Jaguar Academy of Sport and the next generation of sports heroes

Published: 20 April 2010

The icons backing Jaguar’s Academy of Sport have triumphed at the highest level. Their collective achievements include 54 Olympic and world championship medals, 10 F1 podiums and a Le Mans win, England’s most successful cricket captain and our most prolific wicket taker, plus the rugby player voted the greatest of all time. And Champions League-wining footballers David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, along with Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, couldn’t make it. Welcome to the launch of the Academy of Sport, in the Jaguar boutique at London’s Berkeley hotel.

Jaguar has established the Academy of Sport to help the next generation of British stars emulate Dame Kelly Holmes, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Ian Botham, Gareth Edwards and Michael Vaughan, England’s most successful cricket captain. Jaguar is creating a trust fund to support promising sportsmen and women, aged 14 to 17. Some 20-30 athletes will receive grants in the first year, to help fund their development. The first grants will be announced in the next few weeks.

Danvers and Ennis: today’s athletics stars

Gathered around Jaguar’s new XJ limousine, there’s much buzz about the Olympics taking place in this city in just two years. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis and 400m hurdler Natasha Danvers are two of the Brits who will hopefully shine in 2012.  

‘The Olympics is the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, but the Olympics in your own country, in my home city – it doesn’t get any better than that,’ says 33-year-old Danvers.

Jessica Ennis, who recently won gold at the World Championships, talks of the funding battle for young people. ‘Until you get known, you don’t get that much support. It’s not that Britain hasn’t got talented young athletes, we just need to identify them and support them. Spikes are £90 a pair, and you might need seven pairs. That’s a lot of money for a young athlete.’

Countdown to 2012

The London games might be two years away, but the clock is ticking for every athlete. ‘I’m working on the technical aspects of the long jump: my jump strength and speed and trying to improve my body,’ says heptahlete Ennis. ‘If you’re going to make any changes, you have to do them now.’

Olympic legends: Sir Steve Redgrave and Dame Kelly Holmes

The Academy of Sport patrons – including Sir Steve Redgrave and Dame Kelly Holmes – will sift through the nominees and decide which candidates get funding.   

‘The people are out there, we have to find them and get them into our sports and make them into world beaters,’ says Sir Steve, the only Briton to have won five gold medals at consecutive Olympic games.
 
‘[In the Olympics, Britain] has a history of underperforming at the highest level. But now we are getting the preparation right, and getting the funding to take them to the same level as other countries. We got 19 gold medals in Beijing; I think we will top that in 2012. But once that’s over and the decade of sport drifts away, we have to make sure the people it inspired achieve in years to come. The Academy of Sport is one way to ensure that happens,’ says the rower.

Dame Kelly Holmes came back from injury to win gold in both the 800m and 1500m at Athens in 2004. ‘We have to believe 2012 is going to be the best games ever, and it’s what we do off the back of it that’s important. Jaguar Academy of Sport is a fantastic piece in the puzzle.

‘It’s a focal point for young people aspiring to be the best they can. There’s a lot of investment in sport right now, but not enough is filtering down to the grass roots level. I’m pleased to be a patron and I hope to get to talk to young people and give them some inspiration. Two years before the 2012 games, Jaguar is standing up to back this country’s future talent,’ says Dame Kelly.

Rugby, cricket and F1 heroes: Edwards, Botham and Brundle

Gareth Edwards, Welsh rugby and British Lions hero in the ‘70s, says it takes funding initiatives like the Academy of Sport to take British sport to the next level. ‘The 2003 Rugby World Cup showed we could beat teams from the southern hemisphere but I don’t think we’ve built on that. The resources and the support Jaguar can give young kids, hopefully we can be beating the best more regularly.’

‘Don’t underestimate the inspiration that the people in this room give to young people. If Wales wins a grand slam, everyone’s out on the streets wanting to be rugby players. Make people want to be rowers, athletes: today’s young people want to emulate gold medalists. Let’s hope for a bright future, a golden future.’

Sir Ian Botham, England’s most prolific wicket taker, is naturally vocal about sport as a positive social force. ‘Kids are better off being on a track or a sports field than on a street corner. So much talent is left undiscovered, people don’t get the chance to achieve. Academy of Sport is the springboard we need.

‘Parents play an important role, say in getting kids to the pool at 5.30am. I was lucky: my parents were willing to make sacrifices. That applies to cricket, motorsport, athletics. This scheme is trying to give more kids that support. Perhaps £2-3000 doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re a kid trying to go swimming at 5am, it makes a difference.’

Martin Brundle won the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours at the wheel of the Jaguar XJR-12. ‘Britain is a mecca for junior motorsport, and many of the cars on the F1 grid are built in this country. But it’s become much more competitive, and we’ve got to raise our game.’

The ex-F1 racer and current pundit kows how hard it is to find the next Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton. ‘If you have the talent, you get through, I used to say. Now it costs about £4m to go from karting to junior formulae series to knocking on the door of F1. My son is in Formula 3 this year, and I’m having to find £450,000 to do a season –and that’s on the cheap.’

>> For more on the Jaguar Academy of Sport, go to: www.jaguaracademyofsport.co.uk

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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