click to enlarge John Mann MP for Bassetlaw told outdoor journalists and the BMC at a press briefing at the House of Commons that it is extremely rare for the governing body of a sport and representatives of that sport to be invited by the Prime Minister to a reception at No.10 Downing Street. It is an honour usually given to Olympic athletes and teams that have won international events.
There were several reasons for the invite John Mann explained.
We are on the radar of the government because it is recognised that climbing and mountaineering is a sport that is growing in popularity and it has an important role to play in healthy lives that endures from early age to beyond retirement age. John Mann gave the example of Braunstone Leisure Centre, in Leicester, that had a climbing structure added almost as an afterthought but which turned out to be the most popular facility at the centre, and for relatively little cost. Financially, healthy living reduces NHS costs and climbing has a role in this.
Whilst climbing and mountaineering is relatively small in popularity, unlike other smaller sports it has one cohesive representative body, the British Mountaineering Council, that is well organised, almost self financing, and is politically active in legislation such as the CROW act, the Marine Bill, Coastal access and Work at Height Regulations; issues that go beyond those who enjoy life in the vertical to effect the lives of a great many people in the UK. Mann said that the BMC is "representative and competent"
At 5.30pm, over 100 climbers and mountaineers filed through the doors of No.10 Downing Street to enjoy almost two hours in this cavernous and historic building, hosted by Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was, as you know, otherwise engaged dealing with the current financial crisis.
BMC President Dr Charles Clarke gave the opening speech that emphasised the significance of British climbing and mountaineering achievements all across the world and recognised the hard work volunteers play in all aspects of the BMC's work.
Leo Houlding then described his climbing life from his beginnings in the Lake District to the walls of Yosemite, and how climbing had given him the opportunity to travel and enjoy the wild places of the world. Leo did emphasise the fact UK Sport have ceased funding for expeditions pointing out that this cost is small but that it is money well spent.
Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, MP for Bradford South, concluded by acknowledging the achievements of the UK's climbers and mountaineers and the increasing role that climbing plays in healthy lives and that climbing walls in the UK have an important role to play here, and as regards elite climbing performance he mentioned the role of professional coaching.
We then went for a pint at the Old Shades, Whitehall, accompanied by John Mann.
The BMC gets 11% of its income from Sport England, of the rest, 59% comes from membership fees and 30% from trading activities including travel insurance. With an increase in government funds for the BMC more money could be directed at supporting volunteer work especially access and conservation work, more help could be given to the UK's climbing clubs to encourage membership, funding could be directed at helping young climbers go on expeditions, and to train and be coached for climbing competitions. Perhaps the BMC could be involved in encouraging youngsters to take up climbing by helping schools build climbing walls and money could be found to subsidise school groups to visit the existing 300 climbing walls across the UK.
Look out for a photo essay of this event at UKClimbing.com next week.