The 1980s had seen a slow but clear reduction in the investment in sport both at a local and national level. This is well documented in other contributions.
From the late 1980s there had been increasing discussion about the possibility of introducing a National Lottery in the UK partly based on the success of other lotteries around the world particularly in Australia, Canada and in some parts of the USA. It was made clear, however, that the then Government led by Mrs. Thatcher would not allow the introduction of a Lottery – partly as a point of principle against gambling and partly because of the strong lobby of the football pools which were still popular at that time.
Around the turn of the decade when I was Director of National Services with the Sports Council a phone call was put through to me from a Mr. Dennis Vaughan. He wanted to talk to us about the importance of having a National Lottery – not for sport, he explained, but for the arts and physical activity. Maybe we could point him in the right direction in respect of physical education.
In management it is often a gut feeling which leads to the right decision and something about
Dennis’s arguments led me to agree to meet him. Could he come into the Sports Council offices? No, he insisted I should go to his office in Soho. Arriving at the address in Soho I thought this can’t be correct. It was the door to a set of apartments. On ringing the bell a voice above me, from the top floor, shouted out – “here, catch the keys”. This led me up to Dennis’s flat and a first meeting with quite an astonishing character.
The flat was small and cluttered with papers. No coffee was offered as it “was poison” but a glass of water. It was soon clear why Dennis wanted to promote physical activity. He was tall, lean and for his age, looked extremely fit. He believed totally in a healthy lifestyle, in yoga, tai chi and several other oriental exercises. He was heavily involved in the London cultural scene – his other love and the second recipient of his proposed national lottery.
As is often stated there is a fine line between genius and madness. It was a tough call about which applied to Dennis as he rapidly and forcefully put his case again for a national lottery. He explained his proposal to lobby the Government, to establish a Trust to run it, a second trust to receive the funds and for the type of investment to be made in the arts and physical activity. His projection was for about £25m per year. I eventually left still in doubt about genius or madness.
I found out later that Dennis was not someone to leave people alone and over the succeeding months he pestered me over and over again until I agreed to see him again. This time I told him the agenda had to include discussion on having sport as a recipient of the proceeds. From that point on it was included along with the arts and physical education in his lobbying. For over a year he made the case to civil servants and politicians – with some financial support from both the Sports Council and the Scottish Sports Council whose CEO Alan Alstead had also seen the possibilities of Dennis being successful. Curiously the Arts Council was disinterested.
In 1990, John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. His love of sport was evident and there was a palpable change of mood towards the possibility of a Lottery. With this change of mood it was a good call to send David Carpenter around the world to look at the benefits and operation of Lotteries. This later put us in the vanguard of thinking on the subject.
In 1991, I was in my office and in the absence of the Director General David Pickup; I received a message through a temporary secretary in the office that Downing Street had been on the telephone asking for support for a major announcement. On being asked what the announcement was about I was told – “I think it is something about a raffle”
Our various reasoned submissions to Government and Dennis’s lobbying had worked – the announcement was for a National Lottery and sport was included. On several occasions in public I have paid tribute to Dennis Vaughan for his persistence. He is an unsung “hero” behind one of the most significant funding streams for sport.
While sport was identified as one of the “good causes” it was less clear who would administer the funds. Dennis Vaughan maintained his position of wanting his own Trust, the Sports Aid Foundation produced a strong lobby that it should be it which administered it – based on the excellent job they had done to date in funding sportsmen and sportswomen. The same claim was made by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. There were early thoughts of a totally different mechanism which would be set up. So the next stage was to ensure that it was the Sports Council and Sports Councils which were the distributing agencies. Through well-argued submissions and trust in our abilities at national and regional level the arguments succeeded and we were set to change in so many ways to take on the national lottery. The projected income for all the good causes at that point was put at
£200m – our share about the same as the annual income from the Treasury. This “fight” for position is reflected in an internal paper produced in 1992 which provides some insight into extant thinking and concerns. It is interesting that this paper in 1992 makes reference to the establishment of a UK Sports Commission. This was later abandoned but in a less centralised fashion revived several years later. It also refers to the problem of Europe and the developing European Single Market – how little changes!
Over the next 18 months there was a flurry of activity with DCMS, the NAO and lawyers to ensure we were fit to be a distributor. Once again David Carpenters previous research proved invaluable. On the 19 November 1994 the first lottery draw was made. It was immediately clear from the 49 million tickets sold that all estimates for income were way below the actual figure which was some ten times our Treasury investment.
“Success has many parents; failure is an orphan” a phrase I recall often when individuals or organisations claim the right to brag about their role in the establishment and success of the Lottery. The investment in facilities up and down the country from 1995 and eventual establishment of the successful World Class Performance Programme in 1997 began – all based on a chance phone call, a bizarre Soho meeting and eventually on a sound, flexible and well considered set of operations by the then Sports Council.