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UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport (EIS), together with the major football authorities including LFE, are offering released apprentices and first year professional players the chance to take up a new challenge and switch their talents to targeted Olympic sports.

Pitch2Podium aims to provide young football players (aged 18-22 years), who have not yet secured a professional football contract, a unique opportunity to succeed in an alternative Olympic sport.

Chelsea Warr, UK Sport’s Talent Identification lead said:

“Football is the largest hot-bed of athletic talent in England and many of these players leaving the professional game would already have developed the ready-made skills and abilities we’d be looking for. These, along with the right coaching and support system, would give them the potential to be fast-tracked toward the medal rostrum in 2012.”

Through the new programme, UK Sport, the EIS and the football authorities have invited over 1,000 young academy players recently released from Premier League and Football League clubs to attend one of two Olympic Talent Assessment Events in early July. If successful, they will progress through to further, more sport specific assessment events.

Pitch 2 Podium

There are already several high-profile examples of athletes successfully transferring out of football into Olympic sports, including Darren Campbell, Olympic gold medal winning athlete and former player for Plymouth Argyle.

“What a fantastic opportunity for these players,” said Campbell. “It’s not easy when a young footballer is faced with the reality that they might never get a professional contract and – for maybe the first time in their lives – having to consider a ‘Plan B’. This programme may be the natural choice for many given the opportunity. Throughout their time in football, they’ve trained hard and are disciplined, providing them with a solid grounding for a potential future in Olympic sport.”

It has long been a challenge for the authorities within football to ensure that they provide the appropriate support and transition opportunities during the sensitive annual exit period.

PFA Chairman Chris Powell added:

“Each year, hundreds of young footballers have their dreams shattered and all we can do is ensure that they prepare for what they may consider as the worst case scenario. The football authorities and their clubs do what they can to look after the player’s welfare, but they can’t create opportunities.

“This is where Pitch2Podium programme is unique and goes some way towards rewarding the players for their focus and commitment to training, offering them an exclusive opportunity to continue in elite sport.”

While track and field athletics is one of the obvious recipient sports that may benefit, there are others that believe the footballer’s ready-made skills and abilities can apply to the Olympic environment.

British Hockey has already shown great interest in taking on football recruits if they meet the required standards, with a particular interest in taking on those with goalkeeping talents.

At the same time, British Cycling is interested in tapping into this hot-bed of athletic talent to further contribute to their increasingly successful talent transfer initiatives – which has already made an Olympic champion out of former rower Chris Hoy, who rowed for Scotland and won silver in the British Championships silver in the Junior coxless pairs.

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