Sport is a very powerful motivator

Sir Keith Mills

The Olympic movement can still inspire the youth of the world, says Sir Keith Mills, chairman of the International Inspiration Foundation and deputy chair of the London Olympics organising committee

Countries by and large only host the games once in a generation so we have a one-time chance to maximise the opportunity that the Games provide. If you go back to the bid in 2003, we promised that we would use the Games to really inspire the youth of the world and that is where International Inspiration comes into play.

We intuitively felt that an Olympic and Paralympic Games could do more than just be a fantastic sporting and cultural event for five or six weeks in the summer of 2012. We believed there was an opportunity for the Olympic movement to encourage young people to take up sport around the world. It was a relatively easy thing to promise but actually a very difficult thing to deliver and it is only by working with a group of other organizations – UK Sport, the British Council and UNICEF – that we were able to put the plans for International Inspiration together.

We developed a pilot scheme and selected fi e countries in each of the Olympic continents. We went into these countries – India, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Zambia and Palau – not really knowing what we could expect to achieve but were blown away by how much we were able to do with relatively small amounts of money. And that gave us the confidence to set ourselves a pretty ambitious target of reaching 20 countries and over 12 million children.

We have 13 countries up and running now and each one has a different programme aimed at the needs of that individual country. By listening to the government, the National Olympic Committee and the local NGOs we find out what the challenges are. In Palau, a tiny little island in the Pacific, the problem was obesity. In Bangladesh, somewhere north of 20,000 children die each year of drowning, so one of the things we were told would be really helpful would be to teach kids to swim. In India, for instance, the programmes that we have put in place are aimed at the street kids and we are working with an organisation called Magic Bus which literally picks the children off the street and takes them to sports grounds and uses this opportunity to get them engaged in education and help them in to work. Our programmes are based on leaving in place an infrastructure where a long-term benefit will accrue. We have trained over 50,000 teachers, coaches and young leaders over the last four years. That’s 50,000 people who will be there long after 2012, continuing to teach children sport. One of the biggest successes we’ve had in Brazil in this area is the training of young people as sports leaders, who are then able to deliver community sports projects to disadvantaged kids in their own village or town.

So far we have raised £27 million and we are looking to raise another £20 million, which will take us up to our £47 million target. Whilst, relative to the money spent on infrastructure in London, this figure is quite small, the impact around the world is disproportionate. The bang for your buck when you spend it sensibly can be huge and it can leverage money in the countries we operate in. In India, we have spent around £3.5 million, which for the size of that country is tiny, but it has encouraged the Indian government to commit another £400 million to roll out the programmes that we have developed across schools in India.

There are one or two things in the world – and sport is one – that are unique, that transcend barriers. In terms of countries reaching their Millennium Development Goals you need to get them engaged in programmes and one of the things that engages countries more than anything else – as we have just seen brilliantly in South Africa with the World Cup – is sport. Sport motivates nations and it certainly motivates young people: when you throw a football into a group of children or mark out a pitch on a patch of open ground suddenly they all start playing together. Sport is an extraordinary and very powerful motivator and I think that is why we have been so encouraged by the work that International Inspiration has been doing. It gets things done in a way that other less inspiring programmes can’t.

About the author:

Chairman of the International Inspiration Foundation and deputy chair of the London Olympics organising committee


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