LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s playing fields acted as an inspiration to the father of the modern Olympics, but their continued dominance over the country’s sport was questioned on Thursday.
British Olympic Association Chairman Colin Moynihan told reporters it was “wrong and unacceptable” that more than 50 percent of the country’s medallists in Beijing in 2008 came from elite independent schools.
The vast bulk of British children attend state schools.
He said a wealth of talent was going untapped and undeveloped in the state system.
The trend seemed to be continuing at London 2012 where rowing pair Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who won Britain’s first gold medal, both attended private schools.
One of its greatest cyclists Chris Hoy, who won a gold in the team sprint on Thursday, was also educated at an independent school.
”It tells you that 50 percent of the medals came from 7 per cent of the population,“ Moynihan said. ”It’s one of the worst statistics in British sport.
“It is wholly unacceptable that over 50 percent of our medallists in Beijing came from the independent sector.”
He said it should be a priority of future governments to make sport less exclusive.
“There is so much talent out there in the 93 percent that should be identified and developed and given equal opportunity through a sports policy that reaches out to able bodied and disabled people whatever their background,” he said.
Professional football is the opposite, and acts as a perfect mirror to society, where just 7 percent of players are from the independent sector.
Pierre de Coubertin, credited with reviving the Olympics with the first modern Games in 1896, was impressed by the role organised sport had in schooling when he visited the independent school Rugby in 1883.
Independent schools tend to have the financial resources to fund such sports in which Britain excels, including rowing and sailing.
School sport has also been neglected by a succession of British governments, and suffered from a policy of selling off school playing fields in the 1980s.
Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Ossian Shine