I am delighted to bring this debate to the chamber, because although we often have disagreements here, on this topic—celebrating the achievements of team Scotland during the Gold Coast Commonwealth games—we are, I am sure, absolutely united.
On Tuesday 17 April, team Scotland returned home following their best ever away games, bringing back a total of 44 medals and surpassing the previous record of 29, which was set at the 2006 games in Melbourne. I congratulate all the athletes who represented team Scotland, along with the coaches, managers, nutritionists, physiotherapists, doctors, families, friends, and volunteers who travelled to the Gold Coast to support them. I would also like to thank the chair and the chief executive of Commonwealth Games Scotland, Paul Bush and Jon Doig, and all their colleagues at team Scotland for the phenomenal effort that it took to get every competitor to the start line, and in peak condition. The logistical operation alone to arrange flights, accommodation and kit for some 400 Scots was hugely complex, requiring great skill and dedication. All that work behind the scenes enabled the athletes to concentrate on their performance—and perform they did.
The team was ably led into the Carrara stadium by Eilidh Doyle, the first female flag bearer to do so. It was a fitting tribute to her achievements as an athlete, an ambassador and an inspiring figure for so many, and to her hugely professional conduct over so many years.
Marc Austin won Scotland’s first medal, in the triathlon, getting team Scotland on the medal table, but the medals did not stop coming; nor did the happy memories or the stories of resilience and endurance. Duncan Scott won six medals, the most ever achieved by a Scottish athlete at a single games. John and Katie Archibald, the sibling double act, gave medal-winning performances in the velodrome, and Alex Marshall is now Scotland’s most decorated Commonwealth athlete after winning medals in the pairs and the fours categories for lawn bowls.
It was not just the medal winners who achieved greatness. The women’s netball team matched their Glasgow performance, and were close to improving on it. Both beach volleyball pairs achieved great results, with the women in particular beating teams of higher ranking. I do not think that folk out in Australia truly appreciated the differences in climate. The beach that the volleyball teams in Scotland train on had been frozen, which was far from the minds of those in Australia. In basketball, the men finished an amazing fourth, going unbeaten until the semi-finals.
Diver James Heatly won bronze in the 1m springboard, which was Scotland’s first diving medal in 60 years, with the previous winner, of course, being James’s granddad. The list goes on, with phenomenal performances from the likes of Sammi Kinghorn and our first female boxers, who all worked so hard and so proudly for team Scotland. We are all pleased to know that Callum Hawkins is on the road back to fitness after his heroic battle in the marathon, which we witnessed.
I had the privilege of joining team Scotland, in recognition of the special role that Scotland had as the previous host and the learning that has been shared between the two nations to enable the Gold Coast to pick up the baton and carry on from where our games left off. The Gold Coast games coincided with a report that detailed the legacy of the Glasgow 2014 games, which included cementing Glasgow and Scotland’s reputation for hosting world-class events, contributing £740 million to the Scottish economy, enabling Glasgow to host the European championships later this year and delivering 192 community sports hubs. The Gold Coast has equally embedded legacy into its games, and the nations of the Commonwealth remain hugely interested in Glasgow’s and Scotland’s efforts.
Equalities were a key theme of the Glasgow games, and they were also promoted at the Gold Coast games. As in Glasgow, the parasports were part of the main sporting programme. That is a legacy of Glasgow 2014, which was the first major sporting event to have a joint programme. Pride house in the Gold Coast was directly influenced by what was in place in Glasgow. That is a necessary presence at the Commonwealth games, because it reminds us of the journey that remains in ensuring equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people across the Commonwealth. However, the Gold Coast was able to champion a first of its own, in that the games had an equal amount of medals for men and women, which we probably all hope will be the case at the Birmingham games in 2022.
The success of team Scotland did not happen by accident. As the motion outlines, it is due to the hard work of countless athletes, governing bodies, volunteers and the world-class system that sportscotland has in place to enable opportunities from grass-roots level right up to performance level. Yesterday’s timely publication by sportscotland of independent research demonstrates that the programmes that it supports are having a positive impact on those taking part. Adults and children report that they are more physically active since joining a sports club or participating in the active schools programme. That is helping to create a healthier lifestyle as well as helping people to integrate into their local community.
That research, along with recent research by Scottish athletics, is vital in helping us to gain a better understanding of the demographic and motivations of people who regularly take part in sport and physical exercise while highlighting those who need more assistance with achieving a more active lifestyle. It enables all of us to tell of the positive and transformative impact of sport and to endeavour to enable more people to get the chance to take part and be active. That is why we have protected the sportscotland budget this year. To help to mitigate the impact of continued reductions in sportscotland’s income from the national lottery, we are providing sportscotland with a further £3.4 million. We will continue to invest in physical education in schools as well as our active schools programme, thereby providing opportunities to people to try different sports at an early age and creating pathways so that people can continue to enjoy participating in sport throughout life. No doubt, that progress will be inspired by the new heroes that were created in Australia just a few weeks ago.
During my time at the Gold Coast games, I met the chair of UK Sport, Dame Katherine Grainger. I mention that because of the constructive amendment from the Conservatives. Over the next few months, we will continue to work with UK Sport as we continue to plan for the 2018 European championships. To coincide with the European championships, Scotland will host the next meeting of the United Kingdom sports cabinet, which provides the opportunity for sports ministers from the four home nations to discuss issues of common sporting and physical activity affecting the United Kingdom and provides for a collective discussion of the most strategic priorities of UK-wide importance. That is an important gathering, and we will, I hope, see more medal successes here in Glasgow and of course in Berlin.
