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Description

Huw Jones
an administrator’s tale

My name is Huw Jones and I am the Chief Executive of the Sports Council for Wales. The Sports Council for Wales was established in 1972 by a Royal charter and we’ve got two aims: first is to get more people involved in sport, children, young people and adults, and the second aim is to achieve high standards of performance and excellence in Welsh sport across all sports, Olympic, Paralympic sports and non Olympic sports like rugby, football, golf, etc.

I was a reasonably good footballer and I played semi professional football in my time but I was never a quick enough sprinter although I competed at County level, I competed in the Welsh Championships. But I was fortunate enough to go along to both the Sydney Olympic Games and the Athens Olympic Games, and those were fantastic events. I think the Sydney Games will go down in history as probably one of the best Olympic Games. They were so well organised and I think the reaction of the Australians was quite infectious when we actually got there, because they are such great sporting enthusiasts. They had something like 35,000 volunteers in Sydney. Wherever you went there was a volunteer there, helping you, supporting you, telling you which way to go and wanting to know where you came from, wanting to have a chat, and it was just a great event.

Priorities

There is always a challenge in the relation to where we put the money at the end of the day. At the moment, we turnover something like £40 millions. Something like 28 million comes from the Welsh Assembly Government, around 9 million comes from the Lottery and 3 million we generate ourselves, but there will be political priorities at certain points in time and those have changed over the years. At the moment, one of our big priorities is focusing on children and young people.

The Assembly is very keen on developing opportunities for children and young people, particularly because of issues to do with obesity and lack of physical activity, but I think now we are also seeing the importance of Wales in the world and creating a profile for Wales and that’s why, in recent times, things such as the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games and success by some of our most talented athletes and teams have become increasingly important to them.

an insignificant nation?

We saw, after Beijing, the profile that the Olympians and the Paralympians had during the welcome home gathering down at the Senydd, and it’s clear that people take enormous pride in the success of Welsh athletes um and I think that shows the success of Wales. And I think also it shows Wales on the world map. If you go around the world and when I’ve been around the world on holiday or on business, people ask me about people like Ryan Giggs and Nicole Cook and whoever, and they do know Wales and they do associate it with individuals not just our sport stars but also actors and people like Tom Jones that are well known. And I think it’s important that we do promote those individuals because it does bring credit to Wales and it puts Wales on the map.
You can only get success if you’ve got talent. There’s no doubt about. People are born talented and I think it’s our job to find that talent and be able to support it. If you don’t give it a priority then you certainly won’t achieve that success. I think probably the best example of that is the Paralympics and disability sport. Over the years, I think, we’ve not only been a leader in the UK but arguably throughout the world in relation to what we’ve done in terms of Paralympic sport. We’ve spent a great deal of time working with the Federation for Disability Sport in Wales, getting them restructured, getting them to be able to deliver on behalf of Welsh sport but then we’ve actually set up through them various academies, we’ve set up sports development offices in every single local authority in Wales and to their credit, they’ve actually delivered and I think that’s why we’ve seen the enormous successes in the Paralympic Games over the last two or three games.


prioritising equality

In terms of Paralympic sport, I don’t think there’s any doubt that not all countries give it priority, you know. We’ve given it priority in Wales. There are some parts of the United Kingdom that don’t give it as much priority as we do. There are lots of countries in Europe that don’t give it as much priorities as we do and it’s ironic that you can actually see some of the Eastern European countries giving it priority, now. The Australians always give it priority, the Chinese certainly gave it priority before Beijing, so I think it is interesting to see what sort of priority and what sort of pride people want. I think we give equality issues a great deal of priority. It’s important to us, the principle of equality and opportunity, and that’s why we’ve supported not just disability sport but also trying our best in relation to black and ethnic minorities and to promote women’s sport as well.

I’m sure that the success of disabled people has had positive attitudes towards disability, generally. I think a good example of that was when I was in Sydney, walking down George Street and in front of me was a man in a wheelchair, just an ordinary guy and a young child came running across the road, asked him for his autograph because he thought he was a basketball player and I think it was interesting how that young child associated somebody in a wheelchair with being a basketball player. How many older people would do that? So, I think we are actually seeing now, you know, the success of our Paralympians rubbing off on society generally in terms of people being able to see these are people with significant ability. Just because they are in a wheelchair doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be hidden in some institution as they were thirty or forty years ago.

