School sport vital to Olympic legacy
Walking through London's St Pancras station the other day, I had a little frisson of excitement. There, on the concourse, is the first official London 2012 Olympic Store, for all your souvenir t-shirt, baseball cap, mug and mascot needs.
Anyone who has been lucky enough to go to an Olympic Games will know exactly how the siren call of the Olympic Store works.
At first, you walk serenely past, untempted by the range of branded leisurewear and collectibles. By the end of week one, you might have fingered the odd t-shirt and considered whether your mum might like a tasteful porcelain breakfast set.
As the closing ceremony approaches, you are in a state of panic, grabbing armfuls of cuddly mascots and key rings from the rapidly emptying shelves, even (in extreme cases) contemplating buying the CD of the official Olympic song, which you had so derided during the opening ceremony.
My booty from my Olympic reporting career looks like this; a collection of pins from Barcelona 92 and Lillehammer 94; framed posters from Atlanta 96 and Sydney 2000 (hanging in the hall at home); similar posters from Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010 (still in their cardboard tubes waiting to be framed); and a motley collection of cuddly stuffed mascot toys from Athens, Beijing and Vancouver, gathering dust in forgotten corners of my daughters' bedrooms.
I have been rather hoping that the souvenirs they will get from London 2012 will prove a little more durable.
Since London won the bid on that memorable day in July 2005, there has been much talk of the Olympic legacy. Part of that, of course, is making sure that the venues and stadia being built for the Games will be put to good use afterwards and that we're not left with a herd of white elephants, as previous hosts have been.
But another part is ensuring that our children are inspired to make sport part of their lives, for the rest of their lives. Not every girl is going to have the talent and dedication to be the next Rebecca Adlington or Jessica Ennis, but if she wants to be able to go and swim or run, she should be able to find somewhere to do it, and someone to teach her.
But how do we deliver that legacy? At the moment, no-one seems entirely sure. It seems logical to assume schools should play a central part in helping our children to get active.
When Education Secretary Michael Gove announced last autumn he was scrapping ring-fenced funding for School Sports Partnerships (SSPs), the howls of protest were deafening.
The 450 partnerships allow schools across the country to combine resources to provide a wide range of sporting activities, in PE lessons and after school clubs, for secondary, primary and special school pupils.
Sport has always been a key ingredient in school life. Photo: Getty
They have helped to deliver the last government's promised minimum of two hours PE per week to more than 90% of students.
It is all very different to how things were in my day - thank goodness.
Back at my secondary school, if you did not like - and, crucially, were not much good at - hockey and netball in the winter or tennis and athletics in the summer, you did everything you could to drop out. No-one tried that hard to stop you either. I did exactly that, regretting my move ever since.
Now, it is not an option to be a school sports refusenik.
This week, for 5 live Sport, I am visiting a school in Worcestershire to find out how a thriving SSP actually works.
Caroline Siddell was named PE teacher of the year in 2009 by the Sunday Times newspaper. She is passionate about finding a sport for every student.
South Bromsgrove High offers the usual range of team games - rugby, football, netball, lacrosse among others - but also roller hockey, cheerleading and ultimate frisbee.
She has about 100 pupils in her cheerleading class, which operates every lunchtime. Traditionalists might throw up their hands in horror but there are also opportunities to compete against other schools in the Partnership in team sports like basketball, rugby or football - provided you make the team, which I never did.
Siddell reckons that perhaps 50 out of 1,500 pupils will regularly participate in competitive team sports - but there are enough other options to make sure that even those seriously challenged in the ball skills department find something to do.
Clearly something good has happened in our school PE departments since I left. And the outcry created by the threat to disband the SSPs was a clear indication of how highly they are valued.
Student Debbie Foote, 17, from Lincolnshire took a petition to Downing Street, signed by more than half a million students, parents and teachers, while more than 70 Olympians and Paralympians, including Olympic champions Darren Campbell and Denise Lewis, signed a letter to the Prime Minister, organised by badminton silver medallist Gail Emms.
And in December, the Department for Education announced that the SSP programme will continue unchanged until the end of this school year, then on a reduced scale until the summer of 2013.
A partial triumph, then, for the protestors.
Emms will be part of our distinguished panel at South Bromsgrove this week as we discuss the importance of school sport, with only 18 months to go before London 2012.
We will be joined by an audience of students, teachers, parents and representatives of local sports groups to focus on how the Olympic legacy can still be delivered to our children, in a climate of nationwide financial restraint.
You will be able to hear our debate in 5 live Sport on Thursday from 2000 GMT. You can have your say on the telephones after 2100 GMT.