Kezia Dugdale: Sport starts at the grassroots

Grassroots sports clubs deserve greater support. Picture: Gordon McBrearty
Grassroots sports clubs deserve greater support. Picture: Gordon McBrearty
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Last summer the world cast its eyes on our west-coast cousins as some of the globe’s most talented sports stars arrived in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games.

Us Edinburghers still played our role, travelling through in droves to enjoy and take in the Games and the atmosphere. We also hosted the diving at our improved Commonwealth Pool, and some even managed to catch a glimpse of Tom Daley in our streets.

If 2014 was the year Glasgow was put on the map due to sport at the elite level, I want 2015 to be a year where Edinburgh recognises sport at a local level. We have hundreds of community sports clubs across our city, too often underfunded, competing for the same grants and support and entirely led by parents and volunteers.

Parents who through love and duty get out of their beds early on a weekend morning to drive to the local pitches and pools, who often sacrifice their holidays, who single-handedly keep sports centre cafes going and make those special protein shakes, holding their nose.

Sadly, our local sports clubs are too often driven by their funding and costs. So many of our sports clubs are burdened by the increasing costs – be it through the rent prices rising at our school pitches or halls, paying to keep a jannie in the building or by putting coaches through the many different levels of qualifications you now need.

The Scottish Government continues to underfund our local councils, which means they can’t finance core services. This inevitably means councils have to either close halls or hike up the prices. Sadly, it often means they have to do both across our cities.

There are so many great sporting success stories across our city.

City of Edinburgh Basketball, now over 25 years old out of Portobello, has become one of the most successful basketball clubs in the UK. It has won countless national titles for both its male and female teams, at all age levels. But what has struck me the most is its work to encourage more young women into sport. For the past three years its Only Girls Allowed programme has attracted 50 girls each year into the sport, and many are now playing in one of the club’s teams across the country each week.

Spartans Football Club is setting the standard in working with the local community in the north of the city. Not only with the exploits in this year’s Scottish Cup, but they are also continuing to build the Spartans Community Football Academy alongside their women’s team.

These are just two examples of how our local clubs are working to make their local communities better, despite so many challenges right now.

These volunteers, parents, coaches and administrators give up their spare time because they enjoy it, and because they want to give back to their communities by offering opportunities to young people all across our city and country to live a healthier life, build friendships and, most importantly with all sport, to enjoy themselves.

Let’s all work together to make it just a bit easier for these clubs as whilst the top-level athletes inspire so many to take up sport, it’s these clubs and volunteers that keep them involved week in, week out.

Kezia Dugdale is deputy leader of Scottish Labour and MSP for the Lothians.