Although Glasgow will serve as the official host city of the championships in Scotland, many of the exciting events will be spread out across the country, which, again, underlines Scotland’s ability to host great events. That is enabled by our first-class facilities, which is why we have invested heavily over the past 10 years in the sports infrastructure in Scotland. It is important to note that, since 2007, sportscotland has invested £168 million in supporting councils, sports governing bodies and other organisations to deliver a wide range of new and upgraded sports facilities in order to continue supporting our performance athletes alongside ensuring crucial access for communities and people who want to be helped towards an active lifestyle.
Again, I offer my warmest congratulations to all our athletes and everyone who was involved with team Scotland for achieving their best away games and making the entire nation extremely proud to have them as our sporting ambassadors. I look forward to hearing from other members from around the chamber.
That the Parliament commends the incredible achievements of Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast; recognises that this was Scotland’s best ever away games and, by winning 44 medals, beat the previous medal tally of 29 in Melbourne in 2006; considers that this demonstrates that Scottish sport is growing in strength and depth, with sportscotland and governing bodies of sport working to support athletes, coaching and support staff, and believes that sustained investment and commitment in the whole sporting system is vital to enable people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to regularly take part in sport and exercise.
I am delighted to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. The Commonwealth games are a special event in the sporting calendar. They are the second-biggest multisport event after the Olympic games and they hold a special place in my heart—I say that as a competitor and spectator.
The games are generally the highest level in the participating sports at which competitors can wear the Scottish vest. They also give competitors the chance to step into the arena against their erstwhile teammates from the other home nations, which gives the competitions a certain edge and feel. Bragging rights live long in the memory. For example, Scotland’s 4x400m relay team’s defeat of the auld enemy in the 1990 Commonwealth games is still mentioned at every opportunity when in certain company—and I am delighted to take the opportunity once again.
The Commonwealth games are special in many ways, not just because they are the friendly games and the home nations get to compete in home colours. They also give an opportunity for the younger, inexperienced participants to get a taste of a multisport event. That is not to say that winning medals at the Commonwealth games is necessarily any easier than at any other major championships, because, in certain events, Commonwealth finals are akin to Olympic finals. That is important, because behaviour is changed by experiencing how other sports are timetabled, how a busy athletes village operates and how some sports are finished before others—for example, the swimmers tend to be finished before the athletics events start.
The history of the games goes back all the way to 1930 and Hamilton in Ontario, where the Empire games started. Some 165 medals were available to 11 participating countries in six sports. Since then, the future of the Commonwealth games has been brought into question many times and people have asked whether they are viable or required. However, if we fast forward to 2014, we find some 5,000 athletes from 71 countries descending on Glasgow and competing in 261 events in 17 sports, with 824 medals on offer. There has recently been a significant rise in the numbers, with the inclusion and subsequent expansion of disability sport events, which has enhanced the spectacle of the games no end. Also, with women having been given parity in the 1980s, the games continue to give opportunity to an increasing number of athletes pulled from one third of the world’s population.
That brings me to the Commonwealth games that have just finished on the Gold Coast and to the remarkable record and achievements of our athletes: 44 medals in total, as has been mentioned. Those of us who followed the games—and experienced the consequent sleep deprivation—could not help but be drawn in by the spectacle and the daily success of our sportsmen and women.
I must highlight the remarkable Alex Marshall, who won his fifth Commonwealth gold medal in lawn bowls—I watched that men’s fours final. I also highlight Eilidh Doyle’s continued success on the international stage. After winning a silver medal in the 400m hurdles, she is the most decorated Scottish female track and field athlete of all time. I sneak in a mention for Mark Dry, who won his bronze medal in the hammer having overcome significant injuries between Glasgow and the Gold Coast. Jake Wightman’s bronze medal in the 1,500m heralds the start of an exciting career. Although Callum Hawkins’s collapse close to the finish of the marathon was painful to watch, it highlighted his potential on the world stage.
I will also mention a young athlete, Zoey Clark, who is coached by a good friend of mine, Eddie McKenna, in Aberdeen. She is definitely an athlete on the rise. I have had the privilege of watching her develop and grow from when I first met her while coaching the Scottish under-17 sprint team. The reason for mentioning her is that I want to highlight the environment and support that are required to take an athlete to the highest level.
The model that has been established in Aberdeen has reaped rewards for that area. A number of years ago, I was at the launch with Allan Wells. The Aberdeen sports village is an impressive facility that has been developed in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council and sportscotland. Eddie McKenna then helped to develop the Hydrasun athletics academy, which invested in the development of talented athletes, in conjunction with their coaches.
Training can be an expensive business for an athlete and a coach, especially early in an athlete’s international career. That early support mechanism is important if an athlete is to reach the levels that they aspire to and which their talent allows. It must be borne in mind that that early training often takes place while they are studying at college or university—in that regard, our own Laura Muir made the hard decision to miss the Commonwealth games to sit her final veterinary exams at the University of Glasgow.
The role of coaches, clubs and the national governing bodies cannot be underestimated. Again, it has been my privilege to watch and work with some of the most dedicated coaches that anyone could ever wish to see. However, the pathway to excellence is a tough one. As I have said, talent is not enough. Different levels of support are required as each athlete progresses. Many of the athletes whom we witnessed in Glasgow and in the more recent games in the Gold Coast will have received local support to start with from their parents and family, which will have been followed by support from local councils and arm’s-length external organisations, and then national support, delivered through sportscotland, which funds elite sport to the tune of £11.9 million. If that hard work and dedication leads them to an even higher level, UK Sport finances the elite end of the sport to the tune of £12.35 million, which gives many of the athletes a wage, access to the best facilities around the world and medical back-up of the very highest standard.
I should mention that Scotland is punching well above its weight, with 13 per cent of athletes on UK world-class programmes coming from Scotland, even though our population represents only 8.4 per cent of the UK.
