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Mims Davies speech on Sport England Talent Plan

Sports Minister Mims Davies

Speech by Sports Minister Mims Davies at the launch of Sport England’s Talent Plan:

It’s really great to be here to support the launch of Sport England’s brilliant new Talent Plan and to generate some discussion and momentum behind its core messages.

This plan is the culmination of a lot of hard work by both colleagues in Sport England and many of you in the room today, and I think it sets out a really exciting vision for the future of the talent pathway.

In many ways, it is the perfect embodiment of the partnership working that is so central to the success of the talent system.

I’m only sorry that I’m not the demographic that the new plan is aimed at! My running PBs are – if not far behind me – gently receding into the distance!

But enough of my wistfulness! I’m thrilled to be here today and I want to begin by setting out why I think this plan is so important.

As we all know and passionately believe, the talent system is a vital part of our sporting success in England and the UK.

It provides a fundamental foundation for developing the elite athletes of tomorrow.

Athletes who, in many cases, not only go on to fulfil their own dreams and ambitions, but provide those of us watching with joy and inspiration.

The talent system helps to deliver fantastic sporting performances which keep the UK at the forefront of the world stage; and which inspire people across the country, bringing communities together in the process.

Without the talent pathway we have today, we would never have had the privilege of witnessing Mo, Jess and Greg doing their thing at ‘Super Saturday’ and bringing a nation to its feet.

We wouldn’t have had the spine-tingling highs of ‘Thriller Thursday’ just a month later – David Weir, Hannah Cockroft and Jonnie Peacock bringing the house down and making us believe that anything is possible.

We wouldn’t have seen Amy Tinkler – move from the School Games National Finals to winning Olympic Bronze in gymnastics within the space of five years.

The value – both to the athletes themselves and to the wider country – is clear.

We should absolutely shout about the role the talent system plays – and that you all play within it – in supporting the delivery of world class elite sport across the UK.

200,000 young people and athletes are influenced by the talent system. 60,000 athletes are on formal Talent Pathways. The talent system’s impact, and reach, is profound.

From a government perspective, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that we remain at the forefront of sporting success on the world stage.

One of my top priorities is harnessing the power of our sporting excellence to maximise our international impact and inspire a nation.

The UK is rightly known for its world class sporting performance. Every time a Team or Paralympics GB, or Team England, athlete wins a medal or delivers a sensational PB, the world is reminded that we are a sporting superpower.

When John Major introduced the National Lottery almost 25 years ago, few would have believed that our Olympic and Paralympic heroes would have delivered over 860 inspirational medal moments.

The breadth of success at the Rio Games demonstrates just how we’ve come. Team GB won more gold medals across more sports than any other nation.

Paralympics GB went even further – racking up a frankly astonishing 147 medals; smashing their medal targets in the process.

It’s a sure sign that the system is working, that success breeds success and that the UK has truly cemented our place as a nation capable of succeeding on the global stage.

Sport makes an incredible contribution to our international profile and contributes to our vision for Global Britain. And we need to build on this to reach even greater heights in future.

And this is the thinking that lies behind the new plan. What do we need to do to stay ahead?

It is a competitive business. If we want to keep on winning, we need to capture all the emerging talent, and support these athletes as they progress.

We should be aiming for more athletes producing more personal best performances on whatever stage they are competing.

But winning is not the only metric we should be measured by. The very nature of elite sport dictates that large numbers of athletes who start on the talent pathway will achieve, quite frankly, superhuman feats, but will never reach world class level.

So one of our ambitions has to be ensuring that the experience that athletes have whilst part of the pathway allows them to maximise their potential.

Training to win and enjoying the experience are not mutually exclusive – how we win is as important as what we win.

Ensuring that we have a diverse and inclusive talent pathway is absolutely central to these ambitions.

It’s absolutely right that Sport England has looked again at what works well and what could be improved, and it’s why I’m so excited about the new Talent Plan.

There is already so much that works well. We are already rightly hailed as an Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth sporting powerhouse.

From the 96 Olympics to the present day – the difference is incredible. From 36th in the medal table in Atlanta, to 2nd in Rio – incredibly in both the Olympics and Paralympics. A phenomenal achievement – backed up by elite success in countless other sports and competitions.

The talent pathway has played a powerful role in this.

We should collectively be proud of what we have achieved together.

Whether it’s the right investment in talent, to the right strategy and of course the unparalleled commitment from talented athletes and coaches, the reasons for our success are numerous.

Clearly, public investment plays a big part, and we shouldn’t be shy of that. Through Sport England, government is investing over £85 million in the talent programmes of national governing bodies over 2017-2021.

