Frank Greally: Bring competition back to schools
My column last week celebrated the 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister's historic first sub-four minute mile achievement at Oxford on May 6, 1954 and from the feedback I have received, the piece seems to have resonated well with the Irish running community. There is still something magical about the mile and I like the suggestion made to me that May could in the future be designated in running circles as The Month of the Mile.
I am not sure how many noticed, but my column included a gremlin when I referred to London rather than Oxford as the location of Iffley Road.
It is interesting now to see that Bannister has been in the news again following his criticism of the British Government, which he accuses of taking competition out of PE in schools. Now 85, Bannister said that he "feels terribly strongly" about sport in schools and described the way that physical education is currently being taught in primary schools in Britain as "worrying".
"In some schools PE can easily be got out of. It's not attractive because there's no competition," Bannister said at the Chipping Norton Library Festival in Oxfordshire.
"Or they have to get on bus to get somewhere because their playing fields have been sold off to fund a computer room. Children don't suffer an emotional crippling if they come second in the egg and spoon race."
The Department of Education in Britain has supported Bannister's assertion: "We are changing the national curriculum so that from September there will be a much stronger emphasis on competitive sport. In addition we are dedicating £150m a year of funds to supporting PE and sport in primary schools so that every child can take part in competitive sport at an early age."
There may be a message there for our own relevant Government ministers. I was reminded of how much children enjoy participating in a competitive environment when I attended the Barrington's Hospital Great Limerick run on the May Day weekend.
There was an entry of nearly 2,000 for the children's races that took place on the Saturday at the University of Limerick – an event with terrific atmosphere where parents shared in the excitement, with some of them joining their children on the run. There was a big entry too in the children's events – part of the Western People West of Ireland Women's Mini-Marathon on the same weekend in Castlebar.
When I first started out in running most of the road races I participated in included a programme of under-age events and it is good to see that this trend is returning to some present-day running promotions. It is one sure way of continuing to organically grow the current running boom, which has many add-on health benefits for young and old.
Events like the Great Limerick Run and the West of Ireland Women's Mini-Marathon have shown a good example by adding children's events to their promotions and other big running events should be encouraged to follow this lead.
I had a lovely surprise last week when late one evening I visited the Morton Stadium in Santry and discovered the venue to be still full of parents and children for one of the Dublin Athletics Board's Juvenile Track League events. There was a real buzz in the stadium. I could see that the children were loving the opportunity to compete on the famous track and there was a great buy-in too from parents.
Running is a great outlet for children of all ages and I agree with Sir Roger Bannister when he says: "Children don't suffer an emotional crippling if they finish second in an egg and spoon race."
As I see it, running comes natural for most children and it can also teach them to get the best out of themselves – mentally and physically – a good lesson for life's longer run.
Health & Living