I have outlined what it takes these days to achieve peak performance. If we look at elite sport, we will note that not many athletes train on these shores. Instead, they are funded to leave their homes and families and train abroad, reaching for that extra percentage that makes the difference between getting a place on the podium and being an also-ran.
Success at that level is a tough and complicated game and requires years of planning on top of consistent and determined effort on the training grounds. The success of Scottish sportsmen and sportswomen will stand them in good stead as they strive for future goals and even more amazing performances.
I move amendment S5M-11967.2, to insert at end:
“; notes the role of UK Sport in funding elite sport, and believes that reducing inequality in access to participation should be a priority for the Scottish Government.”
I thank the minister for bringing this debate to the chamber. As we have heard, our Scottish athletes have excelled themselves on the Gold Coast, and it is right that we take time to recognise and celebrate their achievements.
Scotland has sent athletes to compete in the Commonwealth games since they first began in 1930. Since then, the event has evolved. At the 1998 games, team sports were added, and, at the 2002 games in Manchester, medal events for athletes with a disability were integrated into the programme. At the most recent games, in the Gold Coast—the 21st Commonwealth games—there was a focus on gender equality. As we have heard from the minister, for the first time, there was gender parity in the number of medal events for men and women and, at certain events, more than 50 per cent of the technical officials were women.
A celebration of those achievements shows that, beyond mere competition and world-class sport, the Commonwealth games have a bigger aim. The aim is to unite 71 diverse nations and territories across the world. The vision is of a family of nations sharing the core values of humanity, equality and diversity. That is a vision to which Scotland has whole-heartedly committed. The welcome that was given to visitors at the 1970 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh, which I remember, gave the event the identity of “the friendly games”, and a partnership between the games and UNICEF was launched at the 2014 Glasgow games. That partnership sought to harness the power of sport to transform children’s lives, and has reached more than 11.7 million children in 52 countries.
Scotland has much to be proud of on the field. As the motion states, the Gold Coast games marks Scotland’s most successful overseas Commonwealth games to date, with a medal haul of 44. It was clear from the interviews that Scottish athletes gave ahead of the games that they were there to do business, and they certainly delivered. As we have heard already, there were many memorable moments, including Neil Fachie winning a second double gold in the blind and visually impaired sprint and time trials; Marc Austin securing a surprise bronze medal in the triathlon; and, in her third games, at the age of only 21, Grace Reid scooping an amazing gold medal in the diving.
One of the benefits of the Commonwealth games is that they give Scottish athletes a place to shine that restrictions on Olympic places in team GB do not always allow. Much was rightly made of Duncan Scott storming to victory in the pool in the 100-metres freestyle and winning a total of six medals. However, the strength and ability of Scottish athletes were on display across a range of events, including—but not limited to—cycling, bowls, swimming and gymnastics.
All the members of team Scotland—the athletes, coaches and wider staff—deserve congratulations for their incredible achievement. Each of the competitors has a story about how they were inspired into their sport—for many, it was watching the home-grown athletes who came before them compete on the world stage. Beyond the excitement of the games, the hope is that the achievements of Scottish athletes in the Gold Coast will inspire a whole new generation to get active and involved in sport.
However, we know that, at least in this area, aspiration is not enough—sometimes it is perspiration, too. It requires more than encouraging talk to get people excited about doing sport, rather than simply sitting on the sofa and watching sport. As the legacy report for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games stated:
“legacy is not ‘automatic’ or inevitable, rather hosting major events can be used as a ‘catalyst’”.
In the aftermath of the 2014 games, much was promised as a legacy. The games were to have on-going social and economic effects for Glasgow, where the event was held, but also across the country. The legacy report on the 2014 Glasgow games was published in April, and the verdict on the long-standing impact was mixed. Thankfully, the facilities and infrastructure that were put in place for the games are, of course, still of benefit to the communities in which they are situated. Since 2009, there has been an increase in attendance at and membership of sports facilities across Glasgow, with, on average, high levels of satisfaction with the available resources.
Although the success in the Gold Coast might suggest that high-level performance has benefited, there is clearly still much to be done to ensure that the benefit is felt equally across society. An outcome that was reported in April’s legacy report was an increase in physical activity for those who are already active.
I am very conscious of time, Presiding Officer, and I want to compete well with my Tory opponent across the chamber, so I will quickly go to my conclusion.
The success for Scotland at the Gold Coast games cannot be overstated. Underneath the impressive medal haul were also stories of perseverance and personal triumph. As the American sprinter Wilma Rudolph said:
“The triumph can’t be had without the struggle.”
I move amendment S5M-11967.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises the importance of using sporting success to increase active participation as part of building a healthier society, and believes that this is further helped by delivering affordable and free access to sporting participation for the many.”
I will not join in David Stewart’s perspiration, but he made a noble effort to link sport and participation. I will not repeat the list of those who were so successful, as the minister and Brian Whittle rightly did, but I very much share their sentiments. I also share David Stewart’s sentiments about the success of the Gold Coast Commonwealth games and all that came from them.
Personally, I enjoyed the swimming, the hockey and the cycling—in no particular order—not least because of Chris Hoy’s illustrations from the studio. He was doing the punditry back on planet earth for those of us who watched the games, as Brian Whittle rightly said, in the early hours of the morning. Chris Hoy’s description of the pain that elite athletes go through in his particular discipline is something that will probably stay with me longer than anything else that I watched in the 10 days of competition. I winced through most of his description of that pain on the television.
I will, very briefly, make a couple of points on legacy. The investment that a country makes in elite sport—the minister rightly mentioned the role of sportscotland and the governing bodies—needs to be balanced by the investment that is made in participation, through encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles and ensuring that people can live lives that are not such a drain on our health service or on the state in other ways.
