Martin Hannan: We’ve not got a sporting chance

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The proposal to give Sir Chris Hoy the Freedom of the City is entirely laudable. I can think of no-one more deserving at this time, except perhaps JK Rowling who, like Sir Chris, already has the Edinburgh Award but also has the Freedom of the City of London.

I am not alone, however, in wondering how councillors will be able to display straight faces when they present the Freedom scroll to Sir Chris, given the poor condition of the place where he learned his cycling as a boy, the Meadowbank complex.

It is hypocrisy of the rankest sort to give a great sportsman the Freedom of the City when this council’s attitude to sport and sports facilities has been highly questionable over many years. I include the last ruling coalition featuring my party, the SNP, who at least heard the clamour to save Meadowbank and brought about the reversal of the hated sell-off plan.

The new coalition is addressing many issues in sports and recreation, and one of its six key priorities is “maintaining and improving the quality of life in Edinburgh”. One of the famous 50 pledges is also to “continue to support and invest in our sporting infrastructure”. Might I suggest they start at Meadowbank?

The velodrome is still operational, but the recent rain has shown yet again that arguably the biggest lack of foresight ever shown by our elected members was when they gave the go-ahead for a roofless cycle track all those years ago – sheer unutterable folly of the worst kind.

Remember, as they hand over the Freedom scroll to our greatest ever cyclist, it was not that long ago that the council was planning to close the velodrome until sense prevailed and the East of Scotland Track Promoters Association came to the party. Sadly, some of their subsequent events have had to be cancelled due to the incessant rain hereabouts, which can only be damaging the track as well.

Over the past few months we have heard nothing but the word legacy in connection with the London Olympics, but how do you produce the track cyclists of tomorrow when you can’t give them a safe covered place to learn the sport?

Glasgow will soon have the “Hoydrome” in the East End, and that will be the national cycling facility Scotland needs. Yet we in Edinburgh could have had that quality of velodrome decades ago – all it would have taken would have been some sort of canopy to keep the track dry.

It’s not just in cycling that the council is failing our young people. The whole of Meadowbank is tatty due to the lack of investment and cutbacks in maintenance. What was once an elite athletics venue is now showing every one of its 42 years.

Yes, the plan to sell the whole complex off for housing has been abandoned, ostensibly because of public concern, but more probably due to the collapse in the housing market. As soon as the land prices go back up, that plan will reappear, I’ll bet.

Yet it could be so different. With serious investment, Meadowbank could still be a magnificent multi-sports venue, matching the dedication of the staff there who do wonders with a place that they themselves must feel anxious about.

Apart from athletics and cycling, here’s a short list of Olympic sports that Meadowbank has catered for in the past, and could do so much more for in the future – badminton, boxing, basketball, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weighlifting, wrestling, 
volleyball. And that’s just the ones that I know have been played there.

Add gymnastics and handball, and indoor archery and football and any other activity you can think of, and Meadowbank could once again be a real powerhouse of sport.

Any councillor who says it can’t be done in these straitened times should be frog-marched all the way to Aberdeen and made to contemplate the wonders of that city’s Sports Village, simply the finest multi-sports facility in Scotland.

I’d even say that if this city can have a multi-sports venue of that calibre then Meadowbank could be sold off to help pay for it, but only after the Edinburgh Sports Village is a reality.

The Royal Commonwealth Pool apart – and we only got the money to upgrade that due to the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow – there is a crying need to examine all of the sporting provision, or lack of it, in Edinburgh.

This city is expanding in population terms, don’t forget, and local people and incomers want to take part in sport. Kids will have been watching the Olympics and saying “where can I have a go at such and such a sport?” only to be told there is no facility in or near Edinburgh, or that it’s too expensive – the real deterrent to people 
taking up sport.

Lottery money that should have come to Scotland went to London’s Olympics, but they are nearly over now. That share of the Lottery cash should now go to Glasgow in preparation for 2014’s Commonwealth Games.

But after that, Edinburgh should demand and get its fair share of Lottery money to provide seriously good sports facilities that are open to all, or else the Team Scotland which I fervently hope we’ll see at future Olympics just won’t have the talent, at least none of it from Edinburgh.