Cash needed if more Borders athletes to attain Olympic dream

IF Borders youngsters are to get the chance to emulate Peebles show jumper Scott Brash and win Olympic gold medals of their own, then the Scottish Government has to step up to the plate and pledge appropriate funding.

That is the message coming through from those involved in sports provision and management in the Borders this week, following the closing of the hugely successful London 2012 Olympic Games.

Among them was David Ferguson, chief rugby writer for The Scotsman andvice-chairman of Borders Sport and Leisure Trust. He says Team GB’s 65-medal haul from the London games was not due to chance or luck, but from more than a decade’s worth of significant improvements in funding for facilities, coaches and programmes.

“But for Scotland to follow this and give our athletes the chance to win medals in Glasgow in 2014 [Commonwealth Games] and at Rio 2016 [Olympics], there has to be investment in sports facilities, structures and coaches,” Mr Ferguson told us.

“We have a good number of Borders athletes already pushing for the Commonwealth Games and to follow Peebles gold medallist Scott Brash, and Paralympians such as Libby Clegg, and compete in Rio.

“The Borders has a great history of producing sporting talent and it is still doing so. Excellent and willing coaches are still there too, but international sport has risen to incredible levels of competition in the 21st century and the reality at that level is that success comes through investment.

“There is no doubt that we need government funding and I am hoping to hear something positive on a sporting legacy in Scotland from Alex Salmond shortly.”

Helped by sportscotland, the trust has invested around £2million of new money in local facilities, but Mr Ferguson says significant cutbacks in government funding in the past two years, which are forecast to continue, will not help sustain any Olympic legacy.

However, he believes the region is prepared to cope with the expected upsurge in sporting interest in the wake of London 2012.

Under their chief executive, Ewan Jackson, trust staff are already moving on a crucial plan to develop sports hubs in every part of the Borders, with a major sports conference being planned for Galashiels in November.

Mr Ferguson says it follows a similar event staged with SBC last year, and will bring all sports together to plan for the future.

“SBC, sportscotland, the Scottish Government are all working with us on it and we plan to launch new hubs then,” he said. “Our new community sports hub manager, Mark Drummond, is leading that and will be meeting sports clubs, coaches, teachers, administrators and athletes across the region over the next three months to prepare for it.”

He added that the trust’s Active Schools programme co-ordinators and its development officers are already driving an Olympics legacy programme –the Olympic passport initiative was a huge success this summer in providing taster sessions in dozens of sports for thousands of youngsters.

“We knew the Olympics would be a great opportunity and so everyone has been gearing up for some time to use the inspiration of the games,” he said. And Mr Ferguson says it is not all about young people or winning Olympic medals, with investment in sport and leisure proven to benefit communities through reduced crime, improved fitness, health and wellbeing, greater confidence and community spirit.

Scottish Borders Council executive member for education Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels, Borders Party) says London 2012 has boosted the national morale and the local authority now needs to redouble its efforts to connect with communities, sporting groups, coaches, parents, children and schools to help get the best from the resources available.

“Unfortunately, this wet summer has not helped with many outdoor facilities almost unplayable and an uncertain winter just round the corner, but our facilities are improving all the time and we just have to keep going,” he added.

But Peebles-based sports academic Ron Sutherland says SBC is historically among the lowest-spending Scottish local authorities per head of population on sport.

Mr Sutherland commented: “Borders athletes urgently require a suitable indoor training centre of sporting excellence, reflecting their share of London and Glasgow games legacy.

“SBC should up its game, and finally give us a level competitive playing field.”