SCOTTISH Olympic sprinting champion Allan Wells was today helping to launch a project to get city youngsters involved in athletics and keep them away from antisocial behaviour.
The Edinburgh-born sprint star was making a visit to Edinburgh’s Liberton High School with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to mark the start of Street Sprint, which will offer young people the chance to take up street athletics in the evenings, weekends and holidays.
The project is being funded with £130,000 from the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities scheme, which reinvests money seized from criminals into community activities.
Street Sprint is a new programme run by Scottish Athletics, who say it will be rolled out across 20 Scottish local authorities.
In Edinburgh, there will be at least 40 sessions over the winter, based at schools, community centres and other venues, open to children of school age, to coach them to sprint.
Mark Munro, head of development for Scottish Athletics, said: “Our concept is so simple we can do it anywhere – a school playground, a supermarket car park, anywhere we have permission and meets health and safety requirements. We want to educate the children and try to get them interested in a club. If we get the next Allan Wells that will be a bonus.”
Wells took gold in the 100 metres at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and has been dubbed “Scotland’s fastest ever man”.Joining him at today’s launch were European Youth Olympic and Commonwealth Youth Games champion Tom Holligan, European under-23 400m relay gold medallist Jamie Bowie, Scottish Athletics under-16 sprint champion and under-15 Scottish record-holder Morro Bajo and Commonwealth Youth Games athlete Bethanie Finlayson.
Mr MacAskill said: “Street sport schemes such as this are a great way to give young people purpose, focus and confidence, get them involved in sport, keep them out of trouble and hopefully help see them onto a positive future.”
He said that since 2007 more than £42 million of “crooks’ cash” had been used to provide opportunities for more than 600,000 young people to take part in free activities.