When looking back at the Glasgow 2014 games, I thought about the three athletes from Shetland who were part of team Scotland. I got in touch with all three of them the other day. Erraid Davies is a medical student—there cannot be many better professions in the sense of helping in the future.
Andrea Strachan, who swam in the final of the 100-metres breaststroke at the Glasgow games, is a sports development officer for Shetland Islands Council. She also works for sportscotland as a community hub sports officer—I think that that is right; she has so many titles to her name. At the moment, Andrea is not actively involved in swimming coaching. I get the sense that, after such an intensive period, particularly in swimming, where they start in the pool at a very young age and have to get up and go very early for many years, it probably takes a little bit to get back into it. However, to have Andrea involved in sports and active schools in my part of the world in Shetland is very welcome indeed.
Lynda Flaws, who was part of Scotland’s table tennis team at the Glasgow games, is, since last month, a full-time physiotherapist at the Golden Jubilee hospital. She made the point to me the other day that she cannot wait to get back into playing table tennis—knowing her, she will certainly do that—and into coaching. She wants to put something back in, not necessarily for elite athletes, but in order to encourage people to play a game that everyone can play. That, for me, is very much part of the legacy of the games; it means that people such as Brian Whittle have a chance to put all that they have learned into future elite athletes and into encouraging people to recognise how important sport and active lives can be for their future.
I kind of knew that that question was coming. It is only fair of me to recognise Mairi Gougeon’s personal role and commitment. I will let you into a secret, Presiding Officer. When the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee was in Dublin back in the early part of the year, which member of that committee went out running first thing in the morning? Mairi Gougeon. We were all deeply impressed by her commitment to the triathlon that she is taking part in later in the year.
The minister mentioned UK Sport. She will know that many coaches from across the country are coming to Edinburgh in June—I think—as part of a UK-wide coaching event. That is very much part of the legacy that I hope she will reflect on in her winding-up remarks.
As well as reminding members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the health secretary,
I can tell members that I have been out running with Mairi Gougeon—suffice to say that I will not be doing that again in a hurry.
I congratulate team Scotland on their success at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games. They really did us proud—it was another great example of what talented athletes we have representing our country. We did well enough to pick up a medal every single day and saw our best performance at an away games, picking up 44 medals in total. Every one of our athletes should be proud of that achievement.
It was great to see that, of the 224 athletes to compete in all 18 sports, 93 were women, which is the biggest Scottish female contingent at an away games. We also sent 18 para-athletes, as para-disciplines were fully integrated into the games. That means that there was no separate event or ticket for a para-sport event and that a medal won by a para-athlete in the men’s wheelchair 1,500 metres contributed the same as a medal in the men’s 1,500 metres, which is how it should be. We saw some really talented athletes emerging at the games, which I believe is partly down to the legacy of Glasgow 2014, where medallists Kimberley and Louise Renicks from Coatbridge won gold medals in the judo. I am pleased to say that both of them are still involved in judo and are coaching young people.
We have sustained investment in our sporting system, as sport is a way of life in Scotland. That is borne out for me by the huge interest in the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on the future of football in Scotland, which I started and at which we have been having open discussions on making all levels of the game accessible to all sections of society. Scottish Government investment in community sport has produced strong results, and we continue to inspire performance generally. We have seen an expansion in our active schools programme, as other speakers have said, which allows young people to participate in sport around the school day. In the past academic year, there were nearly 300,000 distinct participants in active schools activities.
We also have 192 community sports hubs in operation throughout Scotland, which allows communities to provide welcoming environments for sports activities. In my constituency, Chryston high school and St Andrew’s high school are community sports hubs and home to many talented and ambitious young sportspersons. Coatbridge high has a school of rugby that has excelled in recent times and Buchanan high school recently sent finalists to the special Olympics world winter games 2017. St Ambrose high has, among many other talented young people, a student in the national Scotland wheelchair basketball team and is set to meet the team this weekend. In my constituency alone, there is a lot of good work going on, and there are a lot of talented young people.
We have also seen a transformation in our sporting facilities across the country since we won the bid in 2007 for the Glasgow games in 2014. It has been found that the games drove the development of high-quality sports facilities, contributed £740 million to Scotland’s economy, regenerated large parts of Glasgow and enhanced Scotland’s international reputation. However, the media focused on the finding that the games had little impact on sports participation and activity rates.
I am pleased that plans to get rid of the tracks at Ravenscraig were scrapped recently after public pressure put paid to them.
It is important that the Scottish Government has protected the sportscotland budget and committed to increasing its core funding by £2 million in 2018-19, from £29.7 million to £31.7 million. That means that we will be able to prioritise the development of sport in Scotland.
In 2017-18, sportscotland invested more than £10 million in the governing bodies of Commonwealth games sports to ensure that they could develop all aspects of their sports, delivering both participation and performance outcomes. We also invested £163,000 directly in Commonwealth Games Scotland. That continued investment should be celebrated, as we will reap the benefits through sporting success in the future.
However, we all need to play our part in making sport accessible to everyone so that they can have the many social, physical and mental health benefits that exercise brings, which Tavish Scott outlined very well. For example—
I begin by congratulating everyone who took part in the Commonwealth games, especially those from across Scotland, and I give a big shout-out to those who represented the Borders.
Some may understand that sport serves only the elite physical specimens and that it can be enjoyed by us mere mortals only with a packet of crisps and a pint of beer or a glass of wine in front of the television. How wrong those people are. Sport is for all and it can be enjoyed by all. It unites us all, whether by country, region, constituency, town or village. We can all get behind our sporting heroes—professional and amateur—and dig deep for our teams.
Sport is about so much more than sport itself. As a netball coach, I experienced that at first hand. It was not only netball that I taught; it was the values that come with it—teamwork, discipline, responsibility and respect, to name but a few. Through netball and other sports, those values can be taught to young girls and boys.
