The very mention of Boris Johnson and boxing gym owner Paddy Benson’s face darkens…
Then it’s gloves off as he sets about the PM’s boast as London mayor 10 years ago about an Olympics “legacy” to make sport accessible for everyone.
Because a Sunday Mirror investigation today reveals the exact opposite has happened.
The Tories have slashed funds for grassroots sports clubs by £400million in the eight years since those glorious Games.
And clubs in the poorest parts of the country have been hit the hardest.
“It makes me feel sick when I hear politicians like Boris Johnson
“At grassroots level, it’s very different. Two days a week we run nothing as we haven’t the funding – but we could bring in almost 200 people if we did.
“The knock-on effect would be those people wouldn’t go into crime and see their mental health deteriorate.”
Paddy lands a telling jab on PM Johnson’s new pandemic ‘obesity plan’ to get the country fit to fight the virus.
“Obesity should not be on the rise in a developed country like ours,” says Paddy, 32, whose club – a safe haven for those with lives blighted by drugs, crime and gang violence – relies on donations and grants.
“There should be investment which can tackle that, and hit it hard when people are young.
“We worry about making staff redundant here, but with all the blood, sweat and tears they give, that shouldn’t be happening. They literally change lives.
“Guaranteed government funding would be life-changing.”
The reality of government spending on sport is a far cry from Johnson’s boast in the heady summer of 2012 when athletes like Jessica Ennis helped net 29 gold medals for Team GB.
While Mayor of London, he wrote the foreword to a Tory document that set out plans for the Olympic legacy.
He said: “The legacy from holding the Games has been better secured in London than in any previous Olympic city.”
The report vowed to help everyone in the country find exercise they enjoy and pledged “high quality sporting opportunities” to kids in “well-maintained and accessible facilities”.
The Government insisted they wanted everyone inspired by the Games to take up sport and “stay connected with it for life”. In reality, the Tories were already preparing to make huge cuts.
In 2012, the total spend on sport, play and parks was £2.3billion but it has fallen every year since and now stands at £1.9 billion – a 20 per cent cut.
In Olympic host city London – where Johnson claimed the “legacy” was “better secured”, the decline has been particularly stark, with total sport spend falling by almost a THIRD from £334 million to £234 million.
And since 2015, 110 sports fields have been sold by schools raising money amid budget cuts.
Eight were sold in the last three months. A glimmer of hope for Paddy should be the arrival of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
But he says: “I don’t think there’ll be much money left for legacy funding.”
Along with coaches at local sports clubs across the land, Paddy and his team fear a generation of vulnerable youngsters could be left on the scrapheap.
Brad Savage, 22, came to the Pat Benson Boxing Academy, named after Paddy’s champion boxer grandad, aged 12. He is now on staff.
He says: “It’s a safe haven. I’ve had mates who have gone down the wrong path. If I hadn’t had boxing, who knows what would have happened?
“People come through here who have been involved with gangs. We’ve also had Syrian refugees. One guy had fled after his family was killed. He was here on his own and he’d have been so isolated without this.”
Paddy adds: “There are a lot of benefits to sport – a sense of identity. belonging, learning new skills. We had a young person from a gang crime area who went on to win titles. He said boxing saved him.”
One regular who has benefited from a club-run mental health programme is recovering drug addict Scott Ashmore.
Scott, 33, has been clean since he came to the club in 2017.
He says: “Sport has saved my life. I had a heroin addiction and was in with the wrong crowd as a kid. If I’d had something like this, I’d have had positive role models.
“I was mentally in a bad place from 20 years of drug use. My treatment centre brought me here. I couldn’t interact with people but now I can come here and it costs nothing.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Since London 2012 more people, including children, are participating regularly in sport than when the bid for the Games was won in 2005. We have been encouraging everyone to maintain daily exercise through the pandemic.”
Alison McGovern, Shadow Sports Minister: Press-ups PM hides behind his gimmicks
When it comes to health, like so much else, Boris Johnson is a slave to the gimmick.
He likes short-term photo opportunities to draw attention from what is really going on.
Our towns and cities are on the ropes, but we get snaps of him doing press-ups next to his desk.
We need youth workers to help a forgotten generation of young people – not a photo opportunity. What he and his gimmick-loving team don’t have is empathy with the people.
Or a plan for our future.
Luke Campbell, Team GB Olympic Gold Medallist, London 2012: Boxing gyms have helped change lives
Without access to boxing, my life would have been a lot different.
I grew up in Hull where there’s not a huge amount of opportunities for a young kid with lots of energy.
I was one of the lucky ones who walked into a gym one day and found a sport I loved and was pretty good at.
Although I went on to win gold at London 2012 and turn pro, these local gyms aren’t about creating future Olympians.
They’re about creating futures and are the hub of the community.
A place where people from all backgrounds, races and religion come together, train together and find purpose together.
I know boxing gyms have changed lives across the UK – from helping fight mental health issues to difficulties finding social acceptance.
With everything going on right now, and so many people facing their own battles, we need to get these clubs off their knees and help them keep fighting.