With hands now being wrung over Britain's poor showing at the Atlanta Olympics, measures are being taken - albeit with frustrating slowness in some areas - to improve the situation from elite to grass roots levels.
The launch yesterday of the Royal SunAlliance Panathlon Challenge, funded with pounds 100,000 of the company's money and pounds 50,000 from the Department of National Heritage's Sportsmatch Scheme, is addressed to the lower end of the competitive scale.
Some 30,000 pupils from secondary schools in London's 32 boroughs will take part in a knockout competition involving nine activities ranging from basketball to chess. All can be played in school hours, and they do not require outdoor facilities. In essence, this is a means of getting around the two problems which have beset school sports in recent years - the alienation of teachers and the disappearance of playing fields. "Thirty years of neglect cannot be changed overnight," the launch document proclaims.
Trevor Sykes, head of PE at Chessington Community College, which will represent Kingston in this year's Challenge, described the scheme as "a brilliant way of involving inner-city kids in sport".
However, Sykes put the initiative - masterminded by the sports consultant, Mark Barker - into context. "As far as green field sites are concerned, we are strictly limited," he said. "We have an off-site field that is 20 minutes walk away, but in the last couple of years the pavilion has been vandalised and burnt down.
"The local authority simply cannot afford to replace it. So when we arrange football and cricket matches we always play away, unless we can persuade a local club to let us borrow their pitch. It is a strain. And the further you go into the city, the bigger strain it is."Reuse content