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Olympic spirit strong in Sussex
The exploits of Olympic heroes Mo Farrah, Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins had us all out of our armchairs with their stamina, speed and heart this summer. But when the Olympic flame moved on to Brazil, did the spirit of the Games remain? Neil Vowles and Bill Gardner report on whether the Olympic flame is still burning across the county.
It is two months since the curtain came down on the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.
The £9 billion spent getting the country ready for the events was justified as an investment to get more children involved in sport for years to come rather than just two months of elite sporting excellence.
But according to a new survey carried out by charity The Cricket Foundation the sporting legacy of the Games could already be waning.
Its poll revealed that less than half of parents in Brighton surveyed thought their child did enough PE and sporting activity in lesson time and two thirds said they didn’t think their children had seen any increase in the amount of competitive sport this term.
In addition more than three quarters of parents surveyed said the amount of PE and games in lesson time has stayed the same as before the Olympics, with 40% of parents saying the lack of facilities was holding back schools from putting on more sport.
Lord Coe, who spearheaded the Olympic bid and delivery, spoke out this month about his frustration of the loss of sporting momentum because of restrictions on school sports.
This was reflected by one anonymous teacher in Brighton who responded to The Argus questioning all primary and secondary schools about the Olympic legacy.
The teacher responded: “Due to the crammed curriculum it is impossible in infant and junior timetables to put in any more PE due to pressures from heads and the Government to improve progress in maths and literacy.”
However, schools were more positive about the Games’ impact on sport outside of the daily timetable.
Paul Miller, the acting deputy head of Cardinal Newman Catholic School, said he had seen a large increase in the level of participation at afterschool sports clubs.
The school has seen twice as many Year 7, 8 and 9 boys now playing football while girls’ participation in hockey, netball and football has increased by 50%.
He said: “We haven’t been able offer any more sport but we have seen a much bigger participation in afterschool clubs.
“We have an A, B and C boys’ football team and we’ve played against Dorothy Stringer and Blatchington Mill A, B and C teams. We’ve never had that before.
“It’s really increased in gymnastics, which used to be only the lower school girls with hardly any boys going but now we have a big mix and about 50 kids there. We’ve always offered a lot of sport here but it’s becoming quite hard for us to cater for that many kids.”
Sophie Butler, from St Mary Magdalen Catholic Primary School in Brighton, said the Olympics had inspired teachers and students to get involved in sports prior to the Games this summer with the school’s Olympic themed sports day having twice as many events as usual.
She added: “We are a small inner city school with a tiny playground and no field but we have been trying out dodgeball and we have had Albion in the Community in to teach us new sports for people with disabilities, which was great for the children to understand the Paralympics.”
Brighton and Hove City Council said the Brighton City Table Tennis Club had doubled in membership and the 40 new table tennis tables dotted around the city were proving extremely popular.
The council’s sports development team had also helped to establish Brighton Handball Club, which played its first competitive game this month.
A council spokeswoman said: “The Olympics have encouraged and inspired many people to get involved in sport and sports clubs in Brighton and Hove have seen an increase in members attending with many now being full to capacity.
“Our challenge will be to maintain the enthusiasm and provide long-term support to the sports clubs to build capacity and sustainability. We are building on the Olympic legacy with the replacement of the running track at Withdean Stadium.”
Freedom Leisure has seen a 3% increase in people visiting its 14 centres in Sussex in the last two months compared to a year ago – three times the Sport England target.
Membership figures have increased by as much as 8% in the same period while sporting initiatives such as No Strings Badminton have seen average weekly attendances almost double.
Interest in softball and netball teams based at local centres has also soared while attendance at half-term day camps for children at K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley jumped by 75%.
Richard Bagwell, the group sports development manager at Freedom Leisure, said: “We saw a distinct uplift in activity and a definite buzz both during and after the Olympics and Paralympics.
“So far the increased level of interest is being maintained and we have a wide range of programmes for members of all ages to continue their participation in sport.”
Elsewhere across the city sports clubs are taking on new members and putting on new sessions to meet demand.
The Stables Boxing Gym at Brighton Racecourse has seen its membership more than double in the last six months to more than 200 members.
To cope with the demand the group has started two new sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday morning, a Sunday session and a Thursday evening class for gay people.
Owner Diggary Warden said: “I think the Olympics has done a lot to encourage people to get fit.
“We have seen a big increase in the number of people coming here and a lot of that is to do with the Olympics.”
Since the GB women’s hockey team, including Brighton-born Ashleigh Ball, won a bronze medal at the London Games, clubs in Sussex have been swamped with eager new members.
Wendy Russell, director of coaches at Brighton and Hove Hockey Club, said the reaction had been “fantastic”.
In just three months the club’s junior section has swelled from 50 members to 180.
Ms Russell said: “In the adult section we are struggling to find enough players for six teams – but now we’ve got 40 more players.
“They saw the GB team doing well and they wanted to get involved. It’s been great.”
Harvey Dawkins, a director at Hove Lagoon, said the site had seen a “subtle but positive” Olympic impact with more than 100 people taking part in an Olympic-inspired weekend in September.
The venue is hoping that the legacy will continue into next year and will host a similar event in 2013.
Mr Dawkins said: “We suffered a little from the seasonal effect and the timing of the Olympics so the impact has not been as big as we had hoped it might be but we’re optimistic that the spirit can carry on into next year.”
However not everyone is experiencing an Olympic flourish.
Despite the Olympic success of Zara Phillips and Sussex’s own Tina Cook taking equestrian medal glory in July, Edna Turner, who has run East View Riding Centre near Haywards Heath for 40 years with her husband Peter, said that the centre had experienced “an awful summer”.
She said: “The weather has been terrible. Most people would rather watch people doing something else or play on their video games.
“No one has even mentioned Tina Cook or Zara Phillips.
“It’s a real struggle being a riding business. Everyone is closing because of red tape and the running costs are going up and up.”
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