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Government Has Rejected Plans For Olympics-Style Event To Fund Mental Health Services For First Responders

Government Has Rejected Plans For Olympics-Style Event To Fund Mental Health Services For First Responders

The Olympics-style event would see first responders compete in sports to help raise money for mental health charities (Alamy)

4 min read

Tory MPs have criticised the government for failing to support plans for an Olympics-style multi-sport event which will raise money towards mental health services for first responders.

The sports minister Nigel Huddleston said the proposed Gratitude Games in Greater Manchester did not meet the criteria for financial support, a decision some Conservative MPs have described as “disappointing”.

The new charity sporting event had hoped to see emergency service and NHS workers compete in 20 disciplines to “celebrate and thank them for everything they have done and continue to do”, as well as raise money for specialist mental health charities that support emergency responders in the UK.

It had been postponed from this spring to summer 2023 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the cities of Manchester and Salford had agreed to host the games, with a number of venues signed up for the action to take place.

As well as traditional events such as athletics, cycling and racket sports, athletes from 13 regions across the UK would also take part in more unusual sports such as ten pin bowling, indoor rowing and karting.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham had given it his full backing, but it is unclear now if the games can go ahead without financial support from government.

Organisers had hoped they would be the centre-piece of a larger fundraising programme, and will become a “major, annual, multi-sports event open to serving and retired members of the Emergency Responders Sector and their families”.

It is the brainchild of firefighter Mike Downard, who co-founded the charity UK Emergency Services Giving. 

The charity has set itself an ambitious target to raise £10million over five years, but so far they have raised less than £10,000 in a crowdfunding campaign. It was hoped the games would bring in more donations, as well as sponsorship, corporate partnerships, entry fees and merchandising which would be donated to tailored mental health projects through four nominated charities.

A number of MPs had tabled parliamentary questions to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in recent weeks, asking for government support to get the games off the ground.

But at the end of July, with the Commons already in recess, sports minister Huddleston replied to each MP with the same message that the event would not be getting any help.

“The Government recognises the impact that sport and physical activity has on physical and mental health, and the importance of welfare and wellbeing for everyone participating in sport at all levels,” he wrote.

“The Government's role in the support of bidding for and hosting major sporting events is set out in the Gold Framework.

“The Gratitude Games do not meet the criteria as set out in the Gold Framework and therefore would not be within scope for support.

“We encourage all organisations to continue to work together to support mental health through sport and physical activity.”

A spokesperson for DCMS said they would not elaborate beyond Huddleston’s statement on why the games did not qualify for the funding.

The spokesperson pointed to the so-called ‘Gold Framework’, a 26-page departmental document that is “aimed at major sporting events not resident in the UK and typically involving a competitive bidding process”, neither of which applies to the Gratitude Games.

The news has dismayed supporters including Greg Smith, the Tory MP for Buckingham.

“The Gratitude Games offer a golden opportunity to raise awareness and vital funds to support the mental health of our Emergency Responders," Smith told PoliticsHome.

“Our Emergency Services have been through enormous strain during the pandemic and continue to feel the pressure.

“It’s disappointing Government could not get behind the games.”

Smith’s Conservative colleague Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, found the decision to be "very disappointing".

“Holding an Invictus-style games for our emergency services alongside wider public participation is a great idea and I very much hope the new Prime Minister decides to give it their full support,” he said.

Those behind the idea say such an event is needed as recent studies by the mental health charity Mind found 69 per cent of fire, police and ambulance staff said their mental health had deteriorated because of the pandemic, citing “relentless” workloads, greater exposure to traumatic events and the fear of passing on Covid-19 as the key reasons.

Organisers of the Gratitude Games, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, did not respond to requests for comment on the government decision.

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