Colleges in England are to be given a part-time member of staff to lead a resurgence in competitive sport in the run-up to the Olympics. Principals said they hoped the new co-ordinators could make sport as vital to the life of colleges as it is in US high schools.
By April, the first 30 colleges will have people working to create competitive sports links with other institutions and schools, and developing sports options for all students, regardless of ability.
The co-ordinators will be in post at all 386 colleges at the start of the next academic year at a cost of nearly pound;6 million.
Kevin Hamblin, principal of Filton College in Bristol and chairman of the principals' sporting strategy group, said: "A lot of students are competing at a higher and higher level of competition and 16-year-olds in FE at the moment could potentially be competing in the London Olympics in 2012."
Colleges already have some well-developed leagues, especially in football and rugby, and can claim several sports heroes as former students, among them England striker Michael Owen, who studied at Liverpool Community College, and boxer Amir Khan, who went to Bolton Community College.
But colleges say sporting provision is patchy, especially in cases where colleges have had to expand by building on sports fields. Maggie Scott, director of learning and quality for the Association of Colleges, said: "I think competitive sport is coming back, but the reason for it has changed. It's not about promoting the college. What we are now doing is trying to promote the young person. We recognise it's good for the individual, their communication skills, their confidence-building. The challenge for colleges is that everything is voluntary."
Offering a wide range of sports is seen as crucial, so part of the co- ordinators' work will be to link up colleges and schools to share facilities so that even at institutions with little equipment students can have a range of activities, with options such as Pilates for those who do not want to compete.
Colleges also hope that being more organised in sports will encourage students to engage with national sports associations and help them reach the highest level and compete for their country.
Mr Hamblin said: "Previously, sport was an enrichment activity. Colleges could either do it or not. Now, with the sports co-ordinators, there will be an expectation that students will be able to have between one and three hours' of activity a week."