Let's end discrimination in sport

I remember being at a football match many years ago—it was a long game that had gone into a bit of extra time— and, looking around, someone said, “There are 22,000 people here badly in need of exercise and 22 people out there badly in need of a rest.” I was reminded of this last month during a debate on discrimination in sport. Sport offers a great tool to unite people and to improve fitness it can address inequalities and improve life chances. We need to educate people in sport and what better example of a place for education than a stadium for Cornwall? I continue to work hard with stadium partners to deliver a Stadium for Cornwall, I hope that this recent debate highlighted just how important this project is.

Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)

I have just been handed an envelope, so I think I need to speak quickly.

I am not sure whether I need to declare this, but I recently became a trustee of the Cornish Sport Foundation, a new foundation that seeks to get to grips with the opportunities of sport and to address the important issues we are talking about this evening. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on such an important subject, not just because we have a problem that must be resolved but because sport, as has been said, offers a solution.

I do not wish to rehearse the many important points that have been made, other than to say that we should never accept racist or discriminatory behaviour, and we ​must always work, using sport and whatever other tools we have, to rule out their existence. Sport offers a great tool to unite people and to improve fitness. I remember being at a football match many years ago—it was a long game that had gone into a bit of extra time— and, looking around, someone said, “There are 22,000 people here badly in need of exercise and 22 people out there badly in need of a rest.” This debate has reminded me of that story.

Sport also offers a tool to address inequalities and improve life chances, and I am pleased that the motion mentions the need for education. This will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State or the Minister, but what better example of a place for education than a stadium for Cornwall? That includes Cornish wrestling, or wrasslin, which we will hear about in the Adjournment debate.

I do not wish to diminish or take away from any of the important issues related to discrimination, racism or anything that happens against individuals in some sports and on some sporting occasions. We should never accept that, as I have said.

In Cornwall there is a different type of discrimination, which I will briefly touch on. I am told that Cornwall is the only county without a big sporting arena or stadium. As the Secretary of State said, we should be working to give young people access to sport, partly because of education and all that comes with it—the way that young people grow and develop as human beings. I hope that we can soon resolve Cornwall not having access to that. We lack a stadium, and the Football Foundation has already accepted that, because of its geography, Cornwall does not have good access, is discriminated against in the location of facilities and has not had the kind of money that other parts of the country have enjoyed.

Having said that, even without the facilities or the stadium, Cornwall has a great record. There are of lots of elite sports personalities from Cornwall, and I will mention just a few, particularly because of the work they do.

Hannah Bardell

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about a lack of sports facilities, but I know that he has a great coastline and many surfers. Does he agree that we need to see more about minority sports like surfing? Surfing is an up and coming sport that will be in the Olympics next year. In Scotland, 64% of our sports coverage in the media is of men’s sport, and only 2% of print media coverage in the UK is of women’s sport. We need to see a much broader range of sports being represented to break down those barriers of discrimination. Does he agree?

Derek Thomas

Of course, what the hon. Lady says is right. My entire constituency is surrounded by our immense coastline, as are the Isles of Scilly—it is a great chore for me to have to visit them from time to time! Gig rowing, kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing and surfing, which she mentioned, are all fantastic and they are important because they help people to know how to be safe in water. Again, on access and equality, they are expensive sports to do, whereas rugby and other sports provide more access as they can sometimes be much cheaper. However, these things are expensive in Cornwall because people travel great distances, sometimes with their young but talented children, to even get to ​a decent pitch. They are even driving out of Cornwall from the far west, where I live, to engage, and we need to resolve this.

As I was saying, let me mention a few people who are celebrities in Cornwall. I could mention loads of others and I am going to get in trouble for not mentioning them all. Jack Richards was an England cricketer and he works with me on the sports foundation. Lucy Payne is a kickboxer who is celebrated in my part of the world. Helen Glover is an Olympian, whom Members will know. Jack Nowell is an England rugby player in my constituency. Melissa Reid is a triathlete who has been fantastic in breaking down the barriers that face so many people in sport. Then there is Sir Ben Ainslie, whom we all know. He came to speak to children at the beginning of the 2012 Olympics and just lit up Cornwall when it came to how accessible sports could be.

Let me make the case again on discrimination: sport gives people life chances, so that they know how they can and should support and accept each other, whoever they might be, wherever they might come from and whatever their differences. The right facilities also do that. Sport addresses health inequalities, and it provides the education, fairness and opportunity that we are arguing for. We are talking about celebrating elite Cornish sport and achievement. I welcome the comments the Secretary of State has made today about why it is so important that we make sure that our young people, as they grow, are never in a position where they believe that the kind of discrimination that we have heard about is acceptable. Sport is the tool, and the right facilities can be the tool, to make sure that they never are.

Read the full debate here.