With the final whistle minutes away, Scotland were within touching distance of the Rugby Union World Cup semi-final, the only northern hemisphere team still in contention. But in those last two agnonising minutes Australia scored a controversial penalty to take the semifinal place. Scotland played like heroes and silenced those that had written the team off before they even stepped on the pitch. A nation burst with pride but also bitter disappointment. Sport has that incredible effect; it evokes a sense of national pride, passion, and brings people together. I’ve had the incredible privilege to be at some great sporting events: watching Chris Hoy win his first Olympic gold in Athens, cheering Scottish swimmers as they won six golds at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and supporting our most successful Scotland team at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Sport at its very best.
Sport is important for so many reasons. It helps to develop skills like teambuilding and personal organisation, in addition to the obvious benefits to health. But, although the number of people involved in sport in Scotland seem to be growing, in England figures suggest that participation is declining. After a wonderful Olympic Games in London just three years ago, this comes as sad news.
On Thursday 15th October a debate in the House of Lords led by Lord Moynihan focused on the Government’s Consultation Paper, A New Strategy for Sport. It is 13 years since a strategy for sport was last published and the sporting landscape has changed drastically. Themes discussed included fairness and equality, participation, governance and elite and professional sport.
When it comes to our top sports men and women who can forget those moments at London 2012 when Katherine Grainger won her long awaited Olympic gold medal and on super Saturday when Mo, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford were all crowned Olympic champions. The elite competitive athletes who inspire us should be at the centre of our strategy for sport. It is essential that National Governing Bodies listen to their athletes and that their needs come first. These athletes may be special, but they are human; they work incredibly hard over a number of days, weeks and years in order to succeed at the highest level of sport. Sometimes they do not fully understand the decisions that often have a huge impact on their lives; hence the need for greater transparency when it comes to decisions over funding and team selection. It is time to hear their voice.
Even though our athletes compete as Team GB at an Olympic games, there are many times during the sporting calendar when athletes represent their home nations, including the Commonwealth Games. It is essential that UK Sport treat all the home nations on an equal basis and that any governance framework linked to UK Sport should impact not just on Sport England but be consistent across the home nations. In the post-devolution UK this needs guidance and effort, but it is so important if we are to be more than the sum of our parts.
Sport should never be an after thought. We need to make sure that we have a long-term investment in the physical activity of our nation and build upon the incredible success that the London Olympic Games and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games has had on our country. I hope this new strategy will speed us on our way to that goal.