Sports academy limps in

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The Independent Online
John Major is to redeem his Olympic-year promise to revolutionise British sport with pounds 100m of Lottery money - 12 months late.

The Prime Minister announced last summer his grandiose plans for a National Academy of Sport, but sporting organisations shot down his dream of a single "centre of excellence" in favour of several regional schools.

Ministers promised in July 1995 that building work on a site of at least 100 acres would be under way "within a year". But the Department of National Heritage has only just finalised proposals, and another year is likely to elapse before plans are realised.

The DNH said yesterday that a plan for an Academy of Sport based on several sites would be published before the end of next week. "It will be a tenderinviting bids," said a spokesman. "It will be some months before a contract is allocated."

In the meantime, Mr Major will unveil plans to double the number of university sporting scholarships to 400 by the time of the next Olympics in Sydney in 2000. The Government will also examine the scope for joint academic and sporting education for school students.

The Prime Minister's grand design was for a single national academy which would train around 500 talented young people. Sporting bodies preferred regional or even local centres.

Athletics, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, rowing and hockey will form a major part of the curriculum, but there would also be provision for rugby, football and cricket.

Sports Minister Iain Sproat boasted last year that "there will not be another country in the world where young sportsmen and women will get better training". The initiative followed his visit to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, which trained most of the nation's Commonwealth Games gold medallists.