Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 10:03 UK

Major urges more sports funding

Paul Manning, Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins
The GB men's team pursuit cyclists boosted Britain's medal haul

Former PM Sir John Major has called for guaranteed National Lottery cash for grassroots sports and criticised those who oppose spending millions on sport.

Sir John, whose government set up the UK's lottery, told the BBC that sport was important and British success in Beijing had uplifted the nation.

Great Britain has achieved its biggest haul of Olympic gold medals since 1920.

Sir John said every political party should commit to developing facilities further, particularly in inner cities.

Tears shed

Cycling performance manager Dave Brailsford said funding from the National Lottery, which Sir John's government set up, had been the "definitive changing point in British cycling".

He told the BBC: "It has enabled us to take an approach which is based on trying to achieve human excellence, hiring the best people we can get, on getting riders supported in the way they should be supported."

I daresay I'm not the only person to shed a tear or two of sheer delight
Sir John Major

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Sir John said he had realised that sports and arts always lost out to other departments in Whitehall funding.

He wanted to give them their own "self standing form of income" - not just for Olympians but for grassroots sport, he said.

He admitted to shedding a tear at British athletes' achievements in the Chinese capital and dismissed critics who questioned the investment put into sport.

"They must be pretty sad people is what I say; have a look at the sheer joy that there is up and down this country," he said.

"I've been up at 6 am every morning to watch it and I bet millions of other people have.

"I daresay I'm not the only person to shed a tear or two of sheer delight when we've seen our young men and women win. I think it has uplifted the whole country."

Sir John went on: "If we can produce more Rebecca Adlingtons, more Beckhams, more Kenneth Branaghs in the arts then I think the whole country benefits."

City facilities

He said he regretted not committing more funds to school sport when he was prime minister, from 1990 to 1997.

"I think we let our youngsters down. I very much regret that I wasn't able to do that and I still hope that will be possible," he said.

He added there was still a division between sports facilities in other parts of the country and inner cities, which needed more gyms and other venues for social reasons.

He said guaranteed lottery funding over a long period should be used to improve sporting facilities further.

"Sport isn't an add-on to society, it's an integral part of it," he said.

He warned that cuts in funding would "severely damage" future facilities for sports but lottery funding "guaranteed over a long period" could improve facilities in the inner cities and elsewhere.

He added: "This funding for sport... it isn't only for the Olympians. They only get to be Olympians if we have the facilities at a lower level, at schools, after schools, in clubs in the inner cities and we need to build that up.

"It ought not to be a political football... it ought to be something every political party is committed to, because it is good for us, good for our country, in almost every way you can consider."

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