Grassroots sport needs more cash, football trust boss says

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Media captionNeil Ward of the FAW Trust says investment in facilities is fundamental for grassroots sport

Grassroots sport needs more money to ensure more people are physically active, according to Welsh football’s development arm.

Neil Ward, chief executive of the Football Association of Wales Trust, said the diminishing sports budget was leading to “unrealistic” expectations.

The Welsh Government said it was “totally committed to making Wales a more healthy and active nation”.

But its funding via Sport Wales has fallen by 14% in the past seven years.

Mr Ward told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Wales programme he was concerned about the limit to what could be achieved with the Sport Wales budget of about £22m a year.

His comments came a year after Wales’ historic quarter-final win over Belgium at Euro 2016.

Mr Ward said the FAW had committed to investing its profit from the tournament – about £4m – in infrastructure projects which would benefit grassroots football in Wales.

But he said more public money was needed too.

“The government is going to be asking the sport sector to do more with the £20m that it presently receives, and to expect sport to do even more with what is a diminishing budget is unrealistic.”

Image caption Euro 2016 helped inspire another 2,000 boys and girls take up football

“This is a public health issue,” Mr Ward added.

“If we don’t protect the facilities we get, if we continue to increase facility charges, it means those who are less well will have to pay more.

“They’re probably going to disengage further from physical activity and we know there are a million people in Wales who are physically inactive.”

The FAW Trust said the number of registered young players in Wales had increased over the past year with 900 more boys playing the game and 1,100 more girls.

Former Wales international and FAW Trust board member Prof Laura McAllister told the programme the biggest problem was finding places for them to play.

“It’s no good them being enthused by Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen if then when they go out and try and play there aren’t sufficient pitches for them to enjoy the game,” she said.

“There was a lot of celebration amongst our politicians as much as amongst the public for the success that we saw in the Euros but there has to come a time where we put our money where our mouths are.”

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Image caption Gareth Bale celebrates his Euro 2016 goal for Wales against Russia

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “What we must continue to focus on is looking at different ways of working together to maximise our investment in sport and physical activity, and deliver greater outcomes so we translate existing participation levels into lifelong physical activity habits and encourage those who live a sedentary lifestyle to become more active.

“We also recognise the importance of ensuring that there are better quality facilities for people to take part in sport and physical activity and are undertaking a facility review so we gain a better understanding of our priorities for the future.”

A spokesman for Sport Wales, which distributes the Welsh Government’s sports funding, said it had invested in schemes to develop new artificial pitches and further spending has been committed.

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