FORMER Prime Minister Tony Blair has given a personal tour of the Olympic Stadium to a group of schoolchildren and coaches from the North East.
The ex-Sedgefield MP welcomed children, including 16 pupils from Darras Hall Primary School, in Northumberland, and Rockcliffe School, in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, to the site as it nears completion.
The trip was a reward for youngsters who took part in or won competitions in tennis, rowing and athletics organised through the Tony Blair Sports Foundation.
The children from Darras Hall Primary were recognised for winning the foundation’s Tennis Challenge Cup Competition for the third year.
Also visiting the stadium were champion indoor rowers, including Millie Dickinson, from Hexham Middle School, Northumberland, Amy McCarthy, from Kingsmeadow School, Gateshead, and Dan Pearson, from New College, Durham.
The children were taken on a personal tour of the stadium by Olympic gold medalist Seb Coe before speaking to the former Prime Minister about his career and the staging of the 2012 Games.
Mr Blair said: “I am delighted to be able to bring our Tony Blair Sports Foundation competition winners and some of their coaches to the Olympic Park – and what better way to see it than to get a tour from such an inspirational athlete as Seb Coe.
“It is also fantastic to see the amazing job Seb and the whole 2012 team have done to get the games ready on time and on budget.
“What we’re working on with the Tony Blair Sports Foundation is ensuring that there is a sporting legacy for the North East from the Games.”
Mr Blair, who also met coaches and volunteers, said he hoped that a sense of national pride will be felt by the time the Games begin next year, despite complaints that the event is too London- focused.
“The truth is that this is going to be in London,” he said. “I understand that people of the North East and parts of the country may feel that it is a bit distant.
“One of the reasons I have had all these children down from the North East is because we are using the Olympics to inspire young people in the North East and when this happens it is going to be a British event.
“It is going to be the biggest sporting event in the world, we will be doing it and it will be in Britain.
“I hope that sense of pride comes through for everybody and not just people in London.”
The Tony Blair Sports Foundation aims to plug the gap left by the shortage of much-needed coaches, officials and volunteers at grassroots sports clubs across the region.
Last month it launched a Coaches for Clubs campaign to inspire people to become volunteers, coaches and officials for children’s sport in their communities.