LAST week Britain's Olympic challengers – many of them Scots – took on the world's best and, more often than anyone had dared hope, walked away with the gold, silver and bronze medals.
By any standards, the London Games have thus far proved a success. But medals cannot be the full story. For these Games truly to succeed, they must deliver a legacy that stretches beyond the reputations of a handful of elite sportsmen and women.
Also last week, Lord Moynihan, chair of the British Olympic Association, pointed out that 50% of UK medallists at the 2008 Beijing Olympics were privately educated – although only 7% of our children attend fee-paying schools. He called this one of the "worst statistics in British sport".
He is right. The rewards of physical activity were written across the faces of the men and women smiling from those podiums. Yet for far too many children, lack of facilities in schools, vanishing playing fields and diminishing teaching resources mean they will never get the chance to sample activities they may excel in, or simply enjoy. Meanwhile, only 12% of schoolgirls reach expected fitness levels and 22% of the British population is obese.
Britain's Olympic stars are doing their best to kindle children's desire to get off the sofa. But without good local swimming pools, accessible playing fields and cycling-friendly streets, their enthusiasm will quickly dwindle. It is significant that many of Britain's medals have been won in events which have hefty overheads. Equestrianism, for example, is one of the most expensive competitive sports this side of Formula One. Sailing and rowing both tend to be offered at well-heeled private schools. Meanwhile, the selling of school playing fields is a national scandal which is only now coming home to roost, depriving a generation of young people of the means to develop sporting talent. Clearly, there must be more investment in sport if we want to see more British athletes on the winners' rostrum.
But it is not just about facilities. Something has clearly gone badly wrong when so many of our young people are not given proper encouragement to make good use of existing facilities. Schools need to create an ethos in which competition can, for many if not all pupils, be channelled in a constructive direction. Certainly, it is not acceptable that competitive sport is becoming the preserve of the privileged.
The real Olympic challenge is not just to inspire a generation, but to ensure that every member of that generation – whatever their background – is given the opportunity to participate in physical activity, and to achieve their full potential. With the Glasgow Commonwealth Games only two years away, Scotland needs to move fast. Our children can't all be winners. But if the vast majority can't even to get to the starting line, that is a national disgrace.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.