PM to unveil £160m bid for sporting glory

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The Independent Football

A three-year initiative to rescue English football from its dire state by spending £160m improving the sport at the grassroots level is to be unveiled by Tony Blair today.

A three-year initiative to rescue English football from its dire state by spending £160m improving the sport at the grassroots level is to be unveiled by Tony Blair today.

The Prime Minister and Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, will be joined by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, to launch a body to promote grassroots football, with grants from several organisations expected to total more than £80m. Three-quarters of the money will be used to invest directly in improving sports facilities for schools and youth teams, such as buying equipment, Astroturf pitches and floodlighting. Another 12.5 per cent will go on specific community-based and anti-racist projects and 12.5 per cent made available to mainly second and third-division clubs to improve their grounds.

The Football Foundation, successor to the Football Trust, has been given £82.5m over three years by the Premier League, starting in the 2001/02 season, after the league sold television rights to Premier games for the next three years for £1.65bn.

The foundation expects to receive an equal level of funding from the Government, the Football Association and other sports bodies.

Critics have condemned the Premier League for only giving 5 per cent of its £1.65bn television deal for developing the grassroots game.

This morning's event will be tied to a Commons statement by Mr Smith later today on his department's spending, which will give priority to sports.

Last week the Treasury doubled funding for the quangos UK Sport and Sport England, raising it to £112m.

England teams have been repeatedly embarrassed recently. The football team crashed out of the Euro 2000 tournament and England failed to win the 1999 cricket or rugby world cups. In tennis, humiliation by Ecuador in the Davis Cup this month added to the sense of failure.

Yesterday a Number 10 spokesman said Mr Blair was determined to give football his backing, partly because it helped increase local and personal pride, prevent crime and tackle social exclusion. "People purely see sport in terms of stars at the top, but sport does have a very real power to teach youngsters lifeskills, keeping them out of trouble, encouraging respect and keeping them away from drugs."

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