Wednesday 31 July 2013
Team GB Olympic athlete Christine Ohuruogu has given her full backing to the new Premier League 4 Sport programme which she believes will both "help provide opportunities to youngsters" and point them in the right direction to "set their goals about their future".
"PL4S is a great opportunity to open doors that youngsters might not otherwise know were there"
Ohuruogu, who won the gold medal for the 400 metres at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and silver at last year's London Games, took time out from her busy training schedule to join youngsters and representatives of various national governing sports bodies [NGBs] at an event to mark the relaunch of the West Ham United Community Sports Trust's Premier League 4 Sport [PL4S] programme.
PL4S, which uses the power of the football club brand to engage and encourage children to actively participate in other sports, recently received a boost in the form of a new £16.8m partnership between the Premier League and Sport England.
The partnership has led to golf, tennis, boxing and athletics being added to the eight Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth sports on offer through PL4Sport, and at the event at Newham Leisure Centre, youngsters got to try their hand at a raft of different sports including judo, badminton and volleyball.
Christine, along with her sister and fellow athlete Vicky, who will also be representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow next month, joined prize-fighter cruiserweight champion boxer Wadi Camacho, who like the sisters hails from Newham, in lending her support to the project and encourage youngsters to get involved.
"We're here to celebrate the partnership between the Premier League and seven Olympic sports and I think it's a nice joint venture in which both entities can learn from each other," she told premierleague.com. "A lot of kids gravitate towards one sport at school, like football, but there are a lot of inherent skills in football that are very transferable to Olympic sports and I think you can quite easily go from one to the other. You can try other sports if you don't make it in football, so PL4S is a great opportunity to open doors that youngsters might not otherwise know were there."
"Netball was my first love and my dream was always to play netball for England"
Christine knows all about transferring from one sport to another as she did not actually take up track and field until she was 18 years old. Before then she was a promising netballer who represented her country at junior level.
"Netball was my first love and my dream was always to play netball for England, and I did, albeit for the junior teams. But I got there, with a lot of sacrifice and hard work. Then I started running and really enjoyed that and thought, 'here's another opportunity for me, I really want to try and see how far I can go,' so I moved across to athletics."
Sporting opportunities are precisely what PL4S provides as it gives youngsters access to sports they would not otherwise discover free of charge. And as Christine explained in an impromptu but inspirational speech to the youngsters from the area, once the opportunity is there it is up to every youngster to grasp the nettle.
"You can take a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink," she said. "I'm from a big family of six brothers and just two girls but our parents always brought us up to work and learn to earn your place in the world. Nothing's going to be given to you. You have to go out and get it.
"You have opportunities in life. We have opportunities to make our life better or worse, and from a very young age I decided I was going to make my life better by playing for England. That was my dream, and that's what kept me focused and kept me going; if I wasn't so dedicated and relentless and striving to be an England netball player I might not be the athlete I am today. I might not be as stubbornly determined as I am, that makes me want to go out and win."
Camacho's is a similar story of discovering his vocation through sport. A promising footballer on West Ham's books and basketball player with the London Leopards, it was not until he took up boxing that he came upon his true calling. Even though he only started at the age of 20, he realised boxing was the perfect fit for him.
"Having programmes like this helps kids want to go and do something interesting rather than hanging around on the streets"
"I used to be a bit naughty at school," the 27-year-old admitted. "But I used to have too much energy. Boxing was the perfect release for me, and I never had any problems after that because I could channel all my energy and tension. Boxing gave me motivation, self-discipline and a new direction. As it turned out I was pretty good at it and now I have won Prizefighter and I'm aiming higher and higher."
Camacho, who now has the British Cruiserweight title in his sights, hopes that his story can help inspire other youngsters to take up a sport, if not professionally, to help give them focus and keep them on the straight and narrow.
"The great thing about PL4S is having the support around you. I come from a pretty hard background - I've got six older sisters, I had to do it the hard way - but this initiative is great because the kids have got the support I didn't have. All they need is a bit of guidance, which they get here, to achieve the goals they want to achieve in a whole variety of different sports.
"If you're not focused and you don't have goals, and you've got the wrong influences on you when you're young, you can take the wrong path, but having programmes like this helps kids want to go and do something interesting rather than hanging around on the streets."
Vicky Ohuruogu has followed in the rapid footsteps of her elder sister and at the age of 20 has been selected for Great Britain's 400m relay squad for the first time. Her elder sibling clearly had a positive influence on her although she insists her calling came when, at the age of 14, she read about a Tessa Sanderson Gold Day taking place nearby.
"The power of the Premier League badge opens doors we would never be able to open for table tennis"
"One summer I had nothing else to do so I just came down to the track," she explained. "I happened to meet my first coach Coral, who's here helping with the launch, and I just started from there, really."
The youngsters gathered at Newham were not the only people taken with the athletes, all of whom hail from nearby, and two of whom were about to take part in the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium, Stratford, half a mile down the road. The NGB representatives were clearly impressed by both the stars in the room and the programme as a whole.
Mark Willerton, English Table Tennis Association National Programme Manager, summed up the impact PL4S has had on sports such as his.
"Events like this are fantastic, and it's great to see elite athletes supporting the programme," he said. "I've been involved since Day 1, and this programme for table tennis has been phenomenal. The power of the Premier League badge opens doors that we would never be able to open for table tennis. At local level when I've seen Robin van Persie, for Arsenal, with a table-tennis bat in his hand on a club poster in a school, the kids turn up."
"We could never do that off our own steam and that power is phenomenal. It's hard to measure but the impact has been so quick. We’ve never had a project that's had the highest numbers in such a short space of time in getting kids playing. We've just never had it before - it's unprecedented."
If Christine speaks well off the track she is still just as impressive on it. A week after explaining to the kids from her native East End how they can achieve their goals with hard work and dedication she was proving her point by powering to victory at the London Anniversary Games in front of 60,000 screaming fans at the Olympic Stadium.
She has since been named captain of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for next month's World Championships in Russia. Further proof, if any were needed, of what can be achieved when you set your mind to something.
For more information on the PL4S programme opportunities being delivered by WHU community sports trust contact their PL4S co-ordinator Sham Motin – firstname.lastname@example.org