Keep the faith with football

It says a lot about Welsh soccer that Football in the Community is calling for centres of excellence run by enthusiastic teachers in every local authority. There are also calls to bring school pitches up to the standards of those in European countries such as Slovakia, Belgium and Holland.

The proposals prompted assistantJchildren's commissioner Rhian Davies to voice concern that the focus should be on wider participation among children, not the cherry-picking of star players.

The Assembly government, via its Climbing Higher report, has called for the profile of sport to be raised among the young, suggesting this could be done by primary and secondary schools providing two to three hours a week for sports and PE activities.

But sport isn't just about getting fit or equal participation by all. Team games give pupils the chance to learn important life skills - communication, co-operation, leadership - and the chance to pit themselves against the very best of their peers. Of course, football has a dubious standing in this country. While the national rugby team enhanced its proud record by winning the Six Nations Championship last year, Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs could only look on in envy at the World Cup finals in Germany this summer. It is nearly half a century since the team last qualified and it has never made it to the European Championship.

Nevertheless, a new study conducted by Michigan State university has shown that the vigorous exercise involved confers other advantages to schools.

The researchers found that while regular PE brought no academic benefit, students doing more demanding activities such as soccer, American football or skateboarding reap an average 10 per cent gain "on their academic scores in core subjects". So the fact that Football in the Community would involve putting pressure on local authorities to release teachers from their classroom duties, with appropriate funding, and accompany teams to games should not automatically rule it out.

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