The contributions of independent schools to Team GB at the Olympic Games of 2000-2012

Posted on: 10 Aug 2013

Malcolm Tozer - Editor, Physical Education and Sport in Independent Schools, (John Catt, 2012)

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools, announced in February that he would commission a report to compare the quality of sport in the state and independent sectors. This followed a judgement on the performance of Team GB at the London Olympic Games that sportsmen and sportswomen who had attended state schools contributed proportionately less to the team’s success than those who had been educated privately. I understand that the schools for this comparison have been chosen and that work will begin at the start of the new school year. tennis boy

Before the inspectors take up their task, let me set the record straight. The oft-repeated claim, first made by UK Sport and Olympics bosses, that privately-educated competitors comprised around a third of Team GB in London is incorrect; the actual figure was 17.3%. The corresponding figures for earlier Olympic Games were: 13.1% in Sydney, 20.6% in Athens and 23.1% in Beijing. The average for the last four Games was 18.3% - about a fifth.

The second oft-repeated claim was first voiced by Lord Moynihan, the Chairman of the British Olympic Association, on the day that Britain’s first gold medals of the London Games were won by a pair of privately-educated rowers: “It is one of the worst statistics in British sport, and wholly unacceptable, that over 50% of our medallists in Beijing came from independent schools.”

The actual figure for Beijing was 37.7% and it stayed steady at 37.5% in London. The corresponding figures for Sydney and Athens were 32.7% and 26.6%, and the average for the four Games was 34.5% - about a third.

These corrections should not suggest to Sir Michael’s Ofsted inspectors that their enquiry should be abandoned; rather they demand that the erroneous claims should be replaced by facts.

Team GB for these four Olympic Games included 262 members who had attended independent schools; 97 competed at more than one, so the number of former pupils from these schools was 165. Men made up one-fifth of the teams, women one-quarter.

The 165 attended 117 different schools. No one type of school had more than its fair share of success – whether co-educational or single-sex, or day or boarding.

They competed in 20 of the 29 Olympic sports, with no-one in archery, basketball, boxing, handball, football, judo, table tennis, taekwondo and wrestling – nor in the team version of volleyball.

Rowing, hockey, swimming, athletics, equestrianism and sailing, in descending order, had most representatives; equestrianism, rowing, hockey, sailing, tennis and swimming had the largest concentrations of privately-educated competitors.

Nearly three-quarters of these competitors, or 74%, finished in the top eight positions in one of their events in one of the four Olympic Games. They won 102 medals – a strike-rate of 39% - and supplied about one-third of Team GB’s medallists at each of the four Games, with an overall contribution of 34.5%.

The appropriate question for Sir Michael’s inspectors to ask is why independent schools produce more than their fair share of Olympic finalists and medal winners, and not why they win more than their fair share of team places. One-fifth of Team GB won one-third of the medals – double the rate of their team-mates.

Malcolm Tozer Editor, Physical Education and Sport in Independent Schools, (John Catt, 2012)

Extracted from ‘One of the worst statistics in British sport, and wholly unacceptable’: The contribution of privately-educated members of Team GB to the summer Olympic Games, 2000-2012, published on 8 August in The International Journal of the History of Sport. It can be downloaded at

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