Those who read the local papers in the Scottish Borders will have seen that I recently participated in women’s rugby training in Kelso. Women there spoke of the barriers that they had overcome to play rugby, but the very fact that they have come together as a team speaks volumes about how far they have got. I was pleased to see that women’s rugby made its Commonwealth games debut this year. Women are defying gender stereotypes in sport. They are proving that women can play rugby and that it is not just for men. That, in itself, is a legacy created by women of determination.
I now want to see financial commitment to match that ambition. It is a while back now, but in 2013-14 help was given from the sport facilities fund to upgrade the team changing facilities at Kelso rugby club. Such investment makes sport accessible, and the more accessible we make it, the better the outcome will be.
Since the Glasgow Commonwealth games, the Borders has received investment in sport facilities, including £35,000 for community hubs. The legacy 2014 active places fund resulted in £357,000 being invested across seven facilities projects in the Borders; with partner contributions, the total that was invested in those projects was just short of £900,000. Overall, however, sportscotland investment in the Scottish Borders has remained static.
We need to look at and explore whether certain sports are being neglected and whether considerably more funding is being allocated to one sport than to others. If we ensure that all sports are accessible and that none is left behind, that will help to increase physical activity in my constituency and across Scotland.
To be frank, we need to look at ways to encourage active health, as Scotland has one of the worst obesity records among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. More than a third of adults do not meet the guidelines for moderate and vigorous physical activity; two thirds of adults are overweight, with 29 per cent being obese; and 29 per cent of children are at risk of being overweight or obese. Those are deeply concerning statistics. Let us not forget that obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses, and adds to the pressure on our NHS.
An active healthy lifestyle—not one as strenuous as a professional athlete’s, but one that involves just 20 minutes of activity a day, such as a lunch-time walk—is a preventative measure to help to reduce obesity.
Do I have four minutes, Presiding Officer?
Preventative measures will help to reduce obesity, encourage a lifestyle that makes one’s quality of life better, and reduce the pressure on the NHS, which is a win-win for all. That is a legacy that I would like us to work more towards.
I reiterate my congratulations to Scotland’s Commonwealth athletes and the 14 incredibly inspiring young people from the Scottish Borders. Sport teaches core values, and that in itself is a lesson that we should not forget.
I, too, offer my congratulations to all the athletes and coaches and everyone who was involved with team Scotland on an excellent Commonwealth games.
It is right that we in the Parliament acknowledge the great achievements of the Scottish athletes at the Commonwealth games and pay tribute to everyone who competed in a great advert for sport across the Commonwealth. The two weeks of compulsive television for us spectator sportspeople was great, but it took weeks, months and years of hard work to get those who competed to their best in their chosen sport.
The briefing from sportscotland for this debate shows that real progress is being made across the country in supporting people to be involved in sport. I hope that all the athletes who competed will be able to spend some time getting out into our schools and local sports clubs to speak about their experiences.
Although I have applauded the progress that is being made to widen access to sport, there is no room for complacency. Too many young people still do not have access to facilities and coaching.
I was able to watch a fair bit of the games, and I cheered when we won medals. To be honest, I cheered on all the athletes and just enjoyed the sport. I think that my most nervous experience was watching the marathon. I thought that Callum Hawkins had done enough to take the gold, but he was overcome by the heat. I saw an interview with him later that week, in which it was clear that he was more determined than ever to achieve his goal of gold. That is the true spirit of the Commonwealth games, just as it is the true spirit of the sport that people in communities throughout Scotland take part in every weekend. We were, of course, able to celebrate Robbie Simpson taking the bronze in that marathon—I say well done to him.
I know that some people say that sport and politics should be kept apart, but a big moment for me was when Tom Daley of England won gold in the diving and used the platform to highlight LGBTI rights and the lack of them in many Commonwealth countries. As an athlete, he was brave to do that. He said:
“there are 37 countries in the Commonwealth where it’s currently illegal to be who I am, so hopefully we can reduce that number ... I feel with the Commonwealth ... we can really help push some of the other nations to relax their laws on anti-gay” stuff. I say well done to Tom Daley and to the Commonwealth games for creating an inclusive sporting atmosphere that many of the member countries could and should learn from.
The games were the first major sporting event that achieved gender equality by having an equal number of events for male and female athletes, and they had the largest-ever fully integrated para-discipline sports programme. I say well done to Scotland’s 224 athletes and to everyone who competed in the games.
I am pleased to speak in the debate, and I support the motion.
As other members have mentioned, it is good news that we are speaking about team Scotland’s success. Many people enjoy watching sports such as athletics, swimming, badminton, weightlifting and cycling, which are all well known to us all, but there are other, less-kent sports, such as competitive shooting, which I will focus my comments on.
David McMath won a gold medal for double trap shooting. He is 21 years old and fae Castle Douglas in the south-west of Scotland. He won Scotland’s 30th medal out of the total of 44 that Scotland won in the games, and his win tipped Scotland over the 29-medal mark to give it its best-ever performance in an overseas games.
Trapshooting is a game of movement, action and split-second timing. Accuracy and skill are required to repeatedly aim, fire and break the 4.25 inch discs, which are hurled through the air at a speed of 42mph.
The palm-sized orange targets look large enough when placed in the hand, but they look like an aspirin tablet when they are flying through the air.
I called David McMath to give him my best wishes and to congratulate him. I found him to be humble, polite and very down to earth. Incidentally, when I spoke to my dad about David winning the gold medal, he told me that he knew David McMath senior—they compete against each other in carpet bowls, which is another lesser-known Scottish sport. My dad said that I am related to the medallist. According to him, my grampa’s brother’s first wife’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s son is the Commonwealth champion, which makes us kin.
