By Mike Rowbottom in Hatfield

school_games1_17-06-11June 17 - Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, strutted his stuff on stage at the launch of the School Games here today - and maintained that the new event, which the Government is introducing in place of the old UK School Games, will "bring the magic of the Olympics" to pupils throughout the country.

Hunt, who energetically compered the opening ceremony at the University of Hertfordshire, conceded that the funding cuts in school sport announced, and only partially revoked, by the Education secretary Michael Gove, had made life harder.

"It's very difficult," he told insidethegames after conducting interviews with sporting figures, including Olympians Darren Campbell and Mark Richardson and Paralympian Ade Adepitan for the benefit of a hall packed with enthusiastic pupils.

"The reality is that across the whole of the public sector we are having to learn to do more with less.

"To be perfectly frank this would not be possible without the commitment and dedication of parents, coaches, people who work for the Youth Sports Trust, people who work in the schools.

"But I think what we saw today was this incredible enthusiasm to make something work and to make sure we have a real sporting legacy from the Olympics.

"I know it's been a very choppy period but I'm optimistic that we'll get something exciting that comes out of this.

"So far nearly 4,000 schools have signed up, and we want to try to reach every school in the country.

"We want to make sure this isn't just something for top schools and specialist sports colleges, but also to make sure it gets to schools where maybe they don't do huge amounts of sport."

The Government has pledged £20 million ($32 million) to the new Games, which are due to start in earnest in September and will run at least until 2015.

This gathering at the Hertfordshire Sports Village, organised by the Herts Sports Partnership, was the first of nine regional pilot events.

There will be two levels below county competition - within schools and between schools - and national finals will also be held, with the first due to take place in the Olympic Stadium shortly before the London 2012 Opening Ceremony with an expected crowd of at least 10,000.

As children from schools across the Hertfordshire region set to work on volleyball and touch rugby, the grey skies above helpfully showering the latter sporting activity, Hunt added that the new version of School Games would be laying more emphasis on competition, but also introducing the first really effective strategy to create competition in which the able-bodied and disabled can compete on equal terms.

"I think competition and participation are complementary," he said.

"We need to get rid of the prizes-for-all culture.

"Because one of the most important things about sport is to teach young people to cope with disappointments and failure and to pick themselves up and try again.

"If you give prizes for all then you undermine that very important part of what sport is all about.

"But we also need everyone to experience what sport can do for them, even if they don't have amazing ability, and I put myself in that category.

"You don't have to be a Paula Radcliffe to get enormous satisfaction from sport."

Baroness Sue Campbell, chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust, which will be helping to deliver the new-style Games, confirmed that there had been an ideological shift from participation to competition within the domain of school sports.

And she warned that there were still major logistical factors to overcome.

"It's an absolute focus now on competition," she told insidethegames.

"Whereas before there was a much wider focus on trying to get participation.

"Competition was an important part of that but it wasn't central as it is now.

"The money that's going into it is supporting an infrastructure of people to create these four levels of competition that we are trying to get off the ground - intra school, inter school, county and national finals.

"The Secretary of State for Education has now released teachers for one day a week rather than cutting their previous level of two days a week down to nothing, so that is something good.

"And although the old system of partnership managers working five days a week has gone, there has been funding for 450 organisers working three days a week.

"So there's reduced time and a more focused piece of work.

"I think some of the challenges for the School Games are going to be the very obvious ones that have been there a long time.

"You know, finding sufficient volunteers to manage all of this, transport issues.

"They are going to be some of the big issues.

"They've been there forever.

"Because of the amount of competition, the challenges will be greater.

"I think that is one of the things we have still to work out how we are going to overcome.

"We'll do it by doing it, I reckon."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
April 2011: Sainsbury's keen to continue School Games sponsorship
March 2011: Schools urged to sign up for competitive sport as entries for new School Games opened
February 2011: Final of first School Games to be held before London 2012 Hunt reveals
February 2011: Culture Secretary set to unveil plans for School Games
January 2011: Steve Grainger - Why there is renewed hope for school sport in 2011 despite extreme challenges