LONDON (Reuters) - An ambitious scheme to boost self-confidence and discipline among British children by reviving competitive cricket in state schools is thriving after three years and its founders are determined to sustain it.
“It’s far and away the biggest program of this kind ever put in place by any sport, I think, in the U.K.,” said the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King.
King is president of Chance to Shine, the Cricket Foundation charity’s 50-million-pound ($88.98-million), 10-year program to reintroduce competitive cricket to two million pupils in a third of all state schools.
The key to success was the ambitious scale of the project, King told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“You can’t do it on a small scale. If you’re going to do it at all you need to do it on a big scale and you need to be very systematic about it: you’ve got to have the money, you’ve got to monitor carefully what goes on.”
Some 17 million pounds have already been raised by sponsorship and donations, and the British government has pledged to match private investment to reach the 50-million-pound target.
So far the program has drawn in some 250,000 children, 40 percent of them girls. Eight of the current England women’s team are among the coaches.
King, a lifelong cricket enthusiast, is no mere figurehead but integral to the project’s origin and development.
The idea arose from conversations between two former county players, Duncan Fearnley -- a Cricket Foundation trustee -- and Mark Nicholas, now a television commentator, and with King himself.
“Mark and I had exactly the same idea when Duncan asked us what charitable activity The Cricket Foundation should focus on, which was to get competitive cricket back into state schools...where cricket had been lost, really,” King said.
Wasim Khan, Director of Operations at Chance to Shine, said it was crucial to win over the teachers for the program to succeed.
“Ultimately if the teachers aren’t interested it’s not going to happen. It’s very important that cricket is made fun, made enjoyable, and that teachers see it as a viable option,” said Khan, who was one of the first British-born Asians to play county cricket.
“If you actually take a structure to schools, concentrate on teacher training, on trying to ‘up-skill’ teachers, then teachers and schools will buy into that,” he said.
The scheme links groups of half a dozen schools with local clubs and is gradually spreading across the country.
The measure of success would be the scheme’s sustainability, Khan said. “That’s really the benchmark for us -- is cricket carrying on when the coach isn’t there? We’ve been told that this is happening more and more now.
“We are well on our way now to regenerating competitive cricket in state schools.”
King agreed that the goal was more than mere participation. “The idea was...to do it properly, with proper coaching so that children of all levels, both primary and secondary, would end up playing competitive matches, and it would be an activity they could take seriously,” he said.
Chance to Shine’s website (www.chancetoshine.org) teems with tales of what cricket has achieved in schools -- of the confidence, teamwork and enjoyment the sport has brought to all kinds of pupils.
“We have these extraordinary stories of these (difficult) individuals...who are now not merely playing cricket but are actually leaders of the school and they’re trying to encourage all their peers to take not just sport seriously but their academic work too. They’ve found something that gives them self-esteem,” said King.
One advantage of cricket, he said, was that it had escaped “the worst of the celebrity culture attached to overpaid professionals of other sports.”
Another was that it was the only team sport played by all the main ethnic groups. “The kids simply don’t notice that they’ve come from different ethnic groups; all they can see is that they’re playing the same game with a bat and a ball.”
King said he hoped the scheme would give every child “something that they can become passionate about, that nobody can take away from them” for the rest of their lives.
“The spirit behind it is that every child should be able to find something they can do well. In this case it’s cricket.”
Editing by Clare Fallon
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