A relaxed looking Tony Blair today returned to the North-East for the first time since taking up his new role as Middle East envoy to launch his own sports foundation.

The former prime minister was in his old Sedgefield constituency to formally launch The Tony Blair Sports Foundation.

Mr Blair sees the foundation as a way of giving something back to his former constituents in County Durham and the wider North-East.

He said he was passionate about sport and children were the future of Britain, so he has combined both in his new foundation.

Speaking at the launch at a leisure centre in Newton Aycliffe, Mr Blair said: "It is a tremendous honour to be back in my former constituency. I owe it so much for what I have achieved in public life. I wanted to set up a sports foundation in the north-east to put something back and to do something for young people.

"Children really enjoy sport if they are given a chance."

In addition to launching the foundation, an indoor rowing Champions Challenge was also launched.

Wearing a black sports top, tracksuit bottoms and white trainers, Mr Blair encouraged a group of young children who were competing on rowing machines in a team relay race, before playing a game of tennis.

Mr Blair said that he played sport as a child but after entering adulthood he did not play again for another 20 years.

"I took up tennis at 40 and now sport is a big part of my life," he said.

Joining Mr Blair at the launch was double Olympic gold medal-winning rower James Cracknell, Olympic and world champion athlete Steve Cram, Great North Run supremo Brendan Foster and Lawn Tennis Association chief Roger Draper.

Gathered in the audience of schoolchildren, civic dignitaries and local businessmen was Phil Wilson - Mr Blair's successor as Sedgefield MP - and former Government colleague Hilary Armstrong, who is Labour MP for North West Durham.

The foundation, which is backed by more than 100,000 of donations from businesses, will initially focus on tennis, rowing, athletics and football and aims to encourage young people from across the north-east of England to take up sport.

It also aims to inspire more adults to become trained coaches and to match coaches with schools and sports that need them.

It hopes to tackle health problems such as obesity and groom potential 2012 Olympic champions.

The foundation will be based at Myrobella, Mr Blair's home in Trimdon Colliery. He will chair the foundation and veteran agent John Burton, a former head of PE at Sedgefield Community College, is vice-chair.

Mr Blair was first elected Sedgefield MP in 1983 and stepped down as Prime Minister and as a Member of Parliament in June.