Academy under fire before bids received

Sports politics
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The Independent Online
The Government has been accused of putting the cart before the horse with its plans for a British Academy of Sport.

Next week Iain Sproat, the Minister for Sport, will receive up to 200 bids to build the academy, but concern is being expressed that British sport will continue to suffer unless other problems are also addressed.

The academy will act as a national centre for sporting excellence with facilities up to Olympic standard and 300 hotel rooms.

While the bricks and mortar may soon be in place, Geoff Cooke, the former England rugby union manager, is concerned the plans overlook more basic requirements. "I think the thing we are not addressing is that in any performance the thing that makes it happen is the people," Cook says on the Radio 5 Live programme On the Line tonight.

"What we are doing is bypassing that and concentrating on the facility aspect."

John Trower coached the javelin thrower Steve Backley to a silver medal in the Olympics this summer, but only after a desperate struggle to gain the right medical treatment for Backley when he was injured at the start of the year.

"Where we score very badly is in support," Trower said. "The other services which are human based are non-existent. You find out through your own faults.

"A good example is Steve. He has been injured a lot since 1991 and by hook or by crook we have found the best people to conduct surgery. We haven't been told by any formal network that these people are best.

"If you took the Olympic medallists from this year - it would be 13 people from six sports - and you said "right fellas, what's your network, who is your sports psychologist, who is your coach, who does your bio-mechanics" you would have a basis, I would say, of the top people in this country.

"Will it be done? I doubt it very much."

There is also concern that top athletes will not be willing to travel to one central site.

The winning bid for the academy will be funded by the UK Sports Council, which is to be set up next month, from pounds 100m of Lottery money it would receive from the four home nations' sports councils.

But the English Sports Council favours a regional set-up, and its chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, said: "If we don't like what we see, in the final analysis we have the right to say no."

Professor Peter Taylor, of the Leisure Industries Research Centre at Sheffield University, has spoken to 334 top British athletes and their coaches and says 80 per cent of them are not prepared to travel for more than an hour from their home to train.

"It is ridiculous to expect elite sports people throughout the UK or even throughout England to travel to one central site on a regular basis," he said.

However, the Minister for Sport has promised that once the academy is up and running the Government would consider providing a number of regional centres.

The programme also reveals that, next month, the home sports councils will announce a multi-million pound package to provide direct financial support for athletes, coaches and talent-spotting programmes.

The scheme, to be launched on 14 November, is intended as a year-on-year funding initiative and will use a substantial portion of the pounds 300m annually available to sport from the National Lottery.

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