I think the challenge for anybody is to have a situation where the most talented male and female individuals get the best possible support. I think that’s the key issue, rather than all events should be the same in terms of male and female. There is no doubt at all that in the Olympic Games and in some other areas there are some sports that aren’t as strong in the relation to female sport as male sports, and it would be really quite silly just to have that particular sport in place when you don’t have the competition that maybe would warrant Olympic status. It would be just as silly to say in the Commonwealth Games, just because we have netball, that we should have a male netball team in there. We don’t have men who play netball - there’s probably one or two teams in the whole of Wales - so to have that for the sake of it, I think actually diminishes those particular games.

The one time that I will never forget was being in the Olympic Stadium for the women’s’ 400 metres in Sydney when Kathy Freeman was representing Australia. Kathy Freeman has an Aboriginal background and there’d been a great deal of play made about how Australians try to integrate the Aborigines into society. She had earlier that week lit the Olympic fire and I could almost feel the weight of a nation on her shoulders, and as she went down in the blocks there were 112,000 people in the stadium in Australia that evening and when the gun went off, I think 112,000 flashbulbs actually went off in that stadium. The atmosphere was phenomenal and, of course, when she came around that final bend and she was dressed in a sort of green cat suit she looked the part, and then crossed the line, you could almost feel a nation exhaling in term the relief of her winning. I think that really did show the power of the Olympic games and the influence that it has within a nation and the expectations of a nation as well, and I’m sure that there will be those elements and those pressures on British Olympians and Paralympians when it actually comes to London and I think that’s something that we need to prepare people for.

Generating success is difficult. I think keeping success is even more difficult because your competitors always see what you’ve done and they always want to catch up with you. Historically, host cities have underperformed in the Olympics following the one that they hosted.

a welsh olympian?

I think you could see in the homecoming following Beijing the pride that people had in individuals who were Welsh but part of a British team, and all of those individuals had their British tracksuits and things on then. I think most people consider themselves to be both Welsh and British. That’s the constitution that we are part of at the moment. Whether that changes in the future, who knows but that’s where we are and I think people take enormous pride in that whether it’s the team GB Olympic or Paralympic team or whether it’s the British and Irish Lions that we’re actually talking about. So, I don’t think it actually makes a great deal of practical difference.

It was interesting following Athens, the British Olympic Association undertook a survey of athletes asking them what they considered their nationality to be and they gave them choices of whether they were English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, or British and only I think five percent of those athletes considered themselves to be British first. If you talk to many of the athletes that were Welsh at the Olympic Games, most of them will have had a Welsh flag with them. Whether they were able to fly that flag at certain times is another matter, but they certainly had Welsh flags with them.

a perception of wales

We do have issues with the British press which is always quite challenging in relation to, you know, the profile we have because we have a very London-centric not even an Anglo-centric press. I think that it difficult sometimes to perceive the situation here. It is very very difficult I think to get over to them, you know, the success that we’ve actually achieved in Wales and the position of Wales. You’ll never hear them talking about, you know, why did Wales win something like twenty-five percent of the Paralympics gold medals. Now you would have thought that would have been of some interest to them, given that we are only five percent of the population but nobody’s ever asked me that question, why we’ve actually achieved that success.

I think the success of Tanni was very much down to, to her, her own, you know talent, down to her own courage and down to her own determination. At the time when she started off in life, there wasn’t the structures in disability sport that there are, and there’s no doubt that she’s succeeded despite the system and that is enormous credit to the woman, that she’s actually achieved at the very highest level given that situation. The situation regarding David (Roberts) has changed. David was on our Elite Cymru Scheme and has had financial support, he’s had support in terms of the media, he’s had sports science, sports medicine support, so actually over the last ten years, I think, we’ve actually been able to support talented individuals and to help them achieve their goals and to make the best out of their talents.

one games?

I think the issue of having a combined Olympics and Paralympic Games is seductive. I think people will invariably sort of say, “Wouldn’t it be great and wouldn’t it be great in terms of having an integration of able bodied and disabled people and that would be wonderful if we could have it”. I think, unfortunately, that’s impractical, both the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games are so big now, that finding an Olympic village which is big enough, having competition which would be probably last over at least three weeks if not four weeks would be quite extensive, having to house all of the officials and support staff that would be needed would be totally impractical. The Olympic Games has got to a situation where it is very very difficult to sustain at its current levels.

beyond london

I think the first thing to say about the Olympic Games in London is that when the bid went in, to be fair to Seb Coe and his team, they always made it absolute clear that this was going to be an Olympic Games in London. It wasn’t going to be a British games, it wasn’t going to be a UK games. There would be benefits to other parts of the United Kingdom but the events themselves would primarily be based in London. So, in many cases - although there has been a great deal of media comments and political comments about various events coming out of London - that was never going to happen in all honestly unless some disaster occurred in the London area. I think all of that has now settled down and I think people are now getting on with the Games as they stand.

