Government funding for Olympic sports in the UK has been guaranteed for the next four years – but experts have warned that without investing in school sports, Britain could fail to capitalise on the legacy of London 2012.
Experts have welcomed the announcement that UK Sport will receive £125 million annually for the next four years to maintain funding at same level as the run-up to London, until the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
But Professor Ian Henry, director of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research at Loughborough University said school sport remained a “significant problem".
He told The Huffington Post UK the funding was a definite positive as far as the coalition is concerned.
He said: "It's one of the few good news stories from the government’s point of view.
“You can look at it either cynically saying it is currying favour to a certain degree or you can look at it positively saying the government has recognised the importance of national morale, in that the Olympics to date and the Paralympics to come, hopefully, have had a significant impact on the people’s view of their country.
"It’s either bread and circuses or a shop window for Britain realising its potential.”
But Professor Henry warned that school sport remains “a significant problem”, saying that, without a two-hour per week target for sport in schools, the next generation of elite athletes may not develop.
He added: “The pulling of the plug on school sports partnerships means that kind of advance, that kind of increase in participation is now threatened.”
Sir Chris Hoy has welcomed the announcement
The prime minister has come under fire for ditching a requirement on schools to offer pupils at least two hours a week of sport. Critics have called for the target to be reinstated as Britain achieves record success at the London Olympics.
David Cameron said in a statement confirming the funding that he wanted to help shore up the legacy of 2012.
He said: "The motto of these Games has been 'inspire a generation'. Nothing has been more inspirational than seeing our elite athletes win gold this summer.
"There's a direct link between elite success and participation in sport. I want one of the legacies of these Games to be our athletes triumphing in Rio in 2016, and in future Olympic Games. Guaranteeing this funding will help ensure that happens."
But shadow Olympics secretary Tessa Jowell, while welcoming the funding, again called for a 10-year national plan for school sport.
"We need to get everyone working together to get this right - the country will never forgive us if we let this opportunity slip through our fingers,” she said in a statement.
The news comes after a week of wrangling over school sports funding, with Cameron controversially suggesting the lack of competitive spirit in school sports is not down to a lack of money, but teachers who don't want to join in and play their part.
The row over ditching school sports targets intensified after Mayor of London Boris Johnson suggested kids should be doing two hours of PE not just every week, but every day, and a ComRes poll for Sunday newspaper The People finding nearly three in four want the government to increase cash for sport in schools.
The extra cash for elite sport was welcomed by six-times gold medal winner Sir Chris Hoy who said: “Having these guarantees for the future will be a huge boost for all the athletes aiming to win medals at Rio 2016 and proves we are serious about building a strong legacy from London 2012."
UK Sport chair Baroness Sue Campbell said: "What has been achieved in London is momentous. We have put the UK on the map as a high performance nation with the talent to compete with the best nations of the world. What was once unthinkable has been achieved resoundingly. The Government's announcement to maintain funding in our high performance system demonstrates vision and commitment to sustain this level of high performance beyond London onto Rio and beyond - a true legacy of the Games."