Like so many Scots, I spent yesterday rather bleary-eyed after shunning sleep to see Andy Murray’s superb victory in the US Open. For me, it was the perfect end to what has been an incredibly inspiring summer of sport.
I look forward to seeing Edinburgh cheer our Scottish Olympians as they parade through the city centre this Sunday. But I hope that we’ll see a commitment from politicians that remains long after the cheering crowds have gone home. Our top priority must be to end the short-sighted approach to sports provision in this city because our local, grassroots facilities are where it all begins.
Safeguarding green spaces and playing fields from development would be a start, and cutting speeds on residential streets would encourage the kind of outdoor play that I took for granted growing up. There are increasing calls, including from Sir Chris Hoy, for a total revamp at Meadowbank. We have a velodrome with no roof and a general feeling of tired neglect across the site. The least we could do is find out how much a roof would cost and find the cash to get it done. Meadowbank is an important facility. It’s the only indoor track facility in the region, yet our elite and club athletes have to compete for training space with bookings for antique fairs and children’s clothing sales. It’s not surprising that Scottish athletes all too often have to head south for better facilities.
Glasgow by contrast will have a new world-class velodrome named after Edinburgh’s golden boy for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
City councillors have backed Green calls for network of gold-class cycle lanes, or Hoy Ways, around our capital but details and funding commitments are thin. At the weekend I took part in Pedal for Scotland, cycling 47 miles from Glasgow to Edinburgh, along with 8000 other people. The sheer variety taking part, young and old, competitive and leisurely, highlighted the healthy appetite for cycling that we must sustain.
Of course, Edinburgh does have the benefit of the newly refurbished Commonwealth Pool. Sadly, the Commie’s facelift has been at the expense of other facilities. Families in Leith are anxious to find out the fate of Waterworld, which closed its doors in January. We need to protect and enhance these public assets to make it easy for sport to become part of everyday life. We could mark Andy Murray’s incredible achievements by renaming the Craiglockhart Tennis Centre. After all, Andy did train there. Indeed, his mum Judy can be seen popping in and out of the venue in her coaching role.
The NHS is spending a fortune on obesity. Former health secretary Nicola Sturgeon will be familiar with the idea of preventative spending – I sincerely hope she takes this into her new role as Investment Secretary. What better way to tackle the obesity crisis than investing in sports facilities, and in cycling and walking infrastructure? Making it easy to be active so we have a healthier population will save us money in the long run and will improve our mental health and happiness too.
As we celebrate Andy Murray’s achievements, we should perhaps consider how they do things in Sweden. Our northern European neighbours have produced three of the best tennis players in history: Björn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg won 24 grand slam titles between them. Swedes have a culture of keeping fit and enjoying the outdoors, which must in part account for their longer lives. Fitness is so integral to their way of life schools shut for a sports holiday every February.
By 2014 the Scottish Government wants our high school pupils to have an hour and 40 minutes of physical education each week. We need to be far more ambitious than this. Our political leaders have enjoyed cheering from the sidelines all summer – it’s time for them to make the big leaps required to get Scotland fit for the future.
• Alison Johnstone is Green MSP for Lothian. She has represented Scotland in athletics and is a qualified coach
Investment needed now
SIR Chris Hoy has already called on city officials to invest in the Capital’s sporting future by preserving the velodrome at Meadowbank which set him on the path to becoming Britain’s greatest Olympian.
He said Edinburgh’s reputation as “one of the great track cities” may begin to wane if the sport’s infrastructure was allowed to decline.
In the wake of the Olympics, the News asked sports organisations for the top three items on their wish list for Edinburgh. A boathouse facility for rowers, better tennis courts and more 3G football pitches were among the suggestions.