London: Up to 10 million pounds of lottery funding will be spent on a schools Olympics aimed at promoting competitive sport on England’s playing fields and creating a 2012 sporting legacy, the government said on Monday.
Critics of the scheme said it was little different from existing school sports events and came at a time when sports funding was suffering from cutbacks as the government tackles a record peacetime budget deficit.
The scheme, announced by Culture, Media and Sports Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Schools Secretary Michael Gove, would encourage schools to take part in a local league, with the most talented primary and secondary school athletes going forward to county finals and then a national final to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics.
The ambition would be to continue with the event after the Games, but both it and funding would be kept under review.
The idea was first mooted by the Conservatives when in opposition, in a bid to get more youngsters involved in sport.
Fewer than a third of pupils take part in regular competitive sport within schools, and fewer than one in five take part in regular competition between schools, they said.
“Competitive sport -- whether you win or lose -- teaches young people great lessons for life. It encourages teamwork, dedication and striving to be the best that you can be,” Hunt said in a statement.
“This will be a key part of our drive to leave a real lasting sports legacy from London’s games.”
The scheme would also include a schools Paralympics.
Opposition sports spokesman Ben Bradshaw pointed to the coalition government’s cut in free swimming earlier this month for the young and elderly as proof of a wider attack on funding.
“The government has cut funding for county sports partnerships and cut the funding going to sports bodies -- this will result in fewer opportunities for young people to participate in sport,” he said.
The Association of School and College Leaders said it was a myth that competitive school sport did not already exist.
“Excellent facilities are needed to offer the range of activities now required,” its General Secretary John Dunford added.