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Stick a roof over their heads and our kids can learn to compete at the highest level

Some 17 years ago, one Les Wallace was invited to parade his trophy around Murrayfield ahead of an international rugby match in a bid to remind us that ours is a country that can produce world champions.

Jamie Bowie runs for Team Scotland in the British Athletics International Match 400m at the Emirates Arena in January but he was unable to get as much access to the country's only indoor track as he wished for training purposes. Picture: Bill Murray/ SNS Group

Mostly there was bemusement among the audience, the majority of whom could hardly be described as darts aficionados, but it got me thinking and making a few mental connections.

At the time, Stephen Hendry, snooker's youngest world champion, was dominating the green baize and rally driver Colin MacRae, again the youngest world champion his sport had produced, had just won that title for a third successive time. Peter Nicol was becoming a commanding figure in his sport, having just reached his first World Open squash final, as were indoor world champion bowlers Alex 'Tattie' Marshall and Paul Foster. David Coulthard, having replaced arguably the greatest ever Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna, had just finished third in that sport's world championship.

At that time, I wrote that, while our climate made it increasingly difficult in this pampered age to produce footballers, rugby players and athletes, the evidence was that if a roof could be put over them as they learned their trade, Scots boasted the skills and attitude to compete with anyone.

That all came to mind once more when stumbling upon a natural history programme which described how Ben Nevis and the Cairngorm range had once been as tall as the Himalayas, but had been eroded by snow, ice, wind and rain.

"Nowhere has more weather than Scotland," breathed the narrator. "Nine hundred billion gallons of rain falls here each year. For hundreds of millions of years the weather has slowly taken the mountains apart.

"Today . . . 400 million years later, this attack is still raging. Scotland's Himalayas have been worn almost flat, but where has all that rock gone?" The film-makers then took us to a setting in Derbyshire, where, it was explained: "Today that rock forms part of the Pennines which means that the very backbone of England was made in Scotland."

In the course of the explanation, it was pointed out that the biggest Scottish river is the Tay: "Over 100 miles long and by the time it reaches the sea it's carrying more water than the Thames and Severn combined."

Tempting as it is, I will leave metaphors relating all of that to the relationship between Scotland and England alone here. Instead, the less metaphysical consideration is that it is hardly any wonder that, in such a climate, those of us who grew up on the banks of the Tay, or any other part of our largely green but, in many parts of the central belt, rather unpleasant looking land, were not always that keen on going out to play.

Further context is offered by the experience of the past six months, spent reporting on some 20 sports, many for the first time. Repeatedly, the refrain from volunteers has been that they could do much more to promote and develop their sports with better facilities.

The spending of more than a million pounds of public money on erecting a squash showcourt that will be hauled down immediately after the Commonwealth Games is, of course, the most obvious example of a missed opportunity that has emerged in the past year or so.

Meanwhile, a curling administrator told me they do not have enough ice to cope with the demand generated by the Winter Olympics which, in turn, chimed with the observation of David Hand, chairman of Scottish Ice Hockey. He believes it impossible for another young Scot to emulate his brother Tony in becoming good enough to make it to America's National Hockey League, because none can hope to get a percentage of the time on the ice that Scotland's greatest player managed in the seventies and eighties.

Similarly, Jamie Bowie, an East Lothian-based Commonwealth Games hopeful, told me he would have travelled through to Glasgow much more often during the winter in seeking to prepare for the World Indoor Championships, but had been unable to get as much access as he sought to Scotland's only indoor track.

Furthermore, as I have also pointed out recently, even where there are superb publicly funded facilities, such as The Peak in Stirling, membership costs are such that they too easily become middle-class domains.

So much of what is wrong with this sporting nation is about access to facilities. Protect them from our horrible winter climate and Scottish youngsters can learn to compete with anyone.

And another thing . . .

Much promotional material has emanated from Murrayfield in recent times designed to persuade us that highly rewarded administrators have done their job of helping the sport grow beyond its tiny traditional heartlands of the private schools and the Borders, supplemented by Exiles.

With the 20th anniversary of rugby union going open now looming, then consider the make-up of the latest Scotland Under-18 team, comprising entirely players born, bred and nurtured in the professional era.

Of the starting backs, only full-back Ruari Howarth, a Borderer from Galashiels Academy, is not a private school pupil. In the pack, only three more are not listed as attached to private schools: Lewis Anderson of Marr College, Matthew Smith of Stirling County - both long established rugby nurseries - and Zander Fagerson of Glasgow Hawks.

Among eight replacements the balance is similar, with Gala and Stirling boasting further representation, along with five who currently attend Scottish private schools and a Newcastle Falcon.

Ever decreasing circles . . .

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