Brendan Foster seems an affable chap – his commentary for the BBC has a certain bounce and enthusiasm one associates with a generally good egg, and the former Olympic bronze medallist has won plenty of friends since founding the Great North Run.
So it is quite something when the former 3,000m world record holder accuses someone of “demonising” running.
However, when that vitriol is reserved for one Michael Gove then the surprise begins to dissipate.
Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has come under consistent criticism whilst in office, which has culminated in a petition to remove him from his position.
Almost all of Gove’s methods have come under increasing scrutiny – with his recent assertion that he wanted “standards so high all round that you should not be able to tell [the difference between] a state sector or a fee-paying independent school" drawing wide consternation.
Such are his perceived failings, Gove has come in for serious political criticism, while simultaneously becoming a figure of fun:
However, it was during the same speech where he posited that running – among other more traditional forms of punishment, such as writing lines or clearing graffiti – could be used as an adequate sanction for bad behaviour.
While some members of society may appreciate a return to more traditional forms of discipline, the decision to include running amongst the other conventional punishments is at odds with his own party's manifesto, which pledges to create a thriving arts, heritage and sport sector.
Foster has blasted the claim that running could be used as a punishment as a “disgrace”.
“It’s a step back,” told the Daily Mirror. “For years we’ve told people running is enjoyable and beneficial to health.
“Now Mr Gove has sent a message it’s bad – a punishment on a par with picking up litter or doing 100 lines. It demonises running. Extra physical activity in schools is rewarding.”
Such was Foster’s bemused exasperation, he goes on to facetiously suggest that he would make Gove run around a school field before adding the caveat “if I can find one. He has been selling them off.”
While said in semi-mocking-jest, Foster may very well have touched on something here. Gove and the Conservative government’s selling of playing fields - over 50 since the coalition government came to power - has been regularly packaged up as an austere necessity.
However, has Gove’s suggestion that running should be seen as a sanction revealed an underlying distaste for sport? Is that dislike at the heart of the unnecessary pillage of school playing fields?
It would of course be impossible to prove any such assertion, but the sale of 50 playing fields in three years is nothing short of outrageous - particularly given that the coalition promised to keep them safe, and all the more so given that the Olympic Games were held on these very shores during that time, making a completely mockery of the sporting legacy of the Games.
A fervent Boris Johnson speech at the Olympic parade made reference to Britain’s Olympic successes, stating: "You showed every child in this country that success is not just about talent and luck but about grit and guts and hard work and coming back, and you showed fantastic grace in victory and amazing courage in defeat.”
While Johnson was making this triumphant speech, his Conservative party were, it appears, simultaneously selling off the facilities that would have been central to the development of future Olympic stars.
Quite frankly, the next generation deserve better.
If the Conservative government were expecting the sporting community to show “amazing courage in defeat” as their facilities were sold at an alarming rate then they may have sorely miscalculated.
And Brendan Foster is a manifestation of that miscalculation.
- Sports & Recreation
- Brendan Foster
- Michael Gove