Dad and I had a really interesting conversation about shooting, which led me to phone David McMath. We talked about the future of shooting as a sport in the Olympic and the Commonwealth games. David told me that he was going to have to start learning skeet instead of double trap, because double trap has been cut from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The future of double trap at the Olympics has been in danger for some time, and many shooters have been changing disciplines, with many switching to Olympic trap, which is different from double trap or skeet.
The recommendation to remove double trap was made to help to achieve gender equality in shooting as part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In addition, it has been decided to drop all shooting events from the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham. That is unfortunate. Shooting is a great sport for the small nations and countries; most small nation islands can be included in the sport of shooting. Anyone can do it. Competitive shooting is open to a wide variety of people, and many competitive shooters are older—in fact, shooter Robert Pitcairn from Canada, who competed this year, is 79 years old. He is officially the oldest athlete in the history of the Commonwealth games. There is also a wide range of competitive shooting events in the Paralympics, and shooting is inclusive of folk with disabilities.
The motion states that the Parliament
“believes that sustained investment and commitment in the whole sporting system is vital to enable people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to regularly take part in sport and exercise.”
I ask that the minister explores—perhaps at UK Sport’s cabinet meeting—whether there is an opportunity to preserve competitive shooting at future games, so that people of all ages, genders and abilities can continue to participate in that inclusive sport.
I am delighted to be able to take part in this afternoon’s debate. The Commonwealth games have been hailed as Scotland’s finest, so I pay tribute to all those who assisted, coached, supported, attended and took part. We can enjoy their success, and today is an opportunity to celebrate it. Those individuals gave their time and their talents, and it is right that we honour them for that.
Scotland has a proud history at the Commonwealth games, and has hosted them on a number of occasions over the decades: they were held in Glasgow in 2014 and in Edinburgh in 1970 and 1986.
My pleasure in speaking today is heightened not least by the fact that my region has provided many great world-class athletes in recent years, and never more than for the most recent Commonwealth games that we have enjoyed. At this year’s games, athletes from Clackmannanshire and the adjacent city of Stirling featured highly. That is a result of the facilities that we have at the University of Stirling and other universities.
Alloa’s Duncan Scott, who is an extraordinary swimmer, won one gold, one silver and four bronze medals, which makes him Scotland’s most successful athlete at a single Commonwealth games. We should celebrate that success. He had the honour of bearing the saltire at the closing ceremony of the friendly games. Duncan is one of the University of Stirling’s many rising stars, and claimed his first individual Commonwealth games medal in the 200-metre freestyle. That young man has fought long and hard and achieved much. Stirling is very proud of his achievements.
We must acknowledge the importance of all the team members, including the coaches, as well as the families and other supporting mechanisms. Those who have been involved are not limited to my region; they also come from other regions.
Other members have expressed their support for the individuals who give up their time to get involved in coaching, which is vital, as Rachael Hamilton said. People commit their time, thereby giving individuals the chance to develop their potential, which is most rewarding.
I am not a sportsperson, and never have been, but I can participate by watching sport and I enjoy being a member of the audience. I am surrounded today by individuals who participate regularly, and I celebrate their success.
I live in Bridge of Allan, which is very close to the University of Stirling campus. The campus has phenomenal facilities, which benefit the students and athletes who use them. I pay tribute to sportscotland for all its work to ensure that facilities are available.
The Gold Coast can rightly be proud of its achievements in giving Australia a platform for hosting the games. The Commonwealth games continue to be relevant and are a vital fixture in the sporting calendar. They provide a backdrop that showcases the host country, as well as providing opportunities for the participants. I congratulate the Gold Coast on everything that it achieved.
I congratulate Scotland on its tremendous achievements. I look forward to the next games, which will be hosted by England in the city of Birmingham in 2022. We look forward to continuing our success and to introducing to the Commonwealth an array of new stars, who are currently coming up through the ranks. It is so important that individuals have the opportunity to progress.
The Commonwealth games are known as the friendly games, which is a testament to their outstanding success.
You and me, both, are non-participating sports fans, Deputy Presiding Officer.
I am only too pleased to take part in the debate, for a number of reasons, and to congratulate team Scotland on its great success at the Commonwealth games.
Many members are aware that sport is an important part of my life. Unfortunately, I no longer participate, due to a long-term injury. Or, is it just that I am getting older? I will share a story about that. I was running the Paisley 10km, and as I jogged through Ferguslie Park, someone who turned out to be one of my supporters, luckily enough, said that she appreciated my work as a member of the Scottish Parliament, but then told me in no uncertain terms that I was definitely not a runner. I have cleaned that up slightly, Presiding Officer. At that point, I thought that it was time to hang up the running shoes and move on.
I have always been aware of how important sporting success is to communities. When I was young, Allan Wells was known for his sprinting exploits. His are the first successes that I remember seeing in multisports games. A bit later, during the 1986 European athletics championships, I watched a certain Brian Whittle run round the track wearing one shoe and winning a gold medal in the 4x400m relay. To this day, he blames Kriss Akabusi for standing on his shoe. One-shoe Whittle—whatever happened to him?
The performance of all our athletes can inspire and encourage young people to take up sport. They will not necessarily become elite athletes, but they will have a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Sport also teaches us to set goals and to work hard to achieve them. Those are life lessons that we can probably all use.
A number of Paisley clubs produced people who participated in the games. Kelburne Hockey Club, which is based in Paisley, provided quite a lot of players in the men’s field hockey team, and Basketball Paisley had a player at the games. When it comes to the sports that are not necessarily the most exciting ones that everyone goes to see, an event such as the Commonwealth games shows what we can do.
