THERE is, sad to say, too many news reports about the dwindling numbers of people who are taking part in sport these days.

The so-called legacy of Glasgow 2014 has been pilloried left, right and centre, with countless observers disputing that the Commonwealth Games left any legacy whatsoever in terms of participation levels. In many cases, the criticism is correct, with levels of activity within the general population remaining stubbornly static.

However, there have been a number of rays of light in the past few years, and none brighter than the progress that Scottish Athletics has made.

On the elite side, Scottish athletes are going from strength-to-strength, with record levels of Scottish representation in GB teams for major championships and the upcoming Commonwealth Games looking to have the potential to be one of, if not the very best, in the sport’s history in terms of medals won.

But what is, for me anyway, far more encouraging than the incredible success at the elite level is the remarkable growth of the sport in terms of general participation. Scottish Athletics has nurtured and cultivated a improvement in numbers over the past few years that is the envy of all sports across the country.

There is no better example of the strength of Scottish athletics than tomorrow’s Lindsays National Cross-Country event in Falkirk’s Callendar Park. Over 2250 athletes have entered the championship, from young kids in the under-13 race right up to those in their 70s and 80s in the veterans event.

It cannot be underestimated how hard it is for any sport to generate numbers of this scale.

The vast majority of Scottish football clubs cannot attract two and a half thousand fans to their matches never mind create an environment in which that number of people want to compete.

And what is doubly remarkable about tomorrow’s event is that almost every runner in the field takes their sport at least relatively seriously. Tomorrow’s championship is no Park Run in which people pootle round the course – rather, almost every runner, with very few exceptions, are there to be competitive.

This may not necessarily mean challenging for the title but the beauty of running is that every athlete can be competitive in their own way, whether that be comparing their time with that of the previous year or racing a clubmate of rival club, ensuring the competitive element remains strong.

Too many sports believe that if they can produce a few elite athletes who can compete with the world’s best, they are doing their job. Success at the highest level certainly helps to paper over the cracks when it comes to weaknesses lower down the chain and this is where Scottish Athletics must be applauded – despite their success at the very highest level, there has been no hint of complacency.

It would be somewhat understandable if Scottish Athletics stood back and admired the success of their elite athletes but instead, it seems that this success at the highest level has only served to push the sport harder when it comes to growing the levels of participation.

I am never entirely convinced by the trope that the success of elite athletes does much to inspire the average man or woman on the street to pursue sport.

Watching Laura Muir et al may, at very best, encourage someone to go out the odd run or two. But does it really engender a drive and a motivation to change one’s lifestyle entirely and for the long-term? I am sceptical.

But why Scottish Athletics’ cross-country championships are so successful – and have been for the past few years – is because every runner can find their level.

The sheer numbers ensure that the spread of abilities is wide but that is celebrated rather than derided. Scottish Athletics has created an environment in which every runner- fast, slow, young, old, male or female, wants to be a part of.

The club system has been a huge success and has contributed significantly to the growth in numbers. But what every other sport should learn from Scottish Athletics is that success at the highest level means nothing if the numbers lower down are not there. And athletics in this country has got it spot on.