Budding sports stars to receive lottery funding to target young sports stars

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

"Talent funds" for grooming would-be sports stars and initiatives for access to the arts will qualify for National Lottery funding under plans set out yesterday by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Proposed changes to the 1993 National Lottery Act, allowing purely revenue funding for the first time, would enable the Arts and Sports Councils to create the new funds to help individual youngsters develop artistic and sporting skills; fund new forms of access to sports and the arts; and support major sporting events such as world championships, the minister said in a Commons written reply.

The revised rules, which are set to come into effect in early April after consultation with the distributing bodies, will also allow building preservation trusts to qualify for help from lottery proceeds.

Mrs Bottomley also indicated that she was prepared to accept proposals, due to be announced tomorrow by the Arts Council, that would allow arts organisations to benefit from help in the form of "stabilisation" funds - funding to help secure long-term financial viability in return for making structural and efficiency changes.

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday that she was responding to calls for lottery money to be made available for talented young athletes, extra coaching and possible help to participants at the Olympic Games.

"The changes that I am proposing will allow the Sports and Arts Councils the flexibility to respond to these demands and make lottery funds available for the first time to benefit people directly," she said.

The likelihood of significant funding being made available for this year's Olympics is probably remote, however, because of the short time-scale.

Mrs Bottomley said she wanted to see lottery funding investing in human talent as well as in infrastructure. Apart from helping would-be sports stars, she envisaged money being used to support youngsters visiting the theatre and the arts, and for artists to visit schools.

There was sufficient flexibility available for distributing bodies to take account of special circumstances in individual applications, she said.

"The lottery is a stunning opportunity for this country to invest in arts, sports and heritage as never before," she said.

Mrs Bottomley insisted in an earlier GMTV interview that slashing lottery jackpots would only cut the cash available for good causes. She has agreed to meet church leaders to discuss their concerns that massive jackpots, such as this week's predicted pounds 40m double rollover, are creating a culture of greed.

Countries such as Germany and Holland, which had capped jackpots, had found substantially fewer people playing, she said.

Mrs Bottomley disputed claims that massive jackpots encouraged poor people to spend more than they could afford. "It is a very carefully monitored lottery and a very carefully regulated lottery. The average person spends pounds 2.10 and the rich pay more than the less well off.

"I don't think there's any evidence that we are becoming a nation of gamblers any more than all those other countries in the world that have got lotteries - not many of them as successful as ours - have turned into a nation of gamblers."