Saturday 24 February 2018

TV screens to go blank for an hour in bid to get viewers off the sofa and outside exercising with Olympians

Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Andre de Grasse of Canada smile as they compete. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes
Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Andre de Grasse of Canada smile as they compete. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Gordon Rayner and Tom Morgan

Britain’s television screens will go blank next week to encourage people to get outside and play sport as part of the official celebrations of Team GB’s historic Olympic success.

ITV in Britain will suspend all broadcasting for the first time in its history for an hour on Saturday, August 27, as 2,000 sports clubs throw open their doors to anyone who wants to try out a new sport.

Anyone turning on their TV will see messages such as “We’ve gone running - why don’t you join us?”

Dozens of Olympic medalists and competitors will be at clubs up and down the country to help show people the basics of everything from sailing to javelin.

Britain’s biggest sports day has been arranged by the National Lottery, which funds Team GB’s athletes, instead of the open-top bus tour that followed London 2012.

Team GB want as many athletes to be accessible to as many people as possible all over the country, rather than concentrating the celebration on London.

They also hope to inspire a new generation of Olympians as part of the legacy of Rio 2016, already the most successful Games for GB on foreign soil.

Among the athletes who have already signed up to take part is long jumper Greg Rutherford, the London 2012 gold medalist, who took bronze in the competition at Rio 2016.

He said the giant sports day would be an “amazing chance” for people of all ages to feel part of GB’s Olympic success, adding: “You don’t have to be an Olympian to be part of Team GB.”

The event will be called I Am Team GB, because everyone who buys a lottery ticket is helping to fund Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians through UK Sport’s £80 million per year programme.

Lottery funding enables 1,300 athletes to train full-time who would otherwise have to train in their spare time while supporting themselves with a regular job.

As well as the 2,000 grass roots sports clubs that will be opening their doors, 14 regional centres will include London 2012 venues, football and athletics stadiums.

ITV will also be setting up a badminton court and table tennis tables on the set of Coronation Street for the public to use, and a duathlon (running and cycling) will take place in Yorkshire around the villages where Emmerdale is filmed.

Actors from both soap operas, as well as other celebrities such as Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon, will be involved on the day.

Andy Duncan, Chief Executive of the National Lottery operator Camelot, said: “Ultimately everyone who buys a National Lottery ticket is hoping to win a prize. But the other part is how money goes to good causes – a chunk of it to sport.

“So as for all the medals being won in Rio...if you've bought a ticket, you've made that happen.”

Although the National Lottery numbers are chosen live on BBC Television, ITV’s ability to advertise I Am Team GB made the channel the natural choice, according to insiders.

“The hope is that we can get as many athletes as possible to take part,” said a spokesman for the event. “It’s also a chance for them to come home and be recognised by the public who have idolised them during the Games and to join in the celebrations.”

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