School sport could be heading for a new ball game if John Major or Tony Blair can finally persuade the mandarins at the Treasury and National Heritage Department to stump up a fraction of the weekly lottery pot for sports co-ordinators. The plan is finely balanced since the bearers of untold wealth are unhappy at the Prime Minister's directive to release cash. An authoritative Mr Major has nevertheless announced plans to boost the nation's sporting future in one of his last acts before closing Parliament. North of the border, the Scottish Sports Council is investigating the options and is likely to recommend schools are given cash to buy time to establish co-ordinators in every secondary, a model successfully piloted at Renfrew High.
The #163;9 million Scottish Office scheme on early intervention in primaries, announced late last year, could set the pattern. It will invite bids for schemes in a challenge budget and leave schools and councils to devise their own methods suited to local situations. Sport may follow. How the money would be managed in Scotland remains unclear but the Sports Council would surely be involved.
The TES Scotland, along with school sports associations, has long campaigned for lottery money to reinvigorate extracurricular activity. It is a practical initiative that could bring an enormous return for a small investment. There are indeed strong arguments for channelling the nation's lottery money into more local initiatives and away from high-cost, capital projects. Rules about the use of lottery funds have already been relaxed. At the outset, only building projects involving improvements to sports stadiums and other facilities attracted funding when it was deemed impossible to fund revenue projects. The continuing success of the lottery has changed National Heritage policy.
Funds are now financing elite sportsmen and women. Regulations could be easily extended to widen the base of the sporting nation by emphasising projects for young people. All it takes is political will from the party in power. Ministers have made a commitment to put serious money into a serious initiative which goes beyond the more limited Team Sport project, initiated by Michael Forsyth. Only a scheme embedded in schools is likely to have long-term positive effects across Scotland.