The Sunday Post (Newcastle)
More cash for Scots sport can kick-start fight against poverty
If the value of sport to Scotland was measured by manifesto space it would be hard not to conclude that sport is not important to Scottish political parties, but it should be.
The first thing an incoming Scottish Government should do is resource sport to match the claims that Scotland is a sporting nation.
The second thing is to remove the ambiguity around what is “adequate” provision at a local authority level.
Don’t force reductions in council budgets. The majority of sport is delivered at local level where Scotland can be more aspirational than being just an “adequate” sporting nation.
Sport and leisure trusts deliver where the private sector will often not go. It is important to forge positive relationships between the trusts and councils.
East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure Trust working with its local authority is a good example. East Renfrewshire has led Scotland in terms of closing the educational attainment gap and is equally aspirational about what it can do for sport and leisure in communities.
A third thing an incoming government can do is recognise sport is an enviable cultural asset. Take, for example, Scotland’s most popular sport, football. The chair of Scotland’s Sustainable Growth Commission was unequivocal when he said:
“I can think of no other business, institution or organisation with the communication reach of football.”
The SFA is ahead of the game by asking the next government to fully recognise football’s influence. This is not radical, it is just catching up with what other nations do. Australia with its 2030 sports diplomacy strategy, the USA with its Sports United programmes, China with its sports stadium diplomacy and France with its hugely ambitious Sport En Commun intervention are already out the blocks. Wales and Ireland are close behind.
What better way to win friends and influence for Scotland than harnessing the capability of sporting events, visits, ambassadors, workshops and knowledge exchange and have lines in different government budgets to fund this.
The free football voucher scheme the SFA pledged last week is the sort of thing the Scottish Government should support. Cost is the main barrier to be removed when it comes to poverty and access to sport for young people. Experts have long argued that social capital is key to addressing poverty and health inequality and sport delivers this in spades.
Our next government should enable Scotland to be a greater sporting nation by being aspirational and including a sports line in each of these budgets where sport delivers on much more than just health.