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McColgan pulls no punches over inadequate legacy of London 2012

REGULAR readers may recall our warnings about the risk to legacy post-2012 and 2014 without sufficient foundation-level sports coaches to cope with the influx of kids inspired to join sports clubs.

Liz McColgan at Holyrood yesterday: 'nothing new was said, nothing new brought to the table . . .'
Liz McColgan at Holyrood yesterday: 'nothing new was said, nothing new brought to the table . . .'

By no means the first was when the government announced legacy plans for Glasgow 2014. That story more than three years ago was accompanied by a photo of Liz McColgan coaching kids. The former world champion and I seem in agreement on coaching issues, so it was disappointing to hear her forced to beat the same drum before the Health and Sport committee of the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

McColgan coaches a significant group including her daughter, Olympic steeplechaser Eilish. However, her club caters for a range of athletes from grass-roots up.

Liz returned to coaching at Dundee Hawkhill after the Games with the hype still ringing in her ears, and yesterday painted a picture for the committee of sporting reality post-2012. Typically, she pulled no punches and sounded contemptuous of the rhetoric.

"We got all this great big emotion about the legacy of the Games," she told them, "and how we were all going to go back to our little corners of the world, and we have all these lovely children all well catered for in fantastic facilities and it has just not happened."

Later she told me: "I went to my local club after the Olympics. In addition to my own squad, numbers at Caird Park had doubled to around 130 – fantastic. But how are we supposed to cope with that, and keep that interest?

"We haven't enough qualified coaches, and one of these is a guy doing a fantastic job after working full time as a surgeon at Nine Wells hospital. But others are simply parent volunteers. Most have no coaching qualifications, and their drills are not what a trained coach would do. They are doing their best, but the kids can pick up bad habits.

"Facilities get built in deprived areas, because that's how local authorities get funding for them. But then they charge ridiculous fees, and local kids can't afford them. It's exactly what everybody thought would happen. To expect volunteers to keep following through all the time isn't on, especially after all the promises."

She felt "nothing new was said, nothing new brought to the table" at Holyrood. "Everybody was bleating for their own little corner, whatever the sport. Sports need to be accountable for kids, but if it's £3 to get into a stadium, lots of kids can't go. You won't have mass participation without youngsters, but pathways to senior level, and advice for younger sports people and their coaches, are poor.

"You'd think after all the hulabulloo about the Olympics, bleating on about legacy, getting kids active and into sport, they'd be doing something. Yet they have just sat back and let the Olympics pass by. There are clubs struggling when they should be putting coaching plans into practice."

Judy Murray, mother of double Olympic medallist and US Open champion Andy, also addressed the committee, pleading for an infrastructure that goes beyond facilities. "It has to be about people, and we have to look at creating a workforce that can enthuse and inspire kids and adults into sport," she said. "It has to be able to retain them because it is one thing getting them excited about it now, but in order to retain it comes down to the pied pipers who come into the clubs or schools or parks and enjoy what they are doing."

The committee's convener, Duncan McNeil, suggests their deliberations could not be more opportune, presenting "a unique opportunity to look again at Scotland's relationship with sport and to establish if barriers exist that prevent our communities engaging with sport at the grassroots level."

The committee examines government's health policy, the NHS in Scotland, sport and other related issues.

The sporting canvas is more complex and interwoven than ever before. It embraces physical education, aspects of recreation and leisure from elite performance to mass participation, building health focus through clubs, using sport to address lifestyle issues from obesity to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco addictions, and helping combat vandalism and promote social inclusion.

Sport has a valuable role in all of these, but the objectives require different mindsets. Sometimes it seems like Catch 22, and it's a moot point whether a single advisory body is up to it.

Sportscotland is the over-arching agency for a government which once wanted to axe it, and whose role we defended. Yet mass participation and elite performance are uncomfortable bedfellows. More people getting more active can get in the way of the elite.

Is hauling elite swimmers out of bed at 5am to find pool space the ideal training regime? Hardly, but it has become the cliched norm because of the growing demand for mass access.

Even management of these two groups can be a challenge, never mind the breadth of sporting agenda detailed above.

Government, through sportscotland, is obliging sports bodies to pursue increased participation in return for funding. Nothing wrong with that on the face of it. But in pursuing more numbers, governing bodies can take their eye off the ball.

Increasing numbers does not in itself improve performance. That's the province of coaching which is being neglected.

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