Time to seize upon Murray’s win and Olympic buzz and invest in grassroots sport

Reaction to Andy Murray’s US Open at the end of this most golden summer of glorious British sport.


Writing on his blog yesterday, in the wake of Andy Murray’s famous victory at the US Open, the BBC’s Scotland Political Editor, Brian Taylor pondered what impact the triumph, together with the Olympics, would have on the referendum.

We’re not going to dwell on the issue too much, but it highlights the sometimes uncomfortable relationship between sport and politics which sees politicians of all colours quick off the mark to associate themselves with sporting heroes and triumphs to boost their own profiles. Boris Johnson has managed it successfully in London, and notice Alex Salmond’s declaration yesterday of Murray as a “Scottish” rather than British “sporting legend”.

I shall leave it to the cybernats which so frequently respond to these posts to obsess about this point, but if they do, they will be missing the point since, as the Scotsman’s leader column this morning persuasively argues:

The politicians should back off. Murray’s win is a great Scottish triumph. It is also a great British triumph. Similarly, it is a triumph for any tennis fan who loves a fighter, or any student of human nature who loves to see someone conquer their personal demons.

“Most of all, it is a personal triumph for a man who has found success through skill, grit, perseverance and the gradual mastery of his temperament.”

But that is not to say our politicians don’t have a role to play. With Scotland facing some of the highest rates of obesity of any OECD country, it is timely that Holyrood’s health and sport committee just last week launched an inquiry into “Support for Community Sport”, an inquiry which yesterday heard from Scottish sport’s governing bodies, with a call for a much greater focus on boosting sporting activity within primary schools especially.

Ministers were also pressed to switch funding from councils to local clubs and to recognise and encourage volunteer coaches with formal, accredited qualifications.

The Herald this morning quotes a number of those who yesterday provided oral evidence.

David Drummond, the Scottish Football Association’s regional manager for south-east Scotland, argued what was needed was “to raise sport up the schools’ agenda”, a big part of which he argued would involve “upskilling teachers to be more confident and comfortable at delivering sport, so it does not just come down to sports specialists or PE specialists”.

He continued:

“To me, secondary school is too late. Primary teachers have a broad focus and it’s a question of how we add sports to the range.”

Meanwhile, Colin Thomson, Scottish Rugby’s director of operations, argued multi-sports clubs should be embedded in schools to give every child the opportunity to find a sport that is right for them.

He told MSPs:

To me, sport has been marginalised over the years from an over-complication of the whole process. We now have a distinction between physical education, physical activity and sport that is unhelpful, and sport is being marginalised by that.

“We’ve heard ‘Inspire A Generation’ throughout the summer but if that generation has no opportunity to participate in what they are watching, then what is the point in inspiring them?”

Lee Boucher, business development manager at Tennis Scotland, which did not make a formal submission to the committee, added:

There are 2,500 tennis courts in Scotland, but of those only 900 are in clubs. We are developing a facilities strategy, but part of that is sure to be working with local authorities to get courts in disrepair back up to scratch.”

Earlier this year, the Scottish government pledged that by the 2014 Commonwealth Games, every school pupil in Scotland will be able to access at least two hours per week of physical education in primary school, and two periods in S1 to S4, a full seven years after the SNP’s original manifesto commitment to introduce this policy.

Responding to the Murray victory, Scottish Labour’s sport spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said:

We need a rethink across a range of policies to ensure we are doing all we can to produce another Andy Murray, another Sir Chris Hoy. Scotland has a two-year window now to capitalise on the good feeling generated by the Olympics and the excitement about the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.”

Pointing to the role Scotland’s politicians have to play, the Scotsman’s leader column this morning concludes:

All across Scotland are desultory-looking tarmac tennis courts with fading baselines and weeds growing out of cracks. If Scotland’s politicians want to bask in the reflected glory of Andy Murray’s victory, they should commit themselves to making sure he is just the first in a long line of Scottish tennis heroes.”

In its leader, meanwhile, the Herald argues investment is key, observing:

“It is questionable whether Murray or Scotland’s other elite sports stars could have shone without parents who were able and willing to go the extra mile for them. Tennis is not a cheap sport and there is still a drastic shortage of affordable all-weather facilities. If Scotland is to get beyond a limited pool of predominantly middle-class talent, more public investment is urgently required.

“And more private clubs must follow the example of those that welcome children who are keen to ‘have a go’ and allow them time on court.”

A spokespman for the Scottish government responded:

“Our active schools network is providing five million opportunities for young people to try sports, and we are opening up schools to become community sports hubs to help people get healthier and more active.

“Our 2014 Games Legacy Programme is creating lasting benefits. We continue to increase the number of world-class facilities across Scotland – such as the Commonwealth Arena, the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the Commonwealth Pool, the Aberdeen Sports Village, and the Tollcross Aquatics Centre. There is a commitment to deliver a National Performance Centre by 2016.”

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