THE mother of Scots tennis ace Andy Murray has called on politicians to double PE lessons to four hours per week to improve Scotland's sporting prowess, reduce obesity and improve rates of childhood health.
In an open letter to The Scotsman today, Judy Murray - whose son Andy is ranked fourth in the world - insists the nation's hopes on the sports field were drowning "in a diet of chip fat served up with an unhealthy dollop of youth and parental indifference to exercise".
Ms Murray, the former head coach of Tennis Scotland, hits out at the low levels of children's participation in sport and calls on politicians of all parties to act now and ease pressure on the Scottish Government's health budget caused by childhood obesity.
She writes: "As a parent and sports coach, I appreciate only too well the benefits that a healthy attitude to food, drink and exercise offers children and adults alike - whatever one's sporting ambitions. So after more than 40 years' involvement in sport, it's with dismay I continue to read that almost 50 per cent of Scotland's primary-age children still fail to enjoy regular access to PE.
"Combine that with the alarming drop-out rate by youths from sport and it is clear that urgent remedial action is required if Scotland's aspirations - on and off the sports field - are not to drown in a diet of chip fat served up with an unhealthy dollop of youth and parental indifference to exercise."
And she adds: "Personally, I would like to see a minimum of four hours' specialist primary-school PE education delivered every week. After all, it's in our early years that we develop the co-ordination skills to help our enjoyment of - and ability - in a multitude of sports.
"This in turn develops the all-important character trait of self-confidence."
In her letter, Ms Murray also points to a recent study that shows only 15 per cent of children took regular exercise and only one in three teenage girls continues in organised sport beyond the age of 16.
"While political parties announce health care reforms, free prescription charges, etc, surely many health problems could be avoided if we simply maximised our efforts to encourage a healthier nation - and stopped finding excuses.
"What astounds me is that practical solutions can be found - but these must be driven through by political, educational and parental will! Now is the time for strong leaders to recognise the need for a serious review of the obstacles, including whatever prevents Scotland's primary aged kids enjoying at least two hours of PE a week in school …
"Most kids will dream of success on the world sporting stage. Very few will ever make it on to the podium, but if we can create the right opportunities, including after-school sport, an endless supply of positive encouragement and praising of effort rather than success, he or she can at least aspire to be the best they can be."
The Curriculum for Excellence has the aim that all schools should provide two hours of PE each week. However, recent figures showed only 55 per cent of primary schools had hit the target, a rise from just 5 per cent in 2004-5. Meanwhile, 60 per cent of secondary schools currently offer two full periods of PE each week - a target Ms Murray wants to see doubled.
Yesterday, Shona Robison, the Sports Minister and SNP candidate for Dundee City East, said: "We welcome Judy Murray's call for youngsters to be given the opportunity for more sporting activity."
Ms Murray, from Dunblane, said she wrote the letter to focus the minds of political candidates.She explained: "I firmly believe more Scots can be fitter, healthier and stronger - equipped to get the best out of life on and off the sports field."
SportScotland said last night: "We believe sport makes a unique contribution to life in Scotland and our mission is to encourage everyone to discover and develop their own sporting experience, helping to increase participation and improve performances in Scottish sport."