The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 12th April:
As we move towards the middle of April, we’re heading into one of the most exciting sporting periods of the year.
The cricket season is underway, while at the end of the month thousands of people will take part in the London marathon.
In a few weeks, we’ll be welcoming the Tour de Yorkshire back to our town, and I know we’re all cheering Barnsley on as the Reds fight for promotion.
And as we enter this exciting period of the sporting calendar, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of grassroots sport.
Grassroots sport brings our communities together right across Barnsley, and provides an important way for us to keep active while having fun.
That’s why I’m so pleased to be supporting the FA’s ‘Football Footprint’ campaign, which aims to showcase investment in grassroots football, and celebrate the dedicated volunteers who keep local clubs running.
Last week, I visited the Dorothy Hyman Sports Centre in Cudworth, where the FA’s near £362,000 investment in new astroturf pitches has made a real difference, and it was an honour to receive the ‘Grassroots Champion’ award during my visit.
Six of England’s World Cup team were from South Yorkshire, and here in Barnsley, more people play football per head than anywhere else in the country.
That’s a record we should celebrate locally, and is a testament to what can be achieved with proper investment.
And I’m proud of the record of the last Labour Government in supporting grassroots sport.
From 2004 to 2010, the number of children taking part in two hours of sports per week rose from 25% to 90%, an extra four million children from 2006.
But sadly, the Tories have scrapped the last Labour Government’s annual sports and PE strategy, as well as cutting funding for grassroots sport, and statistics show that the number of people participating in sport is declining year after year.
This is simply not good enough, and as we celebrate our sporting heroes, it’s important to remember where it all begins – at local sports grounds and playing fields right across Barnsley.
Our local grassroots clubs and facilities give us the champions of the future, and it’s time for this Government to champion them.