For a sporting chance

September 8, 1995

I read "The Common Health Games" (THES, August 25) with alarm. The recent Government interest in new facilities and increased support for sports men and women attempting to achieve at the highest level has been a breath of fresh air for those keen to see success for Britain.

For the first time in more than 20 years there is a will to invest in the sporting infrastructure of the nation. There are attempts to halt the sales of open spaces and playing fields and provide incentives to develop sporting opportunities in schools and universities.

So I was appalled to read that a director of sport at a British university would actually be advocating the continued erosion of facilities and withdrawing support for traditional team games in favour of health promotion. Surely the issue is not one or the other but rather how best institutions can create a blend of facilities and activities to provide a balanced approach to sports.

At Bath University, we will spend Pounds 4.2 million on new sports facilities in the next 12 months. We have more than 20 students who are being supported by sports scholarships or bursaries. Our institution openly encourages close ties with national sports bodies and the local community. The university and the city were enthusiastic hosts of the European Youth Olympics. The sports department is the training home for Bath Rugby club and one of the national tennis squads is resident on campus 12 months a year.

With all this elite training going on Richard Cox would have us believe that there is no time or interest in developing "sport for all". This is simply not true. More than 85 per cent of our students take part in some form of physical recreation at least once a week during term. We provide a full range of recreation and sports education activities and all these facilities are provided free so as to encourage maximum participation. Students regularly acknowledge these opportunities as one of the contributing reasons for choosing Bath. It is possible to provide a comprehensive approach to sports provision in the universities and many institutions across the United Kingdom can boast a similar commitment.

For those institutions which subscribe to this approach there is an acknowledgement that by investing in extensive sports provision we can begin to establish a network of centres of excellence accessible to both students and the community.

Those centres which become the focus for the development of excellence not only for sports performers but also for sports medicine, physiotherapy, sports technology and an array of sports-related disciplines will provide students with high-quality facilities and the nation with a resource that will enable British athletes to receive a similar level of support to that already available in the "sports developed" nations.

Institutions should be free to choose which route they wish to develop and there should be scope for institutions to offer students a range of activities and facilities.

Now is not the time to reject the aspirations of one school of thought over another but rather to grasp the opportunity to invest in new developments across all aspects of our provision. Failure to respond positively to the vision will simply encourage the cycle of decline and underfunding. Universities should support the development of excellence whether that be through the promotion of healthy lifestyles or support for elite athletes. Selling off the playing fields is simply throwing the towel in.

GED RODDY Sports department University of Bath

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