Athletics: Failed footballers to be offered future in athletics

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The Independent Football

Talented young footballers who fail to make the grade in the professional game will be encouraged to transfer their talent to athletics under a new scheme backed by the National Lottery.

Talented young footballers who fail to make the grade in the professional game will be encouraged to transfer their talent to athletics under a new scheme backed by the National Lottery.

Officials from UK Sport, which is responsible for nurturing home-grown elite athletes, is in talks with the Football Association in a bid to replenish an ever-diminishing pool of new talent in athletics.

Mike Whittingham, the performance director of UK Sport, has held discussions with Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, but progress has stalled in recent weeks due to the crisis engulfing the FA.

The initiative comes as Team GB prepares for the start of the track events at the Olympic Games in Athens today, with expectation of modest success.

The British Olympic Association has admitted that the team is unlikely to match the medal haul from Sydney and estimates that Athens will produce up to nine medals with marathon runner Paula Radcliffe the only track athlete tipped to win.

Britain's performances in recent youth athletics meetings have alarmed UK Sport. The World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy, failed to yield a single medal and at the English Schools athletics championships the number of entries was well down on previous years.

In contrast, football continues to grow, with around 40,000 grassroots clubs across the country. However, of all the 14-year-olds in academies at English Premier League clubs, only around 1 per cent go on to make their living in the game.

Mr Whittingham said: "Universally, sport is not being played as much and the ingredients in terms of the talent pool is not as good as we have had in the past.

"Football is taking all the talent at the moment and we are working with the FA on how we can take up young footballers that have been rejected. A lot of these youngsters have natural speed, power and co-ordination which are ideal ingredients."

UK Sport, which provides £85m in lottery funding to Britain's Olympic team over a four-year cycle, say development of young athletes is being further hampered by social changes.

Whittingham said: "Everyone is driven to school and there are so many scare stories about children playing outside. The lack of exercise is leading to dangerously low aerobic levels."

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