I am prompted to write by the number of events , and press releases concerning the competitive sport success of 2014. Whilst agreeing that Scotland did enjoy considerable success at elite /performance sport levels – this clearly came at a price, and in my view is not reflected in Scottish community or in extracurricular school sport.
The difficulty is actually finding out what is happening in detail and across the complete sporting landscape (in the 2200 schools or the 13000 sports clubs). The Scottish Government uses the four-yearly household survey as its chief statistical tool. This survey looks at physical activity with little regard to the context.
The Government agencies gather information linked to projects which are supported by government money. Very often, the figures presented include activities which are wholly delivered by volunteer teachers and coaches, or even other local sports development officers but who receive little or no support or recognition. Numbers are shown by session, making it difficult to calculate who is participating and how often who is paying and who is not.
The 13000 sports clubs in Scotland are mostly stand alone organisations, often fragile, that deliver most of the competitive sport within the community. In extracurricular school sport, it is mostly the volunteer teachers and others who deliver sport. But now we find that these volunteers are finding things becoming more and more difficult, largely because of access to and costs of hiring facilities. Any ambitious sports club will try to offer their members a progressive programme of practice and performance, for many this could be on an almost daily basis.
The current national sports strategy Reaching Higher rightly identifies the local authorities (LA’s) as the main coordinator and supporter of community sport. But there’s the problem, the LA’s are now on the fifth successive year of cuts to public services. The statutory requirement of LA’s to offer appropriate and adequate provision of sport (and interestingly LA’s have a requirement to support the well-being of the community). Significantly sport is seldom, as library or museum provision, or often music instruction, provided free for community access.
So what is happening – now most local authorities have already established leisure trusts (to save on non–domestic rates). More are following. Many of the Trust business plans have little mention of supporting and empowering community sports clubs, rather developing commercial gyms). Many Councils now have no qualified or experienced staff left even to monitor the work of the Leisure Trusts.
There is hope that a new Community empowerment Bill soon to be launched, might encourage more clubs to go down the route of self managing facilities. What is really needed is a statutory requirement for LA’s to support community organisations.
Meanwhile the facility charges are going up and up. Often way above inflation levels. Many report that their sport is now only for those who can afford the cost.
The Scottish Government now claims Scotland has a world class sports system. I disagree. We only have the Scottish Government figures to go on. We do know, that over recent years the fiscal support of performance sport has increased massively, and is now completely out of “sync” with sport in the community. We can also see that so many sports can only facilitate the wealthy families in our communities.
Why don’t we set up a small research unit, similar to both the small countries of Denmark and Switzerland that are responsible for gathering the data, but can do so without the interference of their governments? The solid information could assist in targeting any precious government funding to support our communities.