Olympic myths exposed – independent schools and Team GB
On the day that Team GB’s first gold medals of the London Olympic Games of 2012 were won by a pair of privately-educated rowers, Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, voiced controversy and criticism rather that joy and congratulation when he announced: “It is one of the worst statistics in British sport, and wholly unacceptable, that over 50% of our medallists in Beijing (at the 2008 Olympic Games) came from independent schools, which means that half of our medals came from just 7% of the children in the UK.”
UK Sport and Olympics bosses had already admitted privately that they expected more than a third of athletes in the 500-strong Team GB for the London Games to have been educated at independent schools. That figure might go unnoticed and thus be acceptable, but another medal-rush by privately-educated sportsmen and sportswomen could prove embarrassing for those responsible for physical education and sport in the state schools that educate 93% of the population.
Dr Malcolm Tozer, the editor of Physical Education and Sport in Independent Schools, set out to separate fact from myth. He concluded: “Neither fear was realised – whether at the London Olympic Games or earlier at Sydney, Athens or Beijing. So was it a fuss about nothing? No – but the wrong questions had been asked.”
His examination of the schooling and Olympic performance of every member of Team GB for the four summer Olympic Games from Sydney in 2000 to London in 2012, published as ‘One of the worst statistics in British sport, and wholly unacceptable’: The contribution of privately-educated members of Team GB to the summer Olympic Games, 2000-2012, shows that those who were educated privately were better competitors than their team-mates. Dr Tozer reports: “Sportsmen and sportswomen educated at independent schools were over-represented at the sharp end of competition. They were twice as likely to reach the top eight in their best event and, once there, twice as likely to win medals.”
His paper provides all the facts – independent schools versus state schools, men versus women, day schools versus boarding schools, single-sex schooling versus co-education, sporting success and academic achievement, popular and ignored sports, sports scholarships, and much more. Dr Tozer assesses the importance of each factor and poses leading questions for those responsible for the Olympic legacy – whether the new National Curriculum for PE, the current Ofsted enquiry on school sport, the role of after-school activities, the contribution of teachers and coaches, and the re-assessment of the role of the Youth Sport Trust.
Facts must replace myths as ministers and sports leaders plan for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – and beyond.
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