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'What we do off-court is every bit as important as what we do on it'

A TALL, precise Scottish businessman will walk into the Palace of Westminster this morning to deliver a message to MPs that will stray from the script normally adhered to by voicepieces of sport.

Ian Reid will walk into Westminster this morning to extol the off-field virtues of basketball; every pound spent on the sport saves £4 in terms of health, social security and crime. Picture: Kirsty Anderson

Ian Reid, part-owner of the Glasgow Rocks and the driving force behind Scottish Sports Futures, will be addressing the political elite with a rallying call that may just have been borrowed from JFK: "Ask not what you can do for basketball but what basketball can do for you."

Reid's words will be refreshing, hopefully game-changing.

Consider these sentiments expressed in the cafe of the bustling Emirates Stadium in the East End one midweek lunchtime.

"We do not care too much about producing elite sports people."

"What we do off-court is every bit as important as what we do on it."

"Crowds have grown despite our fairly dismal performances."

These form the core of a message that the values of the Rocks, even sport itself, should extend further than results on match days.

The funding for basketball has been cut because the sport offers little chance of medal success in major competitions. The basketball deal once offered more than £7m over four years but now the sport has been cast into the wilderness in terms of UK Sport support.

"It is generally recognised that the UK funding decision is ill-considered at best," says Reid carefully.

He points out that the three best sports at engaging inner-city youngsters are boxing, football and basketball. "And basketball is by some distance the most effective," he adds. "I see sports as a platform, the chance to effect an ambush.

"We do not care too much about producing elite sports people. We do care passionately about creating good people who can help themselves, help the community they live in. That all sounds very grand, but basically kids like sport, you engage them through sport and you can then teach them a lot of other stuff."

This process is the nub of Scottish Sports Futures, whose mission statement says: "Initiatives are designed to encourage integration, self-efficacy, healthy lifestyles and good citizenship."

Basically, Reid seeks to take children off the streets and help change their lives.

More than 10,000 pupils have been reached this year by SSF projects and 14 clubs formed with a network stretching from Dingwall to the Borders. "What we have done off-court is more successful than on it," he says with the rueful acceptance of an owner who has just watched his side lose the BBL Trophy final.

His voice is measured and so is the influence the projects have not only on the youngsters but on society.

"We measure that in a quite technical way," he says. "We have independent evaluations on how it changes lives."

The most crucial measurement is how every pound put into basketball saves the government £4 in terms of health, social security and crime prevention budgets.

It is, of course, not just about cash. This is a success story with a cast of characters. "Kids who were first introduced to the game through our programmes are now playing the game at under-age level for Scotland," Reid says.

"Kids who tumbled through the door in upper and lower Ruchazie on a Friday night to escape the madness stayed because they felt safe, started to play, started to want to help other people, got their coaching badges and are now gainfully employed."

This is the story that Reid is determined to tell the All-Party Political Group on sport at Westminster this morning.

"The political group will be looking at how effective basketball is in the community and how it can be funded to deliver decent social outcomes," he says. "But I believe it is not about ploughing more money in to the top but more money at grassroots level."

This is where a nation can be changed: at street level. "It's not about throwing a ball. It is about decent diet, nutrition, exercise, self-confidence or self-efficacy as they now call it. It is about teamwork, about learning what's right, what is wrong," he says.

"We will be pushing very hard the value of basketball to young people in challenging environments," adds Reid of today's meeting.

The future of the Rocks will be tackled as soon as the season ends.

"I hope that we do better," says Reid. "Coming off the back of a significant loss in a significant game it is not the time to make decisions, you must let the disappointment dissipate. After the dust has settled at the end of the season we will review the organisation from top to bottom and find out what we can do better."

The quest goes on - in the Palace of Westminster and the Emirates Arena in Glasgow - for results on and off-court.

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