With most of Britain basking in the warm afterglow of hosting a successful Olympics, it's time for politicians to start asking some Difficult Questions. The most recent of which appears to be why four out of 10 Team GB medallists were educated privately.
Team GB's impressive metallic haul has inevitably led to the spotlight being cast on the backgrounds of Britain's Olympic athletes and their education. Prime Minister David Cameron has done his usual rolling-up of sleeves and called for more competitive sport in schools, though he endeared himself to precisely no-one (with the possible exception of Aidan Burley MP) with his comments on Indian dancing.
Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, said the apparent dominance of privately educated Team GB athletes in the 2008 Bejing Olympics was "wholly unacceptable", also calling for an overhaul of school sport policy. He has also described the figure as "one of the worst statistics in British sport" and it should be a priority to make sport a more accurate reflection of society and redress the balance.
But wait. What balance needs to be redressed? According to the Telegraph, just four out of 10 GB medallists were educated at fee-paying schools. That means six were state educated. Fee-paying schools only account for 7% of the educated population, so the 4/10 stat is somewhat skewed, although the bias is towards events that state schools and children from poor backgrounds can't afford to take part in. Equestrian, shooting and rowing events are dominated by the private sector, whereas cycling, athletics and hockey are dominated by the state sector. The Guardian has a useful source for looking up medallists here.
How much does it matter? To the government, who have clearly spied some new and topical hobbyhorses, a lot. Attacks on perceived over-zealous political correctness? Check. Attacks on perceived lack of competitiveness in favour of an egalitarian 'all win prizes' mentality? Check. It's unfortunate then, that government cuts in funding for school sports put the kybosh on children from many state schools participating in sports more commonly found in private schools. The PM has now said that the revised national curriculum will contain new requirements for children to play more sport.
Is it enough? No, and as usual, the focus is on being seen to be Doing Something. A child living in Hackney is no more likely to be inspired to take up showjumping post-Olympics than they were before. Or even be able to afford to. Instead of creating a gulf between private and state schools by taking away the latter's funding for sports, flogging off their sports fields to the highest bidder and then demanding to know why they aren't churning out Olympic-level rowers, the focus should be on accessibility of sport itself and not where the Olympians went to school.
Photo by PaulWrightUK in the Londonist Flickr pool.