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Participation is a game of two halves

The decision of headteacher Cathy Long to ban soccer in the playground of Burnham grammar school in Buckinghamshire (see page 1) - because pupils and teachers were being used for target practice - will probably be met with cheers by teachers who hate the beautiful game.

Others, probably those who are glued to Match of the Day every Saturday night, will be calling, "Political correctness most foul."

But this new furore over school sport does not bode well for meeting the recommendations made by a cross-party committee of Welsh Assembly members in a report published last week. It suggests that our PE teachers should take a more active role in nurturing a new generation of soccer stars to compete on the world stage. We will need teachers who are fully trained with professional coaching qualifications, of course.

Yet the fact remains that until the confusion over the aims of school sport in Wales ends, the country will continue to be left on the sidelines - with or without centres of excellence. At present, there are two clearly defined sides that want to win this row - with no middle ground.

Should teachers, as the National Union of Teachers Cymru's Rhys Williams says, be concentrating on widespread participation rather than on the cream of the crop. Therein lies the paradox. The Olympian message of participation rather than glory comes with athletes hungry for gold medals.

What is evident is that only at the grass-roots can the truly talented can be found. And schools are best equipped to do this because children already tied to clubs outside school probably have parents who encouraged them to join, and who no doubt became glorified taxi drivers to that end. That is not to say "little Johnny", who prefers to play on his computer than break into a sweat, should not have as much attention or be encouraged to kick a ball about at lunchtime - to help him to lose a few pounds or think more clearly in the classroom.

Sadly, until the opposing sides in this staffroom tiff unite to widen participation, which in turn will help to discover the truly talented - thus generating winners all round! - the Welsh will continue to be the underdogs, both inside and outside the classroom.

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