Olympic fever grips Chichester district with team GB hopefuls and sporting awards

Bognor's Emma Wiggs.'''C120193-1 Bog Feb16 Emma
Bognor's Emma Wiggs.'''C120193-1 Bog Feb16 Emma

With the Olympics now tantalisingly under six months away, there has been plenty of hype surrounding the local legacies which might realistically be forged.

Having been fortunate enough to experience the sheer euphoria surrounding the Sydney Games back in 2000, I’ve seen first hand just how much of a difference hosting a globally-renowned event can truly offer a host nation.

Gemma Spofforth with her gold medal after winning the women's 100m Backstroke during the British Gas Swimming Championships at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park, London.

Gemma Spofforth with her gold medal after winning the women's 100m Backstroke during the British Gas Swimming Championships at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park, London.

And we are fortunate that there are a number of talented hopefuls who are set to make Team GB from across the Observer area – from star swimmer Gemma Spofforth, whose family are in Slindon, fencer Tom Hendrie in Midhurst through to school teacher Emma Wiggs at The Regis School in Bognor, who is expected to be part of the Paralympic sitting volleyball team and will doubtless all prove invaluable role models for the next generation.

When you add into the mix the fact that the Games’ symbolic torch is set to pass through the area on July 16, there’s a sense of genuine anticipation building up across the county.

There are, of course, those who would swiftly knock its value and question the billions it will cost to stage.

Yet it seems despite government shortfalls in funding that have cut short programmes such as free swimming schemes, there’s plenty going on in our area in the build-up to, and surrounding the games.

Both Arun and Chichester districts are in the midst of planning a vibrant mix of community events and this summer is set to be hugely memorable.

Then there’s the significant issue of its potential boost of millions to Chichester and Arun’s tourism economy through increased visitor numbers and games supplies contracts being awarded.

So it is little wonder the annual Chichester district youth sport achievement awards have attracted an even greater level of interest this year.

Nominations have been flooding in from clubs, community groups and individuals clamouring to put forward worthy candidates across its seven categories.

Despite many schools facing ongoing budgetary pressures which have affected curriculum offerings, there may never be a greater opportunity to instill in our younger generations a passion for sport. Certainly, it seems those who are behind the awards have demonstrated an infectious dedication.

Ben Polhill, Chichester District Council’s physical activity and development officer, believes the area’s youth sporting awards continue to serve a valuable purpose.

Another mini Olympics is also being hosted by Chichester University in May. More than 300 primary school children are set to design flamboyant sports kit and represent nations of the world. Such active engagement is hoped to prove a catalyst for far greater sporting participation for both children and their parents as well.

“We’ve had a really positive response to this year’s awards so far from sports clubs, youth clubs and we would love to hear even more people’s stories.

“This is an opportunity to show off some of the fantastic things that young people in our area are doing,” says Ben of the annual event, which also feature a volunteer of the year accolade.

To this end they are calling on everyone to nominate those coaches and trainers who put in the hours of work behind the scenes without any fuss and fanfare, yet without whom sports teams might not function.

As Ben, who plays for Chichester Rugby Club, reveals, he’s found his role greatly rewarding since joining the council nearly a decade ago. One of the key elements of his post has been in outreach sports programmes within schools which have proved instrumental in encouraging young people.

“When I’m playing rugby here in Chichester at Oaklands Park I think just how lucky we are to be living in a place in site of the cathedral.

“We have a lot of sporting talent here.

“There are a number of people who have won or been nominated for the youth achievement award and gone on to do very well, including Joel Ward at Portsmouth Football Club, Danny Gray, who has played for England rugby sevens, and fencer Tom Hendrie, who should be at the Olympics.

“We’ve a number of events going on surrounding the Olympics which I hope will capture people’s imagination. We are holding a another sports festival event in Oaklands Park in September – people will have seen the events on TV and will have a chance to try some themselves.

“People might not think they can do it, but we will have opportunities with many sports groups volunteering their time on the day without whom we could not do it.”