Council vows that UK can catch up

9th August 1996 at 01:00
Britain's abysmal performance in the Atlanta Olympics - just one gold medal - has reopened the debate on the state of sport in the country.

Our European partners were laps ahead - Germany came third with 20 golds, France fifth and Italy sixth - while Britain languished in 36th place.

Derek Casey, the Sports Council's chief executive, has pledged that top sportsmen and women will not have to struggle for financial support to get to the next Olympic games in Sydney in the year 2000. And Pounds 30 million from the National Lottery will provide scholarships, grant and bursaries from next January in a scheme to be announced in the autumn.

Nearly Pounds 7.7m of the Sports Council's lottery cash has gone towards the National Junior Sports Programme. This summer 250,000 items of sports equipment have been donated via the Youth Sport Trust to 400,000 primary pupils.

To coincide with the start of the Olympics, John Major announced plans to boost sporting excellence with a Pounds 1 billion national academy and a new category of sports colleges.

The Prime Minister went on to give an optimistic report of progress since his Raising the Game initiative was launched a year ago. He praised schools for getting at least two hours' PE into the curriculum.

However, Britain lags behind Germany and France where children spend at least an hour more on PE a week when they start school at the age of six. In Germany they begin learning the basics of ball games, athletics and swimming. Schools organise competitions twice a year. Winners progress to regional then federal level.

Bridget Calvert, from the international unit of the Sports Council, said every child could take part in a sport, but it was more competitive. Competitions are more structured at secondary and university level.

Andrea Lesmeister, a student at the prestigious German Sports University in Cologne, said even primary schools had a sports hall and excellent facilities. She is on secondment to the Sports Council and is studying for a European diploma in sports studies.

In Germany sports clubs or workshops are run after school where pupils can practise drama, dance, photography or sport. Promising students go to Olympic performance centres for coaching which is paid for by the Government.

The university has 6,000 students who will become teachers, sports scientists, economists, medics or coaches after four-year courses. Applicants have to demonstrate skill in athletics, ball games and endurance tests as well as gaining the A-level equivalent qualifications.

Ms Calvert found the German and French systems to be more structured and better funded than in Britain where local management of schools, the sell-off of playing fields and slump in extra-curricular training have undermined sport.

But the Atlanta and Euro 96 successes might mark the end of Germany's winning streak. Ms Lesmeister said German children are now keener on "fun" sports such as skate-boarding or American basketball. She said they disliked the discipline and hard work required for athletics, gymnastics and swimming.

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