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Scots in slow lane on funding

At least pound;600 million is spent in England on school sport and physical education but the figure in Scotland is only a fraction of that, Charlie Raeburn, chair of the Scottish Schoolsport Federation, cautions.

Mr Raeburn welcomes the UK School Games as an event which raises sporting chances for the elite but insists Scottish funding has yet to match proportionate levels south of the border.

In Scotland, the active schools programme has pound;24 million over three years, ending next year, to boost activity levels in the general pupil population. It should be nearer pound;60 million if Scotland is to be on a level playing field, Mr Raeburn argues.

He questions how close the Glasgow games will be to what schools are attempting to do. "They are just using the name 'schools' but it's not much to do with schools. I'm not sure how it will help us to develop school sport and give us profile," he said.

Mr Raeburn points out that athletics and swimming - the two main events - already run their own home countries competitions. In athletics, Ireland is represented by both north and south, unlike the school games format where only pupils in Northern Ireland will be represented.

In the Glasgow games, gymnastics will be limited to the artistic elements of the discipline, while table tennis and fencing make up the main programme. Disability events in swimming and athletics will run alongside.

Each activity has a slightly different upper age limit.

There is also said to be some unease among Scottish sporting associations about competing with 13 English regions, plus Northern Ireland and Wales.

In defence of the games, Alain McIlvain, acting director of Glasgow's specialist sports academy at Bellahouston Academy, said it would the first chance for juniors to compete as a country in a multi-sport event.

"This is probably the closest many would get to the Commonwealth Games until they actually do it. It is a great stepping stone," Mr McIlvain said.

The annual school games, which will move around Britain in the lead up to the Olympics, would allow youngsters to establish annual goals. "When you are young, trying to train for a four-year programme can be a hell of a long way in the future. Having these targets every year will be absolutely fantastic," he said.

The games were also about role models. "The tabloids will be dominated by the schools olympics which can only be good for letting other kids know there is something out there instead of football. I'm hoping there would be 'come and try' sessions being arranged," Mr McIlvain said.

On the wider front, he backed the active schools programme but pointed out:

"We have some fantastic sports facilities now but a lot of them don't have the coaches."

Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire education director, who headed the PE review group, believed the games should help the profile of less popular sports, as the review recommended.

"To see Scotland come one and two in swimming at the Commonwealth Games - the kind of success previously restricted to Australians - may mean that we are beginning to see a different approach and culture in Scottish sport,"

Mr O'Neill said.

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