How memorable is 2016 going to be for sport? In any pub quiz you don’t know the date for that “who won something when” question you would stand a good chance of being right by putting down 2016!
It’s the year of the underdog, and then some. Leicester City winning the English Premier League, Hibs winning that elusive cup, a 40-year-old Swede winning his first major at The Open, Wales beating favourites Belgium to reach the semi-finals of the European football championships – and many other examples of unexpected victories.
Now to follow on from Britain winning the Davis Cup and Andy Murray winning his second Wimbledon title the great Scot has gone on to win his second Olympic gold medal, too!
Winning medals isn’t everything and not bringing them back in any sporting category should not be seen as failure, just qualifying for the Olympics is an achievement in itself and for our competitors setting personal bests should be their first goal. After that, shoot for the moon.
Nevertheless the medals table is a useful benchmark of how the country’s sporting health is and for many people watching our British representatives winning against adversity is enough to inspire a new generation of young hopefuls to learn the rules and take up training in all sorts of events. Take Laura Trott, Britain’s all-time highest female gold medal winner (with four in two games), who was inspired by meeting Bradley Wiggins and getting to wear his first gold medal 12 years ago.
The fact that Team GB is second (as I write) in the medals table with 21 golds is astonishing given the country’s size against the United States (31) or China (19). The question has to be why have the nation’s sporting fortunes improved so much in the last 20 years?
The answer is undoubtedly more money being put behind sport, but money alone is not enough. It is the way the extra millions are being used that is important and this is being done in two ways. Firstly, the range and quality of facilities has improved beyond recognition – and secondly the funding of specialist coaching support is now much larger, but also far more ruthless and competitive.
For those of you that buy your lottery tickets, please take a bow, for you have made so much of the necessary investment possible when previously the government’s coffers were empty. The squillions coming from lottery funds are doubly helpful because many of the projects that they support must first raise private funding to qualify for a lottery grant.
This helps get philanthropists and punters to part with their cash more than they used to. It also can mean the government has to match fund some schemes, bringing a triple benefit.
The lottery support for buildings such as swimming pools, velodromes and multi-purpose halls has been crucial, but so too has been the funding support for full-time coaches and support staff that can bring the best out in sports men and women. The rules are often very tightly applied and athletes must show a clear plan of what they aim to achieve – and failure to do so can see the funding for a single athlete or group be ended very quickly.
This is not how public financial support is normally provided – but maybe that’s the lesson we need to learn when governments step forward to bail out popular causes such as Prestwick Airport (£40 million and counting).
Trams give us a sporting chance
The appeal by gold medal-winning Callum Skinner for an indoor velodrome in Edinburgh is worthy of support, but unfortunately there’s going to be a few projects ahead in the queue.
It does appear remiss of the council to not provide such a facility in its Meadowbank stadium redevelopment – especially when it is clear that the outdoor velodrome at Meadowbank has been responsible for so many successful cyclists coming out of Edinburgh. First, though, the council will have to build some extra schools for that burgeoning population. Then there’s the state of the roads! Maybe if the council could suspend the next tram development by just a year it would have that money.
We know the project will be late anyway so why not build it into the contractor’s bid? “Pay for a new sports venue every year the tram’s delayed” – sounds like a plan!