Games prompt search for new stars
With architects' plans prepared and bulldozers poised for approval to begin the creation of an Olympic village in a derelict area of north Paris, the government is calling on education authorities to help to develop an internationally competitive generation of French sportsmen and women for 2012.
Last week Jean-Francois Lamour, the minister for youth and sports, urged an assembly of chief education officers to encourage schools to increase their pupils' sporting opportunities.
Physical education has traditionally had only a low priority in France's intellectually demanding education system, limiting the country's sporting prowess.
But, a few years ago, as part of an effort to raise PE's importance, it became a compulsory subject in the school-leaving baccalaureat exam.
Secondary pupils must choose a batch of three activities, which could include badminton, swimming, parachuting or dance depending on the school and its geographical location.
Mr Lamour told the officials, who represent the national education ministry at local level, that while voluntary clubs were at the heart of the sports movement, schools had an equally essential role to play.
He called on them to encourage school heads to open contracts with local councils for the use of sports facilities, and for co-operation and resources from departmental and regional authorities to help sporting teenagers travel to training sessions, matches and competitions.
He said that schools should also improve links with the UNSS (National Union of School Sports), a sports promotion association.
Although the UNSS brought together 9,400 school sports associations, representing 900,000 youngsters, "school sport still struggles today to take full advantage of its place", said Mr Lamour.
"While Paris and France are engaged in obtaining the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, young people taking part in UNSS activities represent fewer than 20 per cent of those being educated in state secondary schools."
The generation now attending lower secondary was the one which would supply the athletes and volunteers for the 2012 games, he said.
As well as some new initiatives to be launched under the government's youth action scheme, Mr Lamour announced that nationwide activities to mark the impending Olympics would be held at the start of every school year from September 2005 until the games, wherever they are held, in 2012.