairman Lawrence Conway, whose steady hands will hopefully be given another term, and CEO Sarah Powell a fighting chance of making an even bigger impact from top to bottom in Welsh sport, they have to be handed more support, more money, and be given more faith.

There is going to be a £57m financial windfall from the tax of sugary drinks, which is set to be directed at childhood obesity. What better way to spend that money than to beef-up the time spent on physical education and literacy at our junior schools?

It is scandalous how low down on the school curriculum sport has fallen.  How many junior schools in Wales have a full time PE professional or offer their children proper guidance on health matters?

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There is always extra time for more maths, computer science or reading lessons, but never extra time created to try to enhance and protect the health of the pupils.

If the Welsh Government was serious about tackling obesity then they would add an extra hour or more of physical activity and health education to the school week over and above the £57m investment.

That would be an easy and constructive step to take. Then, Sport Wales could work on properly integrating school sport with the physical needs of their communities and sports clubs.

Start at the bottom, rather than try to effect change when the horse has long since bolted with the overweight, over-worked, over-stressed, out of condition and de-motivated 30+ somethings.

In the wake of the most successful Commonwealth Games Wales has enjoyed, both at home and overseas, the time is ripe for Sport Wales and the governing bodies of sport in this country to expand their exceptional teamwork.

What has worked to enhance performance at elite level must be replicated at community level to get more people active.

No wonder Sport Wales CEO, Sarah Powell, was proud of the achievements of Team Wales and said: “We have taken a different approach in Wales.

“We have not directed investment on a formula based on medal targets, we have invested in enabling those with the potential to be able to perform at their very best. We have invested in a wide range of sports and worked closely together to put in place all the ingredients for the athletes and support staff to thrive at the Commonwealth Games.

“We have also invested heavily into our communities at grassroots level, ensuring the foundations for sports participation is as wide and as full as possible. When you are a small nation you need to ensure every ounce of talent is found and nurtured.”

Funding from the National Lottery and Welsh Government, and partnerships with Welsh universities to look at innovative solutions to enhance performance, were among the key factors that led to the collective success on the Gold Coast.

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But it is the role of school and community sport that has been vital in giving the first experience and enjoyment of physical activity. There are thousands of aspiring young gymnasts locked into local clubs every week thanks to the inspirational performances of Frankie Jones in Glasgow four years ago and the superb work carried out by Welsh Gymnastics.

Run4Wales, the events company set-up by Welsh Athletics, is delivering a world class race in the Welsh capital, the Cardiff Half Marathon, that is now attracting 25,000 entries and which now has a portfolio of races that add almost as many fun runners to that total.

Welsh netball is growing behind the Super League team, the Celtic Dragons, and Welsh hockey, on both the men’s and women’s side, is delivering better and better performances and bigger and bigger numbers.

The time is ripe for a revolution in Welsh sport, one where the true significance and growth of women’s sport is properly recognised and funded, where a National Institute of Sport is set-up to mirror those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where excellence continues to be encouraged, applauded and used to inspire future generations, and where the sporting professionals are enabled to do their jobs, rather than hampered by poor governmental strategy and leadership.

Powell added: “Over the last few months we’ve been asking people what the challenges and opportunities are for sport in Wales. The message we hear loud and clear is this:  for Welsh sport to achieve even greater results in the future at both high performance and community level it will be through teamwork and perseverance. 

“Although the feedback has focused on the sport sector’s role, it is clear how using the analogy from the cycling – around committing to a clear goal, working together, and expending the same drive and investment – we can deliver great things.

 “The benefits for Wales in terms of a more active and healthy nation could be transformational for a generation of people.”

Sport Wales has published a blueprint for sport in Wales, following the four-month national conversation. The draft vision for sport is open for consultation until the end of April. It is worth reading and well-worth contributing to.

The Vision for Sport in Wales and Summary of Feedback can be found at www.sport.wales/mywelshsport.

Comments can be made online by:

  • Email – feedback@sport.wales
  • Writing to Sport Wales at The Conversation, Sport Wales, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, CF11 9SW
  • Telephone – 0300 300 3119

 

 

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