The Problem of “Sporting Freaks” Advising Governments

In reporting on the Conservative Party Conference, Sports Think Tank describes the contribution made from the Conference platform by Olympic cycling gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton: “who spoke about sport and its social impact to build character, confidence and resilience that would help with employment and supported the idea that every child should have access to PE at school, because it bridges the gap between socio-economic status, race, gender, ethnicity and disability”.  But why are people like Pendleton, Kelly Holmes and Sebastian Coe advising government on any area of sport, physical education or physical activity policy.  By definition they are freaks whose experience of, and aptitude for, sport is about as unrepresentative of the general population as it is possible to be.  In what possible way does the sporting experience of an Olympic gold medalist provide an insight into sport’s ability to build character, confidence and resilience in the general population?  What special insight do Olympic gold medalists have into sport’s social impact among the general population, or its ability to bridge the gap between socio-economic status, race, gender, ethnicity and disability? Whether we agree or disagree with them, and no matter how popular they may be, when government’s listen to such sporting freaks, the rest of us get policy derived from the most atypical anecdotes available – and that’s the least evidence-based that its possible for policy to be!

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