Smith launches plans for pounds 160m sports academy

Ministers yesterday announced its revamped plans for a pounds 160m nati onal academy of sport. It said the new institute will be the centrepiece of its policy to promote sport. Amanda Kelly looks at the Government's vision.
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Much of what Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said at the launch of the new academy yesterday was geared towards appeasing the spectator sports which had complained that they were being excluded from the original plans.

The academy headquarters, the location of which has yet to be decided, will be primarily geared towards Olympic sports and those minority sports lacking a commercial element.

But, in a concession to games such as football, cricket and rugby league, which said they would set up their own academies in response to the Government's initial plans, Mr Smith said they would be allowed to make use of facilities such as medicine, sports science, nutrition advice and research.

But he added: "We strongly support the desire of more commercially based sports to establish their own academies. They will also be able to take advantage of the central technical expertise.

"Every sport in this country will benefit from these facilities. There will be training facilities for a number of core UK sports, including athletics, road cycling, judo, swimming, tennis and triathlon."

As well as a headquarters, the academy will also consist of a regional network of training and medical facilities throughout the country, with eight locations in England, several in Scotland and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Smith said: "These proposals offer an historic opportunity to equip our very best sportsmen and women with access to the most modern facilities and technical back-up essential to compete - and win - at the highest levels.

"Future generations of medal winners will acknowledge their debt to the decisions we have announced today. They will put and keep the UK at the top of international sport."

The Government will choose the site of the headquarters, which has been allocated an extra pounds 60m, from a short-list of three bids - East Midlands, Oxfordshire and Sheffield - at a later date. Mr Smith asked the bidders to make their presentations within the next few weeks.

The first response from the world of sport came from David Davies, director of public affairs at the Football Association.

He said: "The FA welcomes today's announcement. Our priority in football is to lift standards at all levels. The Government is committed to giving every sport the best chance to do the same. Their proposals recognise the importance of sport to the whole nation. They are inclusive proposals aimed at benefiting all sports. They recognise the contribution that football can make - and we will make it. We look forward to discussing these matters with he Government in the near future."

When Mr Smith first announced his plans, they provoked John Major, the former prime minister, to break his self-imposed post-election silence to criticise the Government. He argued that sports like cricket - for which he has a passion - would be forced to accept satellite television contracts in order to fund their own academies. That would result in fewer games being shown on terrestrial television, he argued. It was not clear yesterday whether he finds the new proposals any more acceptable.