Our challenge is to make sure we get the best out of the Games. They will be a fantastic event and there will be significant coverage about sport and its importance and we have to capitalise on that. particularly in terms of the attitudes of children and young people, and to create those opportunities. Much of what we are actually trying to do at the moment is to put the foundations in place to increase those opportunities on a sustained basis in Primary schools and Secondary schools, in terms of extra-curricular opportunities, lunch time opportunities, Saturday morning opportunities, so that young people can engage in sport and physical activity in whatever activity they want to. It might well be an Olympic sport such as athletics, it may be recreationally they want to participate, or it may be in something like dance or aerobics or just recreational cycling. It doesn’t really matter so long as people engage in physical activity and sustain that throughout their life.

I think it’s very difficult to generate increases in participation as a result of particular activities. I think the classic example is Wimbledon. We have Wimbledon every year, and everybody will make comment that for the fortnight that Wimbledon takes place that tennis courts are full but not afterwards and I think the challenge is, how do we develop sustainable activity but utilise those events to raise the profile, not expect the events themselves to generate the activity.

We have to put in place some basic foundations. What we’ve been doing with primary schools is to put in our Dragon Sports Scheme, which is all about small-sided games. We’re now operating in ninety-five percent of all primary schools in Wales and there are around about 1600 primary schools, so that’s a very very significant amount of activity. It’s taken us six or seven years to do that but that’s created a good foundation of primary schools. Of course, we then needed to build on that and to say, “Well, what happens to those children when they actually move into secondary schools?”, so we’ve now got in ninety-nine percent of our secondary schools - and there are around two hundred and thirty secondary schools in Wales - our Five Times Sixty school. It’s called Five times Sixty because we want young people to engage in sixty minutes of physical activity, five times a week. What happens in those schools is that after school, lunch time and weekends we try to create situations where preferably young people run their own activities, that we identify what they actually want to do. We provide them with the leadership training and the coaching that they can so that they can run things themselves. That gives them significant skills that they can utilise in later life, whether it be management situations, whether it be a volunteer club environment or whatever, so there are a number of benefits to doing that, there are spin offs not just the situation where they will participate .We want young people to participate extra-curricular and to take responsibility for their own lives.

funding success

What the Welsh Assembly Government has recognised is that if we are going to ensure that people are physically active in later life, we have to get young peoples’ commitment to that at an early stage. So, I think it’s probably as secure as anything in this day and age, you know. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of years and I don’t think that there’s any doubt in the years 10/11, 11/12, the country is going to face significant financial difficulties. I think what we’ve got to do is to bulwark ourselves against that by showing that we can achieve success in terms of our primary schools scheme, Dragon Sport, our Five Times Sixty scheme in secondary schools sport but also success on the international sphere as well in Delhi and in preparation for London 2012.

people of distinction

I suppose the first person to mention would be the first Chairman of the Sports Council for Wales, Sir Harry Llewellyn, who won a gold medal in Helsinki in 1956. Sir Harry was not only a great Olympian and a great Welshman but he was also a great soldier as well which I don’t think many people actually know. He was Field Marshall Montgomery’s aid and supported him through the Second World War, so I suppose he’s the first that comes to mind. Since then we’ve had a number of individuals, some great Olympians and Paralympians that have been members of the Sports Council for Wales and have helped lead this organisation. The great Lynn ‘the leap’ Davies; Tanni Grey-Thompson and her eleven Paralympics gold medals have played a significant role in the work of the Sports Council for Wales. Great friends of ours over the years have been people like Jamie Baulsh (won silver); David Roberts has been another great friend of ours; as has Colin Jackson. Colin was a regular trainer in the building in which we’re actually undertaking this interview now and if you speak to Colin Jackson about the number of times he’s been in here, he also tell you about when he came in on Christmas day and we opened the building for him.

So, there have been quite a number of individuals very strongly associated with the Sports Council for Wales over the years. I suppose in recent times the person that we would probably take greatest pride in, apart from David Roberts, is probably Nicole Cooke. Nicole was a very young girl when she first came to our attention. She was on our League Cymru scheme and even then, at such a young age, you could tell that this girl was going to be successful, not just in terms of what she was winning at junior level but the tenacity and determination. I think she’s brought enormous pride to Wales in recent years.

interview conducted by Phil Cope, 17 February 2009

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