LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron, who has spent much of the past two weeks cheering on Britain’s Olympians, encouraged competitive sports in schools on Wednesday and criticised those who believe that “all must win prizes”.
With the question of what the Olympic legacy will be a hot topic of discussion in Britain as the end of the Games approaches, Conservative leader Cameron implied in an interview that some teachers were part of the problem.
“We need a big cultural change - a cultural change in favour of competitive sports. That’s what I think really matters,” he told LBC radio.
“(We need) more competition, more competitiveness, more getting rid of the idea that all must win prizes and that you can’t have competitive sports days.”
The problem was not just one of attitude and money but of “some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part”, he added.
Teachers’ unions were offended by his remarks.
“What we need is the support of government, not the shifting of blame,” said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.
Health and the role of exercise has become a political issue in Britain, where the most recent National Health Service figures in 2010 show 26 percent of both men and women aged 16 or over were classified as obese. Around three in 10 boys and girls aged two to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese.
Yet Britain has had a stellar Games in London, taking the biggest number of medals since 1908 with five days of sporting events still left to go.
Critics have pointed out that more than 50 percent of the medallists in Beijing, where Britain also claimed a record medal haul, came from elite independent schools, when the vast majority of children attend state schools.
Officials on both sides of the political spectrum have said they hope the Olympics and the Paralympics Games that follow will encourage all Britons to do more sport, and pledge government efforts to help make that happen.
But they differ on how to go about it.
Cameron defended a decision by the education department to scrap a requirement from the previous Labour government that all children perform at least two hours of physical education or sport in school per week, saying targets and quotas would not make children more active.
“By just saying ‘look, I want you to do this many hours a week’, some schools think ‘right as soon as I’ve hit that minimum requirement I’ve ticked the box and I can give up’,” he told LBC radio.
“If you look at the very best schools in terms of state school sport in our country they will be ones who often say ‘don’t set minimum targets, actually challenge us to achieve more and more and promote competitiveness’.”
The Youth Sport Trust charity disagreed, and said the requirement helped officials to gauge the level of participation, which in turn helped them to know which schools needed more work.
“There is still some great work going on in schools but it is now more difficult to know exactly where provision is good and where it needs to be improved,” a spokesman said.
Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall