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Sport should reclaim the agenda in this most important of years

Another festive period over and another burst of competitiveness from the geekier portion of society has been and gone.

Rebecca Adlington won two Olympic swimming gold medals in Beijing in 2008 but was made to feel inferior to a rival on a celebrity television programme. Picture: Getty Images

For many of those who pursue activity on a more regular basis, being exposed for our lack of time spent flicking through celebrity magazines or absorbing vast hours of mainstream television can be irritating. Worse even than a lack of knowledge of board games revolving around what is deemed popular culture is the sheer randomness of those with casino-like dependency on the roll of a die or spin of a wheel.

The tables are turned as the truly competitive find themselves accused of spoiling it for everyone by not taking it seriously or even walking away with the game unfinished because it is obvious who is going to win. Yet that is pretty much the attitude that has been taken by the political classes at both national and local level towards sport in our schools for the past quarter of a century and more.

The sight of a Scottish government minister taking part, albeit contributing little if anything to a losing effort in a Christmas episode of University Challenge served as a reminder of that.

Many years have passed since I first expressed the view that the agenda in these matters had been seized by the section of our society that was not very good at sport, preferring instead bookish pursuits that in turn served them well when they chose to go into politics. The outcome has been both bizarre and damaging to society as a whole.

To switch on any of the appalling reality television shows for the shortest of periods is to be reminded that competition is rife in every aspect of life but, in many cases, all the wrong values are highlighted.

I saw little of what built up to it but, on the recent celeb in the jungle show, Becky Adlington, the double Olympic gold medallist, claimed to have been made to feel insecure by comparison with a beauty queen who was a rival on the show.

By all accounts, Adlington came across as an otherwise exceedingly well-balanced team player. The beauty queen seemed a spoiled brat who believed she was entitled to special treatment at every turn. I had to consult Wikipedia on it to find out for sure, but it confirmed my suspicion as to which of them the Great British public kept in contention for longer.

In similar vein, I saw a few episodes of Professional Masterchef recently and rather enjoyed it, albeit the outcomes were often a reminder of the danger of allowing competition to be assessed by judges rather than scoring depending on properly measurable factors.

On top of that, though, I have no doubt that, if an equivalent of Monica, Michel Roux's sneering second in command, was to offer similar condemnatory comments about the efforts of an apprentice in a sports reality show, the letters would pour in about the appalling culture of bullying.

After years of insisting that winning is more important than taking part, this is no time for hypocrisy and overblown claims about sport's capacity to teach the values of fair play and doing things the right way. However, this is a competitive world and there are times that it seems that the only youngsters in our state schools who are denied the right to demonstrate their prowess are those whose strengths lie in physicality and athleticism.

That leaves many of them feeling inadequate as they are constantly made to feel inferior to those more academically inclined, which in turn can produce the sort of frustration that spills over into uncooperative, and even disruptive, behaviour.

This, then, is an important year for Scotland and especially for Scottish sport, as it offers a chance to reclaim the agenda. Believers in competitive sport have spent far too long being intellectually bullied by those who used skills honed in debating clubs - they may have claimed to have forgotten their PE kit - to ensure that their cerebral strengths give them maximum advantage in the public arena over those who were physically superior to them.

If, as is now widely accepted, the best way to learn is when you do not realise you are learning then be assured that the competitive sporting animal gains a lot more from games of football, rugby, basketball and even rounders than - and I still shudder at the memory - being told that today's PE lesson will be country dancing.

Over the next nine months, then, politicians from the parties responsible for the destruction of competitive sport in our state schools will undoubtedly wrap themselves in Saltires, Union flags and EC flags as the sporting and political agendas run in parallel.

This is a time for the competitive edge to show itself and my fervent hope is that leading figures in Scottish sport recognise the once in a lifetime opportunity represented here.

When he was asked, shortly after winning Wimbledon last year, where he would align his now vastly increased support come the referendum, Andy Murray, unquestionably Scotland's greatest sportsman of all time, intelligently said he would express a view at some stage but wanted to get fully up to pace with all the issues first.

The fickleness of politicians having been so timeously demonstrated by the difference between sporting representation in this New Year's Honours List and last, we should urge Murray and other leading Scottish sportsmen and women to ensure that they do enter the political arena at some stage this year.

When they do, no matter what side they take, they must ensure that there are strings attached to their support on behalf of future generations of athletically gifted compatriots who deserve the right to be allowed to compete with, and win against, their classmates.

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