Editor-At-Large: Most Britons' idea of exercise is reaching for their Dairy Milk

 

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I guarantee that the one sport we'll win gold medals at in 2012 is loafing. We'll excel at lounging on a sofa staring at a screen, one hand around a jumbo bar of Dairy Milk, the other resting by a can of fizzy liquid.

We won the Olympics by promising the International Olympic Committee that hosting them in London would inspire a huge number of young people to take part in sporting activities. This much-trumpeted "legacy" was underpinned by a five-year campaign, run by Sport England.

Delivering this goal is costing hard-up Britain £200m. But research seems to indicate that, with eight months to go before the big event, there is no chance that the Government's target of 2 million Brits getting off their backsides to discover the joys of activity by 2013 will be reached. In fact, the situation is worse than it was before we won our Olympic bid.

Sport England has analysed 28 popular sports, and discovered that the number of people taking part in 19 of them, has actually fallen over the last four years. They didn't even set the bar for what constitutes participation very high – just half an hour three times a week, which is not much more than the amount doctors reckon is essential for good health. By the age of 25, half of all young adults do no sport at all, and only one in 10 of those in further education manages the 3 x 30-minutes weekly target.

The legacy notion was primarily targeted at 18-year-olds, with the goal of encouraging 60 per cent of them to play sport for an hour a week, but the number taking part in any kind of activity has plunged, in spite of endless mission statements, action plans, meetings and consultations. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt says plans are being re-worked to ensure any further funding is based on results. There's talk of attaching clubs to secondary schools, and in future sporting bodies will only be funded if they can prove they are attracting 14- to 25-year-olds. The person in charge of Sport England is Jennie Price, a barrister by training who previously ran the government's pathetic recycling quango Wrap, which doesn't make me optimistic about a turnaround in its success rate.

It's not surprising we are couch potatoes. Successive governments have allowed playing fields to be sold off, reduced the amount of time sport occupies in the curriculum and saddled teachers with health and safety legislation that inhibits many kinds of exciting outdoors activity. Labour banned the notion of class positions or rankings, and was fond of dishing out smiley faces and making every child, no matter how useless, a "winner". Excelling in sport requires ruthlessness and dedication, attributes successive Education ministers have not exactly promoted.

I was lucky enough to attend an inner-city school where sport was encouraged, and I swam, played hockey, tennis, netball and rounders. I'm still active, not because I want arms like Fatima Whitbread or sinewy limbs like Madonna, but because it makes me feel alive and positive. My skin looks pinker, my eyes brighter. Sport is better than any drug. After a break, I'm boxing regularly, and every week through the winter I will travel down to Kent on the train to spend an hour with Kevin my tennis coach. I walk whenever I can. I'm not that interested in watching the actual Olympics; I don't need to see other, fitter, more pumped-up people doing it better to validate my efforts. Of course, there's always a chance I can pull muscles and have minor injuries, but that's nothing compared with the damage slothfulness and slouching on the sofa would do to my life expectancy.

It's suddenly become fashionable to sneer at women who work out. Liz Jones wrote the other day that she hated sport and thought sinewy arms were repulsive. She said Kelly Rowland looked like Linford Christie in a really bad wig, and claimed that top athletes don't eat healthily or look attractive. Why should athletes conform to a fashionista's weird idea of what's attractive? These women's idea of weightlifting is draping a jumbo sized handbag on one shoulder ruining their posture, and balancing on five-inch heels, giving themselves bunions. Does Cheryl Cole with her jumbo hair, panda eyes, child's body and stick-like legs make a better role model for young women than champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington or Chrissie Wellington, arguably the fittest woman on the planet, who has just won the Ironman world triathalon title for the fourth time?

Sport England has failed miserably and should be disbanded. The Government should make daily sport compulsory in primary schools, fund equipment, and set aside funds for properly trained teachers. All this talk of a new strategy just means more paperwork, more mickey mouse objectives, and less action.

Yes, Jane Fonda looks terrific, but she cheats

Jane Fonda made her name as a strong woman. From Barbarella to Klute, she lit up cinema screens with her electrifying presence. She morphed from a GI Jane with left-wing politics in the 1960s, into the queen of the exercise video two decades later. Now, at 73, she seems determined to turn back the clock. Jane appeared on US television last week wearing her trademark leotard and leggings, promoting an exercise routine aimed at senior citizens.

Her latest book, Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit – Making the Most of All of Your Life, is aimed at her generation. But she is flogging a fantasy. Fonda has kept her figure trim and her face unlined by spending a fortune on surgery, admitting as much in the past. Now she says: "I have good genes and money – money for facials, massages, therapy and trainers." She claims that exercise is central to slowing ageing, which is true – but the only way to look as unlined as Jane at 73 is through cosmetic surgery. A shame she isn't enthusing about the benefits of ageing naturally. She's turned out to be a pretty poor role model for modern women.

A Dickens of a good day out

If you're planning a Christmas outing over the next few weeks, head for the terrific exhibition about Charles Dickens at the Museum of London. My only complaint is that such a fabulous subject warrants a display twice as large – Dickens's appeal is universal, and recent movies and television adaptations (such as the BBC's stunning Bleak House) have brought him even more fans. My favourite exhibit is a print of Dickens's beloved clown, Joseph Grimaldi, engaged in a "fight" with an actor dressed as a vegetable. That's a show I would have enjoyed.

Race you to A&E, Jeremy

Talking of vegetables, mouthy Mr Potato Head Jeremy Clarkson has turned his attention from public sector workers to hill walkers and ramblers. He has written that he supports the privatisation of the mountain rescue service, currently operated by the RAF, because he resents his taxes being used to pick up "people like Janet Street-Porter" when they have an accident. "Why should I fund the rescue of a rambler?" he rants. Jeremy should do some research. When I broke my ankle on a high-level path above Glencoe in the Highlands three years ago, I climbed down 800 feet, crossed a river, and drove myself to A&E in Fort William so as to cost taxpayers like Jeremy as little as possible.

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