Children's sport is paying for the 2012 Olympics

Against government pledges, budgets for community and school fitness have been cut to fund the Games
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Political Editor

By Jane Merrick

Political Editor

Millions of children are being let down by a "broken" promise to improve school and local sport ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games, according to new research.

As Great Britain's gold-medal-winning performance reached a thrilling crescendo this weekend, figures revealed that the next generation of sportsmen and women could miss out because of a shortage of trained PE teachers and facilities.

A new report exposes fears that the excitement caused by the Beijing Olympics, and the promise of the Games in Britain in four years, could quickly fall flat because more than £500m has been diverted from grassroots sport to meet a shortfall in funding the 2012 Games.

The dossier by the Tories warned this undermined the very pledge that secured London's bid in 2005 – to "capture the imagination of young people and leave a lasting legacy".

The report is backed up by the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR), which is campaigning for mass participation in sport not to be sacrificed to fund the London Olympics.

The Government wants to get two million more people active by 2012. Ministers have a target for children to do at least two hours of sport a week, and have now made a new pledge to offer 5- to 16-year-olds in England five hours of "quality" sport per week by 2012, and three hours a week for 16- to 19-year-olds.

Yet the report reveals that nearly one million children – 14 per cent of all youngsters – are not even meeting the minimum of two hours of sport a week.

Recruitment targets for PE teachers have been slashed from 1,450 a year in 2006 to 1,180 this year. While budgets for local sports bodies have been cut by £70m to pay for Olympics overspending.

Sport England, responsible for community sport, has had its budget cut by 8 per cent to contribute to the rising cost of 2012, which has risen from £2.4bn to more than £9bn. An additional £540m of National Lottery grassroots sports money has also been diverted. There is also anecdotal, but widespread, evidence that primary school teachers are "doubling up" to teach sport because of a lack of PE staff.

Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative culture and sports spokesman who compiled the report, said the run-up to the 2012 Games must not be a missed opportunity to get the nation active. "It's time the Government got a grip on the Olympics and treated the legacy as equally important as hosting the Games itself," he said.

Mr Hunt conceded that it was the Tories who began selling off playing fields but pointed out that this has continued under the 11 years of Labour rule. The next Conservative government would improve the links between schools and local clubs, he said, and put greater focus on training for PE teachers, particularly at primary school level.

The CCPR has called for a government-sponsored network of local sport and recreation facilities to be tied into the 2012 Games. Its chairman, Brigid Simmonds, said: "Once the Olympic show has left town, the power of London 2012 will wane. The time to start getting people active is in the run-up to the Games, not as organisers are packing up."

In a league table of time spent on physical education in primary and secondary schools, Britain came 15th out of 27 EU nations. In primary schools, some pupils aged between five and 11 are offered just 30 minutes of PE a week – which, together with Ireland, is the lowest in the EU. Schoolchildren in France have four hours a week of PE.

The Government published a legacy action plan last month, but critics say the only new proposal was free swimming for the over-60s and under-16s.

Lord Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, yesterday insisted that 2012 would be about people. "Ours will be the Games for everyone," he told The Daily Telegraph.

news week pages 46-49THE DAY I BEAT PAULA PAGE 51

Fit to host 2012?

More than £540m of Lottery money has been diverted from community sport to the 2012 Games

This would pay for 220 swimming pools, 327 indoor tennis centres, 9,000 grass pitches or 515 floodlit athletics tracks

British school children lie 15th out of 27 EU countries for the amount of sport they do a week

Britain aims to come fourth in the 2012 medals table

One in 10 six-year-olds and one in six 15-year-olds are classed as overweight

State school pupils do half as much sport as children in the private sector privately-educated children account for only 7 per cent of pupils at British schools

60 per cent of British medals in the past four Olympics were won by those who had been to public school