Margo MacDonald: We’re just not fit for purpose

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Allan Wells was maybe a bit depressed when he prescribed a kick up the backside for the legion of inactive young Scots, who might have the potential to be Olympians like him.

Maybe he was saddened by the slightly woebegone, seen-better-days, look of Meadowbank, where he was king, and where some very fine home-grown athletes first made their name.

Although Meadowbank was a tidy enough little ground, it always was a bit bijou compared with Loughborough or other international-standard sports provisions in England. But we now have the Scottish Institute of Sport based at Stirling University and a national network of local institutes working to the development plans of Sportscotland. However, in many areas we are now woefully short of free space where youngsters can learn their first ball skills in informal games with their pals.

Allan speaks for us all when he describes the feelings when a Great Britain team member gets gold, silver or bronze. And the blood does rush a little faster if it’s a Scot with a tartan towel round his or her shoulders, slung casually but with huge impact on our feelings of proud identification. The warm afterglow lasts for a while, but isn’t enough on its own to produce sporting heroes. That outcome is dependent on the provision of local sporting facilities . . . and, of course, of sports coaches.

I wonder if Allan is aware of just how many football pitches, for example, we’ve lost in the last decade? I wonder if he knows that in poorer area it’s way above what clubs can afford to access the sometimes excellent facilities in schools built with PFI funding?

Scotland’s greatest ever sprinter could boot bottoms till they’re blue, but he wouldn’t be doing anything other than punishing today’s potential athletes for the sins of their parents who signed up to PFI.

Traditionally, although Scotland was fitba’ daft, the true nature of the quality of our respect for the importance of sporting and other physical activities was put to the test when schools were being renewed.

Local authorities did deals with developers to build housing on land attached to schools that had once provided the opportunity for organised sports like football, and the inexplicably seasonal informal playground games of rounders or skipping ropes when today’s grandparents were pupils.

Allan is something of a sporting legend, travelling round England mainly, to boost interest and participation in his sport of athletics, when the basic requirement to introduce kids to running– a track – has become a thing of the past for hundreds of schools on both sides of the border.

Although excitement and enjoyment can be experienced during a major international feast of sport such as the Olympics or the World Cup, study after study has shown that people become athletes in all disciplines because they can pitch up to the local club and be impressed by its standards.

This lesson has been learned by almost everyone associated with club sport now, whoever and whatever sport is involved, but far from the Olympics helping them raise their game, the greatest show on earth is going to cost millions of pounds that could have gone into sports provision, coaching and tournaments.

It’s ironic to think that the Olympics should carry a Government health warning on the potential danger to national fitness.

Never game over

ASK the police in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Stockholm and you’ll get the same answer. What happens when legislators declare paid-for sex to be illegal, and ban it from the (usually) city centre district known as the red light area?

The activity dubbed the oldest profession in the world moves out of sight into the criminal underworld, away from the scope of normal policing and the outreach work undertaken by voluntary support groups for (usually) women with addictions and other difficulties. Then, after a while, the trade cautiously begins to return to its old stamping ground, and the management of an awkward fact of city life becomes more satisfactory from the points of view of those involved in the sex industry and those affected by it.

Over the past decade there’s been an unwelcome development in the sex industry which probably has yet to have much effect on the business in Scotland. But we cannot afford to be parochial in our attitude towards the trafficking of people for sexual exploitation.

Police resources should be directed towards tackling this particular part of the sex industry rather than in wasting resources in hunting down the discreet services now being offered from flats or houses by two women working together. Under Scots law, two women selling sex without obviously soliciting for business, are guilty nonetheless of operating a brothel.

The topic is alive again in Holyrood, with some new lady members dreaming that they can ban paid-for sex. Plus ca change . . .