Alongside that is an array of schemes which are geared towards supporting talent. Funding for the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, Backing the Best, and SportsAid brings public investment in the talent pathway closer to the £100m mark.

And the results speak for themselves.

England enjoyed record performances at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia – where we were represented by our most diverse team in history, leading us to second in the medal table (with 136 medals).

It’s essential that we recognise and reflect the fact that these successes have been made possible by a world-leading talent system, underpinning our World Class Performance programmes.

I am fiercely, proud of the role that the system has played.

There are examples everywhere you look.

Steph Houghton – the talismanic captain of the England Women’s Football Team – is just one of many stars who have benefitted from the TASS programme – funded by Sport England and managed by SportsAid.

Steph received support for three years while studying at Loughborough University and is a shining example of how, when we put the right support in place, the talent system plays a crucial role in future success.

But, just as the world’s best athletes do not rest on their laurels – neither must we. If you stand still in competition you get overtaken.

We must keep pushing to improve and learn from what has gone before.

The principles of progression and inclusion at the heart of the new plan are absolutely the right ones.

We need to restate our commitment to develop a talent system that produces high quality athletes throughout the entire pathway.

The environment – and the culture that supports this – is very important.

It is critical that we arm our athletes with the tools they need to become world class performers and that we nurture them in a welcoming, tolerant and safe environment.

Most young people that enter the talent system will never get to represent GB or England. However, the skills and experiences that the talent system can equip them with can last them a lifetime.

The Talent Plan makes it clear that we should all be focusing on this.

I’m delighted to see, too, that the Plan places mental and physical wellbeing on an even footing.

For too long we have not taken the challenges around mental health seriously.

It is imperative that the whole talent system takes on the challenge of supporting athlete welfare.

Many of you will know how passionate I am about how young people engage with sport and physical activity.

Last week saw the publication of new data from Sport England’s Active Lives Children and Young People Survey.

The data provides some powerful insights which suggest that enjoyment is a key driver of physical activity levels for children and young people.

I believe there are parallels here for the talent system.

We have a duty to our talented young people to ensure that they are properly supported and looked after by the system.

The challenges are various, but well within our capabilities.

Cost is a barrier for many.

The talent system’s ability to look beyond pure sporting ability and to really understand what additional development a person needs is also key.

We need to work together across sports and disciplines to share best practice. What works in one area does not always translate, but we could do more to share learning and insight.

We need to make sure we have access to the right insight and data on what works.

We need to ensure our coaches and workforce have the skills they need to nurture talent.

We must ensure that investment is targeted at the right interventions and that we are clear on the impact it is delivering.

And we must absolutely communicate clearly about the impact we are having throughout the talent pathway and how we are all contributing towards future international success.

We also have a duty to redouble our efforts around inclusion and I’m delighted to see the plan tackle that head on.

Sport and physical activity should be for everyone. The talent system is no different.

It cannot be right that the talent system is unrepresentative of society more broadly. Sport England, NGBs and other partners have already done much in this space.

But there’s a long way still to go – I want the whole system to work together to tackle ingrained inequalities.

It is completely correct that the Talent Plan has a focus on what more we can do to ensure that people from as many different backgrounds as possible are able to be part of the talent pool.

Not only is it the right thing to do in terms of breaking down barriers and opening up opportunities to all to fulfil their potential, it is a no brainer from the perspective of performance.

The broader the range of backgrounds that we can support to be part of the talent pathway, the more the chances of future success go up. The larger the available talent pool the more likely to be successful at elite and world-class level.

And success begets success. I passionately believe that the more representative the talent pool, the higher our chances of elite success, and the higher the likelihood that people from underrepresented groups will be inspired to take up activity at the grassroots.

It is an essential focus of the new plan, and one I want us to push.

Looking ahead to the events like the Commonwealth Games – the opportunities are there for all to see. 2022 will be an opportunity to showcase the values of the talent pathway and our great nation, ten years on from London 2012 – values such as commitment to success, inclusivity and equality for all.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all today.

And a particularly big thank you to those of you who are involved in the talent pathway day in day out – supporting those athletes to achieve their dreams and to create the conditions for future world class performances.

You all play an integral role in supporting talent to thrive and helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader.

We need your continued support. Both to trumpet what already works well, and be clear on what more needs to be done.

You all have a vital role to play in what is one of the most exciting challenges in any sector.

To unearth, nurture and develop the next generation of sporting heroes.

Working together, we can achieve all of this and more.

So thank you all, for all the hard work you do – we are right behind you and our athletes as they seek again to inspire us all.

Thank you.

Sports Minister Mims Davies

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