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Ex-England captain Jason Robinson on a mission to keep kids active through pandemic

HE scored the crucial try at the 2003 World Cup, burnt the Wallabies with his pace on the 2001 Lions tour and won the Premiership title with Sale, as well as playing top-level Rugby League.

But Jason Robinson doubts he would have achieved any of those things had physical education in schools been in the same state as it is today when he was growing up in Leeds.

At a time when there is ban on youth grassroots sport, the dual code international is lobbying the government to take PE more seriously and help combat rising levels of obesity and prevent a mental health crisis.

Robinson is part of an Association for PE task force aimed at restoring the subject at the front and centre of the school curriculum, while also promoting a new App, called PE Pro, which has been designed by health professionals to enable teachers to deliver more engaging lessons in a variety of sporting and wellbeing disciplines.

Now a successful businessman and brand ambassador, Robinson fears a generation of potential sports stars of the future, from the type of deprived area he grew up in, could be lost if action isn’t taken.

“I got into rugby because of a schoolteacher. Had it not been for that teacher, Mr Aspinall, in Beeston, who knows, would my path have been the same?” he said.

“I don’t come from a sporting family, so PE for me at school was massive. It was the only place where I felt I could be something, I wasn’t academic and I’d always be at the bottom of the class, but when it came to PE all of a sudden I found a new confidence and people saw me in a different life.

“People don’t realise how shy I was  and how I struggled growing up, but through PE and sport, I ended up being an England captain, being a club captain, being on Lions tours and winning a World Cup. It taught me so many things, about resilience, about working together, leadership and health and wellbeing. Now I am using those skills in business.

“I still don’t think I’ve passed an exam in my life but what I’ve achieved through rugby has given me confidence.”

Robinson has been working in schools for years, alongside former RL player, Ryan Hudson, to help promote PE.

“When you look at the next month (of lockdown), where are children going to get activity from? The chances are if they’re not getting it at school, they’ll be gaming at home,” he said.

“Not all kids can access sports activities for a variety of reasons – whether it’s the cost, not being able to get there or a lack of encouragement.

“For me, PE should be a core subject, it should be taught at least 60 minutes a day, and we’ve been lobbying the government to make it that.

“It teaches you basic skills you need in life. Take swimming, for example, something like 44 per cent of children can’t swim 25 metres by the age of 11. If they fall into a canal, Maths and English aren’t going to help.”

Robinson was famed for his famous sidestep on the pitch, but he doesn’t dodge questions about England’s conservative tactical approach in last week’s win over Italy.

England kicked the ball more than 40 times in open play and were heavily criticised as a result despite doing enough to win their third Six Nations title in five years.

“You’re preaching to the converted,” he said. “When they’ve got the players that they’ve got, you don’t have to kick the ball as much; there should be a lot more running. Keep the ball in hand and keep teams under pressure.

“Was it England’s best performance? No, but we needed to get five points and we got the job done.”

JON NEWCOMBE

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