ACROSS the dispatch box he was a legend, but could Tony Blair score a result with Sunderland’s schoolchildren?
The former PM showed off his keepy-up skills when he made a flying visit to the city as part of his new grass-roots sports campaign.
Mr Blair went to Castle View Enterprise Academy, in Castletown, yesterday to promote his Sport Foundation’s new Coaches for Clubs initiative, which is inspired by the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.
There he met children, teachers and people involved in sport. Students showed off their talents in sports such as rowing, long jump and basketball and had the chance to talk to the former Sedgefield MP.
He said: “The Olympics is going to be the biggest focus for sport in the whole world for 2012 and that shouldn’t just be about the top-level athletes.
“It’s also got to be about grass-roots sports and the key to grass-roots sports are volunteers and coaches.
“The Sports Foundation’s Coaches for Clubs campaign will inspire people to become volunteers and coaches and that will give thousands of children and young people access to sport.
“The great thing about this campaign is that it gives young people an opportunity to get involved in sport, young people who otherwise wouldn’t have that chance.”
The Middle East envoy also presented a trophy to the children and gave a short address in the school building.
Mr Blair said: “The North East is a very special to me as I spent a lot of my political career up here. When I stepped down from Parliament I wanted to come back after all the support I received.
“We have a great group of people involved and some great athletes supporting us and they help because this is about growing grass-roots sport.
“The kids here have a lot of self-belief and determination and at this academy you can really see that discipline and a quality of teaching are present.”
The campaign aims to inspire 365 North East residents to sign up to be a sports coach and to encourage community organisations and sports clubs to increase participation.
The impact has already been felt at Castle View Academy as the partner scheme, the Tony Blair Sport Foundation for Business, has already recruited volunteers from local businesses and placed them into the school
Janet Bridges, principal of the academy, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Tony Blair is here to see the fruits of the work his foundation is doing.
“It is very important that high-profile people come and take a look at the grass roots and it will be very inspiring for the children.”
Other organisations which are involved in the campaign include the Sunderland AFC Foundation, which aims to inspire and motivate young people in the area.
Lesley Spuhler, chief executive of the foundation, said: “For many of our young trainers the Tony Blair Foundation has supported them and has paid for some of their fees.
“The whole idea is about getting people volunteering – we run a number of football teams who are really dependant on volunteers.
“Things are much tighter now around sport and someone like Tony Blair helps keep football and other sports on the agenda when things are being cut.”
Mr Blair was in Sunderland as part of a tour of the region, which also included visits to Lanchester Lawn Tennis Club in Durham, Benfield School in Newcastle, and the Durham Wildcats Basketball Club in Newton Aycliffe.