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Fight against obesity to link with Olympics

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Over 90 councils plan to wage war on obesity in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games by using the event to offer free or cheap access to local sports facilities.

The authorities have expressed interest in a Local Government Association plan to secure an official London games sponsor for a national weekend of cheap access to facilities, which is expected to increase use by 30-50%.

It is anticipated that the plan will help to counter criticism the games will solely benefit London and the south-east. Leading figures from the world of sport will be used to promote the offer.

The LGA had hoped to implement the scheme by the August bank holiday weekend, when London officially succeeds Beijing as Olympic host, but the proposal has been postponed for a year to allow more time to sign a sponsor. It could operate on an occasional basis until 2012.

Chris White (Lib Dem), chair of the LGA culture, tourism and sport board, said: “We always knew it would be a bit of a rush to find a sponsor this year, but we thought it was worth trying.

“It’s not wasted effort, as it has shown that councils are up for exploiting the 2012 games.”

Cllr White said sponsorship worth around£500,000 would be needed to run the scheme next year, possibly linked to a day three years or 1,000 days before the opening ceremony.

Sue Sutton, chief executive of the Institute for Sport, Parks & Leisure, said: “This sounds like a good idea, but you need to reach people who do not do sport. They will need an extra incentive to turn up, such as an appearance by a sports icon.”

Many councils offer free or discounted access to sports facilities, but usually only to specific groups.

Manchester, which the Office for National Statistics said last week had the lowest male life expectancy in England and Wales, offers free swimming for the over-60s.

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