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16 May 2005

A Gold Card scheme operating in North Wales has been accorded a huge ovation from athletes.

The scheme – designed to provide talented athletes with free or low-cost access to sporting facilities across the North – was launched in December 2003 and recent findings confirm that card holders have reaped significant benefits since its conception.

The Gold Card is the result of a working partnership between local authorities and the Sports Council for Wales. The idea emerged at a conference in Llandudno in July 2002 which examined the problems that face talented athletes in the North and looked at ways of achieving practical solutions. Nearly 200 talented and committed athletes were selected to drive forward success in the area and improve performance sport.

Since then, they have enjoyed access to a range of facilities free of charge, or at a reduced rate, including those that are local authority owned, lottery funded, as well as some private facilities such as golf clubs.

Among those profiting from the scheme and developing their talents are hockey star Andrew Seimann (Llandudno), disabled athlete Andrew Williams (Mold) and sailor Kate Williams (Caernarfon).

The evaluation noted that almost 90% of athletes have seen an improvement in their performance as a result of the Gold Card, and almost 80% feel that the scheme meets their training needs. Benefits include improved access to facilities and improved fitness and performance; however the overriding benefit was financial.

Athletes noted that they would not have been able to train as often without the card and have been reaping the rewards of extra training sessions.

Conwy figure skater Chloe Walker is the current Welsh Champion and credits her recent successes to the scheme. The financial benefits have afforded the ten-year-old two extra lessons a week, helping her on her way to the British Championships.

Flintshire badminton star Caroline Harvey admits to training harder since she was awarded the card in January 2004 and has seen her performance improve as a result. Access to extra facilities at no extra cost has kept the Welsh squad member at the top of her game and taken her to Welsh national singles titles at under-17 and under-19 level.

The Sports Council for Wales Director of National Development Services Graham Davies said:

"We are delighted with the results of the evaluation. Local authorities in North Wales are to be congratulated on this initiative. To achieve the highest level requires massive commitment and competitors deserve all the support they can get."