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Food for thought: Improving nutritional values in Scottish sport is overdue

A decade or so ago, following the lead of Jamie Oliver, I used my position on a school board to raise concerns about the type of snacks on offer to the pupils.

Attempts  by Paul Le Guen to amend the dietary habits of his Rangers players contributed to his swift exit as manager at Ibrox. Picture: SNS
Attempts by Paul Le Guen to amend the dietary habits of his Rangers players contributed to his swift exit as manager at Ibrox. Picture: SNS

Discussions took place over several meetings and, while there was some fairly superficial change, in the end what was most significant was the passive resistance from among a senior management team which was otherwise genuinely at the cutting edge of raising standards in a state school with a very mixed demographic.

What was clear was that, while they agreed in principle with Oliver's campaign, they felt banning the more popular fizzy drinks and sugary titbits would be a deeply unpopular move if not an unenforceable one, regardless of the evidence the TV chef was providing as to how change could be brought about in similar schools south of the border, and the benefits thereof.

The episode spoke to difficulties which lie deep within our culture. The knock-on effect for Scottish sport was demonstrated by the problems encountered by Paul Le Guen at Ibrox around the same time when his attempts to improve the nutritional intake of Rangers players contributed, by all accounts, to his downfall.

As obvious as it should have been, I had never really given the connection much thought until the past week or so and the reaction to Ronny Deila's similar attempts to improve dietary habits at Celtic. In even some of the more intelligent coverage there seemed to be an undertone which suggested that a Celtic manager would be far better focusing on results than what his players prefer to eat and drink.

Yet even when Le Guen was in charge of Rangers, we should have considered his proposals to be around 10 years overdue in even British terms, not least when you consider the revolution in English football attributed to Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager.

This is also an era during which we hear more and more coaches and players in a wide variety of sports espousing the importance of seeking one per cent improvements in all areas of performance and preparation in the belief that adding enough of those together can make a vital difference at the highest level.

It is on that basis that I cannot help but wonder about the percentage impact on outcomes of Scotland's professional footballers regularly partaking of Monster Munch, or enjoying nights out in Loch Lomond hotel bars, while their rugby counterparts are rounding off team bonding nights with visits to kebab shops in the early hours of the morning.

Any one of these things taken in isolation may or may not do that much harm but it all speaks to attitudes that are far removed from that of their countryman Chris Hoy who, as I recall, was once quoted as saying he had thought about having a drink one Christmas but then thought again as he did not want it to be something that he thought about on the start line at one of that year's big races.

Clearly having that drink could not have had the slightest impact in physiological terms. However, it spoke to a strength of mind which perhaps also explains how, when most commentators thought it close to impossible, Hoy was able, knowing in the deepest recesses of his mind that he had made every necessary sacrifice to be the best he could be, to find that tiny bit extra required to hang on for his final Olympic gold medal.

Andy Murray, the only Scottish sportsman whose achievements rival those of Hoy, has also gone on record as having an aversion to both booze and clubbing, but then he escaped the traditional Scottish lifestyle before it could undermine his career.

And Another Thing . . .

Given the riches which have come the way of Indian cricket in recent years it was shocking to discover last weekend that their women's team, which had just beaten England's highly-funded side in a Test match, receive minimal backing from their governing body, the BCCI.

Cricket is, of course, something close to a religion in India. However, it is also a country that has been forced - as a result of some recent, grotesque incidents - to examine the attitudes towards women which exist within its society.

That its female players are treated with apparent disdain by the BCCI seems to suggest that many within the Indian establishment have yet to get the message, as sport offers an insight into wider issues.

Not that we, in this part of the world, should start feeling we occupy the moral high ground when it comes to gender politics and the way our own establishment reflects lingering prejudice.

After all, more than a century after Emily Davison's tragic contribution to sporting history when she threw herself under the king's horse at the 1913 derby, we, in this place that calls itself the home of golf, await with interest the outcome of next month's vote by the R&A on whether it sees women as worthy of equal status.

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