I talked about how sport can inspire people. I talk all the time about supported programmes in my constituency that bring sports to young people. That is why I have worked with St Mirren Football Club and Renfrewshire Council to see how the club, which is based at Ferguslie Park, can deliver a sports programme in the community that enables young people to focus on what they can achieve in any sport, in school and in their community. Education does not stop at the school gate, as we all know, and for many young people sport is a fantastic way to express themselves and move forward.
Sporting excellence such as team Scotland showed inspires us all. Let us look at the medal haul that we had this year, which was 44. Those did not include any for judo, in which we were very successful at the previous games but which was not included this year. Back in the fantastic summer of 2014, team Scotland won 13 medals in judo alone.
Team Scotland’s success on the Gold Coast has encouraged this middle-aged man to re-engage with his local gym. It might not show, but it is a work in progress. Is that not the point, Presiding Officer? Elite sports stars inspire all of us and encourage us to do better.
I will finish by saying “Well done” to team Scotland and to everyone who is connected with it. Let us hope that its success is something that we can build on for the future.
I start by thanking the minister for bringing the debate to the chamber today. I join her in congratulating all our fantastic athletes, and the team behind them.
As a Glasgow boy, born and bred, I want to put on record right at the start of my speech that no matter how great this year’s Commonwealth games were, the greatest-ever games were in Glasgow in 2014.
It is absolutely still the case.
I congratulate all the team members who did our country proud: every single one of them flew the flag for themselves, their team mates, their families and their country. I recognise their success across the board—from the pool to the velodrome, and from the boxing ring to the bowling green—in winning 44 medals. Every one of them has been an inspiration to people who might now, for the first time, be trying out a sport that they have seen on television in the past few weeks.
I also want to say how inspirational it is to have a genuine athlete among us in the chamber. Of course, I mean Mairi Gougeon, rather than One-shoe Whittle, who, last week, struggled to get to his seat for decision time. [
I also thank David Stewart and Alex Rowley for mentioning the unity of the 71 nations in the Commonwealth games. They also made a wider point about standing up for our shared values of equality and fairness against all forms of prejudice—be they gender prejudice, homophobia or any other forms—and how the games can be a great reminder not only of what we have achieved together, but of what we still have to do to fight prejudice in all its forms. My colleague David Stewart mentioned that he remembers Commonwealth games from the 1970s. I apologise, because I do not remember the 1970s—I do not believe that the minister does, either—but I am sure that the games then were a triumph, nonetheless.
Labour’s amendment today is clear on the need to use the success of Scotland’s athletes in all sports to drive not only producing more medallists, but encouraging more physical activity in all of us, and to inspire participation at every level of ability.
To all the team behind team Scotland—the coaches, the physios, the sports scientists and the support crew—I say that I am pleased that we are able to come together today to congratulate them on their shared success. However, long before the medals were hung around their necks, the athletes took their first steps on a journey that ended with their final steps on to the podium. They were once beginners in their chosen sports, but they have been supported along the way by volunteer coaches, governing bodies, sports scientists and a whole crew. That is why the pathway that they travel and investment in it are so important.
We might have success in elite sport, but we must also encourage active participation. I say gently to the minister that Parliament has work to do collectively on making sure that we fund our local authorities and our national sports agencies adequately in order to encourage such active participation, in the hope that there will be more medallists along the way.
The reality is that, for every athlete who stood on the podium in Australia, there are participants here at home who are seeing the impact that budget cuts have on their participation
Labour will support the Government’s motion today, but we hope that, using the success of the Commonwealth games, we can work alongside the Government to inspire a generation and to put more investment into active participation so that we can build up physical activity towards our becoming the healthy nation that we want to be. The real prize will be lower levels of obesity and reduced levels of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Let us use the inspiration of the Commonwealth games and our athletes to say, once and for all, that we will build a healthy and bright nation for the future.
I say to all my fellow athletes—and to Anas Sarwar—that, as we would have expected, today’s debate has been a consensual one, with members highlighting their own favourite performances while recognising that the overall result for the Scottish team was remarkable across all sports.
I confirm to George Adam that it was Kriss Akabusi who took my shoe off. I know that Mr Adam is torn, because he watched that race way back in 1986 and has already admitted that it was one of the highlights of his life. There is also the fact that I coached his beloved St Mirren Football Club—he is a torn man.
Alex Rowley mentioned how Tom Daley used his success to highlight inequalities throughout the Commonwealth. Mr Rowley said that Tom Daley was brave—and he was incredibly brave. If we look at his Facebook timeline and his Twitter account, we see that he took an incredible amount of abuse for highlighting what are continuing inequalities.
In closing for the Scottish Conservatives, I pose the question: what now? There is always a debate around the legacy of major games and whether performance in sport influences participation. However, there is no question but that sport is performance led. It is hard to argue, for example, against the tide of tennis players who are seen playing during the Wimbledon fortnight. For me, the issue is around the initial access to opportunity and the sport’s ability to accommodate that influx of numbers.
I have often said that the Government has the responsibility of ensuring that opportunity is available to all, irrespective of background or personal circumstance. Furthermore—and crucially—it is also the Government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone understands that opportunity and has the confidence to access it. That second part is more difficult to define; nonetheless, the inequalities that exist cannot be tackled if we do not address it.
Cost will be a significant factor. We often debate the amount of money in people’s pockets, but that is only half the story—how much things cost is equally important. I would argue that it is easier and quicker to deal with that end of the wedge all the while continuing to tackle the issue of how much money is in people’s pockets. David Stewart spoke particularly passionately on that point.
I am a great advocate of extracurricular activity before, during and after school. There is an old expression: “Fish where the fish are.” I have never understood the situation in which schoolchildren leave a school with perfectly good facilities, go home and then have to go somewhere else to take part in activities. Let us make it easy to participate. Should we look at aligning physical education with the sports that have been represented in recent games? What about connecting that with local clubs in an area? We must make that progress easy to achieve.
