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Scots left out in the cold by world union

Almost a decade after deciding to quit his vice-chairmanship of British skating's national governing body in order to focus on raising the profile of the sport in his native Scotland, Bryan Morrice has accepted that the project has to be put on ice.

Elise Christie is one of Britain's top medal hopes for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Picture: Getty Images
Elise Christie is one of Britain's top medal hopes for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Picture: Getty Images

There is some frustration as the chairman of Sk8scotland accepts that there is no future for the organisation in the current scheme of things, but no recrimination as they work out how best to run things down with the chairman stating a preference for putting it into dormancy - to preserve its history -rather than liquidation.

Chairman of Sk8scotland for 16 years, as well as vice-chairman of the UK governing body, the National Ice Skating Association, from 1995 to 2006, Morrice's vision had been to gain separate recognition for Scottish skating both nationally and internationally when he stood down from the latter.

However, world skating's governing body, the International Skating Union, has refused to recognise Scotland as a separate country. That Scottish skating is consequently almost wholly under British rule effectively contributed to the unwillingness of Scottish sport's national agency sportscotland to provide funding.

"Sk8scotland had no responsibility for the training or development of coaches or officials and, since skaters may only compete as Great Britain, there is no opportunity to create a Scottish squad system," Morrice explained. "Only a federation recognised by the ISU [NISA] is authorised to sanction competitions and therefore Sk8scotland even has to apply to NISA to hold its own competitions."

While Scottish skating has produced one of Great Britain's biggest Winter Olympic medal hopes in the shape of short-track speed skater Elise Christie, the chairman believes that the organisation has been caught in a vicious circle. "You need funding to develop the sport and achieving medals is highly dependent on receiving funding," Morrice pointed out.

"Certainly it can be done. Our short-track speed skaters have been bringing home the medals in the past few years and the funding has followed. However, speed skating in the UK is organised differently from figure skating: their squad is all based in Nottingham and they all live, train, play and study in Nottingham trained by our national coach and his team.

"This is an approach that would be almost impossible to introduce for figure skating because of the structure of a coaching profession in the UK that would be extremely difficult to change, with something like 65 ice rinks across the UK and around 500 registered and qualified coaches in the UK."

He noted that, unlike most other minority sports, the vast majority of those coaches are professional, making it very difficult to contemplate setting up a similar national structure in ice skating.

"Creating a national centre under a national coach would be very difficult, with regional coaches reluctant to lose their best skaters," he said. "Ice skating is very different from most other sports in that we have a large number of fully professional coaches, whereas most other sports tend to rely more on amateur coaches."

Beyond those issues, Morrice pointed out that there are particular problems for the development of his sport in Scotland in terms of both access to ice at the best times and the quality of the surface caused by the competition for its use.

"Most Scottish ice facilities are much more multi-sport than in the rest of the UK, with skating, ice hockey and curling all competing for ice time," he explained. "As a result, access to ice can be heavily restricted. Creating an environment conducive to developing elite athletes in these rinks will always be difficult and it is difficult to attract top level coaches in the knowledge that their ice time and therefore earning potential would be limited."

In keeping with many people in sport, though, he believes that the pan-British apathy towards sport as a whole has done skating no favours.

"Sadly, this country - and I mean the whole UK - has never embraced an approach to sport and education in the way that others like Australia, France, Canada and the USA have.

"Most ice facilities in Scotland and the UK are virtually deserted weekdays from 9am-3pm, yet running costs are constant.

"Other countries have developed partnership arrangements with educational establishments to create flexible timetables: sports academies."

Morrice is able to cite only isolated examples of that approach working in parts of England.

After a lifetime of passionate involvement in the sport and almost two decades of administrative involvement, he is resigned to the fact that he is merely the latest once-enthusiastic volunteer to feel forced to accept that his hopes will not be fulfilled during his time in office.

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