Privately educated athletes continue to dominate British sport. Every sport except one…
By Luke Davis
Although just 7% of British children are currently educated in independent schools, a disproportionately large percentage of the country’s top athletes attended such schools. 17% of Team GB’s Olympians last summer went to public school, as well as seven of the starting XV in the England rugby team’s most recent match against Wales. England’s victorious cricketers in New Zealand exhibited a similar ratio.
Football however remains the only sport to continuously buck this trend. All of the England football team’s starting eleven against Montenegro attended state schools and out of the 25-man squad, just three were privately educated – a figure much more in line with the national percentage.
Many have mused upon the reasons for private education’s dominance of the sporting sphere in recent years. The most obvious is that with their massive incomes from fees, private schools can afford to designate huge areas of land as playing fields, build enormous sports centres, and generally supply their students with top of the range facilities and equipment. This is why sports that require the most specialised equipment such as rowing and fencing are dominated by ex-public schoolboys and girls.
The reason that football remains immune to this reliance on wealthy parents’ fees lies in its relative simplicity. This is also what makes it the most popular sport in the world. The basic aim of scoring at one end and stopping the opposite team scoring at the other is one shared by many other sports including rugby and basketball but all require more specialised rules, goals areas and terrains. At a basic level, you do not need top of the range facilities to play football. All you need is two posts and you’re away – jumpers or even trees will suffice. This enabled football to become the universal sport, and is the reason that it is the only one that is still reflective of British society as a whole. But will this always be the case?
It has been noted that two of England’s most prominent privately educated footballers, Frank Lampard and Alex Oxelade-Chamberlain both had footballers as fathers. With top-level football now one of the most lucrative professions in the country, footballing fathers are more likely to be able to afford private schooling for their children. The implication is that if more of those children follow in their fathers’ footsteps like Lampard and Oxelade-Chamberlain, the background of the typical English footballer could begin to alter.
Private schools are often said to produce more ‘high-flyers’ due to their promotion of an ‘aspirational culture’ amongst their students that those attending state schools lack. With less need to focus on academic results in order to compete in national league tables, public schools are free to place more emphasis on sport. Therefore it is likely that an increasing combination of a footballing heritage and a private education could mean a declining percentage of state-educated footballers.
Despite this however, footballers will almost certainly remain the one group of athletes with a demographic closely reflective of the national population. Though there may have been a very slight rise in the percentage of privately educated footballers in recent years, there will always be routes into the sport for people of all backgrounds and upbringings. A recent example is Norwich forward Kei Kamara, who, having fled Sierra Leone as a refugee aged sixteen, made his Premier League debut earlier this season. Footballers’ diversity then should continue to be praised in an age where money and background can still prove stumbling blocks for aspiring athletes.