Everybody agrees that active sports are good for our personal physical and mental health, and that our collective ‘social happiness quotient’ is boosted by excellence and success at the top level of sports competition.
But in almost every arena, Scotland is performing way below standard, even when adjusted for population and wealth factors.
The sporting mentality - and the enthusiasm and commitment that it generates - are more fundamentally important than the technical competences that can later be built upon them.
Parents have a powerful influence on that, of course, and the various sports clubs and organisations in the community. But I do believe that our schools have a key role to play, in which they are presently under-performing.
My own core lifetime sports have been rugby, hillwalking, swimming and tennis. The first three of these were very actively fostered at my state schools during the 1950s, and I could as easily have opted for football, shinty, cricket or athletics. (I found tennis for myself on the local public courts, after I had acquired the sporting habit).
We were very deliberately encouraged to be active at sports, and individual or team success was celebrated almost as much as academic achievement.
In that environment, my generation of young Scots had high participation levels that created a broad base for the sports pyramid. Inevitably, this improved the statistical probability of excellent individuals emerging at the top and stars such as Denis Law, Jimmy Baxter, Kenny Dalglish, Andy Irvine, Ian McLaughlan, Gordon Brown, Ming Campbell, Allan Wells, Ian Black, and David Wilkie rose and flourished.
This level of activity and the success it bred depended very largely upon the dedicated enthusiasm of school sports teachers, and a set of school priorities that supported them.
PT teachers and many other committed staff members gave freely of their own time after school and at weekends, mainly for the love of it. However, all that was brutally undermined during the teachers' industrial action of 1985, when government fought the teachers head on to enforce a humiliating wage settlement on state schools.
Goodwill was lost which has never been recovered, most teachers have discovered the alternatives of Saturday morning golf or family shopping, and school team sports have languished.
Only in fee-paying schools has the sporting priority been preserved, which accounts for their over-representation at the top level. But the base of Scotland’s sporting pyramid has been sadly reduced, and the decline in performances by our national teams and individuals since 1990 is the result.
The challenge now is to rekindle the old ethos in state schools, so that the broad mass of Scottish children can become progressively enthused, involved and competent in sport. Facilities are important, but more so is the close involvement of teaching staff to stimulate and handle the large numbers involved.
As the voluntary principle has been so severely eroded, I suggest that bonus payments should be made to staff who are prepared to spend their after school hours on the playing fields or in the gym. The sums of money required, although challenging, would not be impossible.
Public sector budgets have never been harder to access, but spending priorities always need to be challenged and re-examined.
For example, how should a sports renaissance compare with, a Borders rail line, free legal aid, Gaelic language promotion, wind farm support, subsidy for opera and classical music and other such special interest payments? This is also a place where national sports bodies should be making an investment in their future player numbers. The SRU, SFA and similar organisations all depend upon a school-generated stream of players. Might they not reasonably be expected to plough back a portion of their considerable revenues to ensure its future health? (It will be argued that they do this through direct support to clubs, but clubs can never handle the large numbers that pass through our schools).
Also, our sports teachers should be given the recognition and status they deserve. Is the occasional free ticket to an international match, or invitation to a social occasion, too much to ask?
I firmly believe that if we can crank up the numbers again at the state school grassroots level, the benefits will be felt the whole way up the Scottish sports chain. With increased participation will come achievement, which in turn will command better facilities and lead us into an upward spiral of success.
And we’ll all become fitter and happier as a result, and I may live to see another Scottish Grand Slam or maybe even a World Cup.
Come back, Mr Chips, we need you - and this time we’ll find a way to pay you properly to pull on your tracksuit.
David Henderson, Inverness