Major goes into bat for the future of British sport

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The Independent Online


John Major will today announce plans to raise the standard of sport, including a new British academy of sport to promote sporting excellence from "grass roots to the Olympics".

It will mean a government U-turn to stop the sale of school sports fields, which could embarrass ministers who allowed the sale of playing fields under Baroness Thatcher. Mr Major regards the playing fields as a "precious national asset" but critics will say many have already been lost to housing.

Money from the National Lottery is to be used to support a crusade by the Prime Minister, a keen spectator of cricket and football, to bring more young people into sport and increased participation at every age level.

He will announce a policy aimed at bridging the gap between professional clubs, the community and schools. It will make it clear that schools should ensure competition is allowed to flourish, reversing a trend in the 1980s. Schools will be encouraged to extend sport beyond the minimum physical education requirement in the national curriculum. Prizes will be awarded to schools excelling in the provision of sporting opportunities.

It will be seen as part of move by Mr Major to answer the cry of sports fans for a credible England team to match the rest of the world at cricket.

Mr Major, a Chelsea football fan will be travelling to the Den, home of Millwall FC, to announce the details. It will be supported by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, and Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education.

The last time Chelsea met Millwall there was a riot. He will be hoping for a less hostile audience for his plans to encourage young people to stay out of trouble this summer by taking to sport during the school holidays.

Before travelling to south-east London, he will hold a breakfast at Downing Street for sporting personalities, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Olympic medal-winning hurdler Kris Akabusi, former England cricketer Sir Colin Cowdrey, and England rugby star Rory Underwood.

"This is going to be a very big initiative, broadly setting out to put sport back into the heart of school life and raise the standards of sport in the UK as a whole," Mr Major's office said.

The Millwall club has worked closely with Labour-controlled Lewisham council to bring the community into its new ground. He will call for closer links between schools and clubs.

But there is unlikely to be much "new" money available from the National Lottery.

A Commons written answer from Iain Sproat, the Sports Minister, last night revealed that 12 out of the 25 projects so far to have benefited from National Lottery awards of over pounds 1m have gone to sporting projects.

Although most are directly to councils, they include an award of pounds 3.75m to the Royal Albert Dock Trust in east London and more than pounds 4m to the Jubilee Sailing Trust in Hampshire. About pounds 26.8m of pounds 82.2m of lottery awards have gone to sport.