Creating a lasting sporting legacy
Across the country, athletes taking part in a total of 17 sports have their sights set on Scotland’s third Commonwealth Games on home soil and its arrival in two years’ time. However, for Stewart Harris, Chief Executive of Scotland’s national agency for sport, Glasgow 2014 marks less the end point of Scotland’s sporting journey as the beginning of a much more lasting one.
“If I was being greedy, I would probably say let’s have a community sport hub in every secondary school in Scotland,” says Harris as a crowd of school pupils from across Edinburgh gather in nearby Festival Square to mark London 2012 World Sport Day. The symbolism of the occasion is obviously not lost on him.
A former head of youth sport at sportscotland prior to taking the reins, Harris has been at the forefront of the organisation, working with local authority partners – which opens up local places such as sports and community centres, as well as schools, to local clubs and sports organisations – and it has established itself as a key contributor to the Scottish Government’s 2014 legacy plan.
Almost two years on from their official launch, all bar two of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have an action plan in place, with plans for 161 community sport hubs across the country fast becoming a reality given almost half are already off the ground. Discussions with the remaining two, Western Isles and Shetland, are ongoing, leaving Harris and his sportscotland colleagues optimistic of a full sweep, sooner rather than later.
“For me, this is about communities doing things for themselves,” says Harris. “The whole concept of community sport hubs is to make sure that it is sustainable. The only way to make them sustainable is to have local people, local coaches, local leaders driving the agenda, having a hand in scheduling and programming the facility, setting training programmes, having a little management committee themselves, so they are the driving force instead of things being driven for them.”
Indeed, achieving a balance between performance and participation is not a challenge sportscotland under Harris has sought to shy away from. A quarter of investment is devoted to high performance sport, with around 500 athletes the length and breadth of Scotland receiving the support necessary to make their mark on the world stage. “Over the last few years, we’ve spent a lot of time creating a high performance network across Scotland and I think we’ve done a really good job at that level supporting that community of 500 athletes. Over the next three or four years, one of our aims and aspiration is to do something very similar around community sport,” he adds. In order to make a difference, the infrastructure needs to be strengthened.
Of course, with local authorities responsible for 90 per cent of investment in sport throughout Scotland, it is a path that cannot be pursued alone. Amid persistent stress on council budgets to achieve savings, ensuring sport retains the financial backing to deliver not only gold medals but community results has proved a priority that those in local government have refused to let slip, according to Harris.
“sportscotland is contributing quite a lot of resource but it’s small in comparison to what local authorities already spend, for example, in sport,” he says. “And we need them to continue to do that. There is a strong message in there. I’m very big on what local government do in sport, I think it’s undervalued and for me, I think it needs to be given the recognition that it deserves.
“Our job is to add some value and like anything else, we have to find solutions to issues and problems and we also have to celebrate success. Every local authority is different and as a result sportscotland has to be flexible but we’ve had a good reputation and a good relationship with local authorities for the last ten years because we’ve had this very strong partnership with all 32.
“We value each individual partnership, from the island communities down to the more rural Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders and the big cities as well, so they all have something different to bring.”
Partnership with local government over the rollout of community sport hubs – which are set to enjoy an annual budget of £1.5m between now and 2015 – represents just one part of the jigsaw, though, insists Harris. A network of more than 400 co-ordinators and managers exists within the Active Schools Network, which has, in recent years, came to be considered by sportscotland as the crown jewel of their operations.
Active Schools – an outcome of the National Physical Activity Strategy adopted by the Scottish Government – is funded to the tune of £12m each year, and it encompasses efforts to get children and young people participating in sport and physical activity before, during and after school, as well as within the wider community.
Figures from the Healthy Living Survey 2012, published by the Scottish Government, show good progress has been made towards achieving the target of delivering two hours or two periods of PE within schools and offers encouragement that Active Schools can engage increasing numbers in future.
Despite reaching every school in Scotland, though, Harris stresses complacency is out of the question at such a crucial juncture. “We need to look carefully at what is happening in secondary schools,” he says. “At the moment, most of the Active Schools’ co-ordinators are working in a cluster so that’s the secondary plus the feeder primaries. But we just feel we need to have a good look at what is happening in secondary because these are the critical years.
“That’s when you get a lot of drop-off in participation and I think if we’re going to halt that, we’ll need talk to school staff,and Active Schools’ staff and we’ll look at how we can strengthen provision. That’s my feeling at the moment – there is a huge amount of good work going on by teachers in secondary schools but we can help them more and we just feel if we’re going to be really serious about increasing this transfer from school into community sport, we need to do that.”
In the weeks and months preceding London 2012, much of the spotlight has fallen on what will come after rather than during the Games as the buzzword ‘legacy’ is increasingly bandied about. Glasgow 2014 can undoubtedly expect a similar fate with the physical regeneration envisaged for the East End of the city, one of a raft of changes considered to last long after the 11-day competition comes to a close.
However, quality takes precedence over quantity, insists Harris, if Scotland is to capitalise considerably. “We haven’t said, here are 25 programmes we’ll do as part of the legacy,” he says. “The key legacy infrastructure for us is community sport hubs, so it’s very focused.
“I would substitute ‘legacy’ for ‘system’ – that’s what we’re trying to create. 2012 and 2014 has allowed us to accelerate those ambitions, we’ve been able to focus, get the message out about a world class performance system for sport and a community infrastructure that’s much stronger than it is currently. That is based on good partnerships, supporting people as leaders and coaches and also making sure what facilities we have – and we’ve got lots of great facilities – are open and accessible to the community. If when you go post-2014 we have achieved a heck of a lot more in structuring the system that would be the legacy, I would think.”
Success in attracting the Youth Olympics to Glasgow in 2018 would obviously play a part in putting young people “right at the forefront of sport”, says Harris. sportscotland has high hopes for the country’s up-and-coming talent, not only on the track or in the pool but in the boardroom as well.
The Young People’s Sport Panel, which consists of 16 individuals, ages 14-25, has been launched in conjunction with Young Scot, and it held its first meeting in the final few days of June with a view to informing the direction and policy of sportscotland. Under the scheme, the panel will meet with senior representatives from the organisation and Young Scot at least twice a year, undertaking monthly projects across all aspects of Scotland’s sporting landscape according to their own priorities.
It’s an idea that Harris, as a former PE teacher who continues to occupy a basketball coaching role over and above his day job, taking sessions twice a week, subscribes to wholeheartedly.
“We got close on 200 applications,” he says. “Now that’s fantastic that that number of young people want to play a part in this. It was tough selecteing 16 as we had so many more great young people interested. As a result, it has us thinking about the role of the panel, about helping us decide on direction and policy, how does that impact locally as well. There is a real interest from young people out there to have more of a say in how sport is delivered and developed in Scotland and we’re up for that.
“I think we’ll see changes – by working with young people in this way we will generate a greater understanding of what they think. This is a bit of a shift for sport… but for me, I am excited about the benefits of us working together in this way. Having worked with Young Scot to set up this panel it is vital that we listen to what young people have to say about direction, and I’m sure between us, we could come up with some new ideas but also build on what our ambitions are in relation to the structure of sport. Rather than a programme approach, it’s very much about a system that you can plug things into and that system is driven by people.”