Salmond promotes rugby as a major driving force for Scotland
First Minister in talks with SRU chiefs
FIRST Minister Alex Salmond believes rugby can become a major selling point for Scotland in a way never before cultivated, and drive a new era of sporting benefits in this country.
The Scottish Rugby Union has undergone an image make-over in the past few months with Firstgroup CEO Sir Moir Lockhead taking over from Allan Munro, a former Hibernian director, as chairman of the union and Mark Dodson replacing the ousted Gordon Mckie as chief executive.
Both Lockhead and Dodson have accepted that there is no obvious pot of gold with which to drive Scotland and Scottish teams back among the best in the world game, but they are committed to selling the sport more deeply and more widely than before, and striving to uncover new investment.
A handful of initiatives have been launched recently at Murrayfield to improve the supporter experience at Edinburgh and forthcoming RBS Six Nations matches, and this week Dodson and Dominic Mckay, the SRU’S Director of Communications and Public Affairs, spent time with rugby officials in Dubai and Hong Kong to share ideas and encourage support for Scottish rugby.
Mckay has been heavily involved in efforts to awaken the Scottish Govern- ment to rugby’s potential as a benefit in and to Scotland, and it is proving fruitful with Salmond now weighing in with a level of support for rugby rarely heard of at Holyrood. The First Minister will today take in an exhibition sevens match in Hong Kong along with Dodson and Mckay, having met with the new Hong Kong Scottish team and some of the ex-pat population of Scottish rugby supporters.
Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, the First Minister said: “Rugby is a hugely popular sport in Scotland, both played and watched with passion by people throughout the country.
“I particularly enjoy watching Scotland play in the Six Nations at Murrayfield. Not only is this country the internationally recognised home of golf, Scotland is also the home of rugby sevens, with an incredible heritage in the sport, born from its origins in Melrose in 1883.
“I know that the SRU is working hard to make that unique heritage work for the benefit of Scottish rugby and Scotland in general. I am in Hong Kong, and nowhere is the global reach of Scottish rugby more evident. There is a thriving ex-pat community here that love rugby and get actively involved through cheering on the national team in the flagship Hong Kong Sevens tournament and growing the Hong Kong Scottish club that is now flying the flag for Scot- tish rugby in the city. I look forward to seeing how these links are developed in the coming years to the benefit of the sport.”
Salmond stressed that support for rugby has grown under his government, but there also seems to be a growing awareness that real investment in rugby will lead to the wider benefits that those active in the game have been shouting about for decades.
“Sport can be a tremendous power for good in society,” he said. “Sport provides role models for the young people in our country to look up to and learn from. We are absolutely clear on how important rugby is to Scotland and through our ‘Cashback for Communities Programme’ we have seen more than 130,000 young people a year taking part in rugby training sessions, keeping them fit and teaching valuable lessons in teamwork, discipline and fair play.
“For our club games, we have a specific Cashback facilities fund to help the grassroots clubs upgrade and improve their changing rooms, pitches or floodlights, ensuring that those who devote so much time and energy to the game they love can train in all weathers, improve their skills and drive the game forward in Scotland.”
The Hong Kong Scottish club is a new amateur club, but it is proving a focus for many wealthy Scots businessmen in Hong Kong. The team won its second game in the HK Premiership last weekend, against last year’s grand finalists DEA Tigers, and is in the play-off spots. That has led to rugby receiving wider coverage in the Hong Kong media, usually dominated by English football.
HK Scottish General manager David Whiteford, a former Scotland Under-20 and Melrose player, said: “Rugby is really taking off and the visit of the First Minister and Mark Dodson has been a great lift to what we’ve been doing.
“We had a good meeting with Mark and Dominic on Wednesday, talking about ideas we have for developing the game and how we can help them do that here. There is a lot of potential outside of Scotland to help Scottish rugby.” THE Scottish Students were handed a tough lesson by a Connacht ‘A’ team which was packed with full-time players at Murrayfield yesterday.
The Irish side won the match on the back pitches 56-3, Scotland’s only points coming from the boot of highly-rated University of Abertay/dundee HSFP centre Jack Steele.
The Scottish Students knew they would be facing a good side, but the squad that Connacht sent over had three players that have already featured in the Heineken Cup this year and numerous other players with top team experience. And the hosts’ plight was not helped by the fact that eight players who would have started for them were not released by their clubs for the representative fixture.
Scottish Students head coach Dave Ross said: “It certainly was a tough day at the office for the boys, the quality that Connacht had out was good enough to compete and probably beat most of our Premier One clubs.
“Some of Connacht’s finishing was top class, but the boys stuck to their task and I am sure as individuals they will have learnt from this testing experience.”