SHARON HODGSON: We must not ignore the power of sport

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With the Rio Olympics over a year away, Labour’s Shadow Culture, Media and Sport team called a debate last week on the 2012 London Olympic legacy after official figures revealed a decline in sports participation across the country, with over 700,000 fewer people playing sport at least once a month.

Despite the North East having a strong sporting heritage, our region has not escaped this hit either.

Since the 2012 Olympics, we have seen over 85,000 fewer people playing sport in our region, a decrease of more than 4.1% which is now lower than during the last Labour Government.

Sport is an important vehicle for uniting our communities, whether this is cheering on Sunderland AFC at the Stadium of Light, getting fit and active in the world-class Aquatic Centre in Sunderland or the new leisure centre in Washington.

As chair of a cross-party group which champions basketball in Parliament, I have passionately argued the case for more people getting involved in sport, especially young people due to the social impact sport can have on their life, and worked closely with teams from across the country, including Newcastle Eagles, to show how much sport can transform the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Across the country, basketball teams use their sport as a vehicle to engage young people at a grassroots level with close partnership with local public bodies in health, education, crime and housing.

However, this important work has been undermined by UK Sport (the public body that funds elite-level sport) who have completely cut basketball funding twice since the 2012 Olympics

This cut at the top of basketball will have a knock-on effect on the future of the sport at a grassroots level if unchallenged, as young people will have no-one to aspire to be like.

That is why the Government must now develop a long-term plan for sport and physical activity, especially team sports like basketball, so that we see a strong Olympic legacy that not only inspires a nation to get active but transforms the lives of young people and provides them with a better future.