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Sports stars warn of the stigma of teenage failure: Ngaio Crequer on the view that PE should be for health, not competition

TOP sports people yesterday expressed strong reservations against competitive team games being made compulsory for 14- to 16-year-olds.

Mark Cox, the former tennis star, said yesterday: 'If you fail you are not to be regarded as a failure. You are not a failure if you do not win. But if you give of your best, than you have succeeded.'

Cox, the last amateur player to defeat a professional when tennis went Open, in 1968, then competed on expenses only. 'I enjoyed a lot of competitive sports at 14 to 16. I played a lot of cricket, some rugby and a bit of hockey,' he said.

'I do not think that winning or losing is the right criterion for participating. Competition is a stimulus for getting the best out of yourself.'

He said that schools should aim to provide a philosophy of a healthy body, and therefore an active body. This could be achieved by aerobics or dance, if desired.

Sean Kerly, a member of the British hockey team which won Olympic gold in 1988, said all children at all ages should be offered competitive sport. 'But I am against pushing any child to take part against their wishes . . . they react against it. I have seen children embarrassed because they are no good at it.' Hugh Jones, Britain's most consistent marathon runner, ranked fourth in the world in 1982 and 1987, went to a direct grant school in London. When rugby was rained off he went running.

'Rugby was compulsory and I tried to get out of it,' he said, adding that children exercised then by doing things naturally, like running to school or playing football in the playground. 'That is the critical thing lacking now.'

His early encouragement was a maths teacher who took running after school for enjoyment. 'I am not keen on the compulsory bit. It sounds like camp guards,' he said.

Andy Gray, a football commentator, won 20 caps for Scotland and was Young Player of the Year in 1976. He retired from the game four years ago and is convinced there should be competitive sport in schools.

'But it should not be compulsory. Some people are not interested in sport because they want to further their education. Others may be embarrassed. To take a lad physically unsuitable and get him to run around and force him to do so may have a lasting effect on his future life.'

(Photograph omitted)