Councils and arm’s-length external organisations lead local facilities, and too many community facilities are closing down—those in Dalmellington, Patna and Cumnock, along with many more in my area, are under threat. They cite a lack of numbers and, therefore, the unaffordability of the facilities. I would ask what consideration is given to the marketing and use of those facilities when they are at the planning stage. Are the local communities and third sector organisations involved in that process? Is it an on-going process involving the ALEOs and councils? I challenged the ALEOs on that issue at their recent conference.
We cannot keep closing down local facilities and expect local people to access the central major venues, even though many of those are world class and I welcome them. Once again, the issue is accessibility and affordability. If we keep closing local facilities, we will remove a step in the process and take participation away from many people.
Scottish school sport is becoming the bastion of private education. Sport and activity in general are in danger of becoming a bastion of the so-called middle classes and out of reach for many people. If we really seek a rounded legacy, we need to make conscious decisions and a concerted effort to change the current system.
The amazing results and performances of our sportsmen and women at the Commonwealth games in Australia highlight the progress that we, as a nation, have made on the international stage. We can safely say that legacy at the performance end of sport is moving forward, and we have got much right. There are still issues to deal with, but we are moving in a positive direction.
Nevertheless, we have a lot of work to do if we are going to have a similar impact at the grass-roots participation level. Without question, we have not got that bit right, and we are not cascading that down into the councils. Sports facilities are an easy target when services have to be rationalised, but it is a false economy, as Rachael Hamilton said, because of the long-term impacts on health, attainment, the economy, justice and so on. It is not a question of one or the other; it is not about the elite or the grass roots. The reality is that the one drives and feeds the other.
The Commonwealth games will go from strength to strength, I am sure. The blue and white of Scotland will continue to be prominent and our athletes will continue to write their own stories in their arenas. It is likely that all the competitors for the 2022 games are already engaged in sports clubs and looking to our Commonwealth games athletes for inspiration. They are already following their path and recognising what is possible from the efforts of their heroes. We need to ensure that those who are not yet engaged get that opportunity. We must redouble our efforts there, because that is what real legacy should look like.
I am sincerely grateful for all the positive speeches that have rightly celebrated the achievements of team Scotland—the medallists, the powerful images and the stories of courage and endurance. I agree with David Stewart’s assessment that, from the get-go, the team was there to do business.
As Brian Whittle highlighted, the strong performance by our athletes was proportionately higher than Scotland’s population share and gives us great encouragement as we look to the European championships in a few months’ time, hopeful of further successes to celebrate and cheer this August.
Our performance a few weeks ago was all the more remarkable considering that, as George Adam highlighted, Glasgow’s 53 medals included 13 medals won in judo, which was not included in the 2018 games. We won across nine sports and on each day of the competition. Our athletes deserve the plaudits that we have heard from across the chamber.
Although there was rightly praise in members’ comments, a range of issues were raised on the broader issues of sport, activity, accessibility and equality. Brian Whittle, in both his opening and closing remarks, made important contributions. I do not think that any of us would dare to question his experience. In 1986, I was just a wee girl cheering him on alongside Anas Sarwar, who was an even wee-er boy.
Brian Whittle also gave us an important historical overview of the Commonwealth games when reasserting the continued relevance of the games. Members may—they may not, but I think they will—be interested in the rich sporting archive that is currently held at the University of Stirling. Alexander Stewart might be interested in that, given that he explicitly mentioned the facilities at Stirling.
Some of those artefacts were on display on the Gold Coast, including the Commonwealth games jersey of James Heatly’s granddad, Sir Peter Heatly. It is also important that we recognise the importance of sporting memories and memorabilia in the work around dementia and the support that sport can provide to help people to cope with that condition.
As an aside, it took six weeks for the team to travel out to Australia for the 1938 games compared to the 24-hour flight that we have today. There have been great strides forward.
It is important to reassert the relevance of the games. Dave Stewart’s informed and considered speech reminded us that these friendly games unite 71 diverse territories from across the Commonwealth in an effort to enshrine humanity and diversity.
It is important to reflect on Alex Rowley’s speech, in which he pointed out the requirement that we never cease celebrating the diversity of the 71 nations and never forget to press where progressive change is necessary. I echo Anas Sarwar’s comment that we need to promote tolerance and fight prejudice.
Members may be interested to know that this Commonwealth games, which was one of firsts, was the first to have a reconciliation plan to celebrate the cultural diversity of the first nations people and to reconcile the treatment of Australia’s indigenous people. It is important for the bespoke and tailored legacy of the games that they continue to work towards completing that.
Many members raised the issue of participation. Sportscotland’s system endeavours to work across a broad range of outcomes to ensure that grass-roots participation and performance are equally supported. Although there are always doubts and concerns about sport being the bastion of the middle classes, 95 per cent of funding is for grass-roots sports.
A major legacy from the 2014 games was the 192 community sports hubs across the length and breadth of the country, which are now concentrating on areas of deprivation. Those create links to clubs and ensure that there are appropriate pathways to enable young people—indeed, all people—to take part in sport with access in their local community.
It is also important to reflect on the report that sportscotland published and sent out with its briefing on the role of the active schools co-ordinators. They ensure that children across all socioeconomic indicators have access to sport, and they are trying in a very strategic way to debunk the myths around who should be involved in sport. We have much to celebrate in terms of the accessibility of sport and much to build on, but we have much more to do.
Rachael Hamilton touched on the issues of women in sport. The games were good with regard to diversity and helping women, with the same medal chances for men and women. In Scotland, we need to do more to support women and girls in sport. That is why I have established a women and girls advisory board to guide us on what more we need to do. I applaud Rachael Hamilton’s efforts in netball, and she would, of course, have been cheering on Jo Pettitt from the Borders who was part of the team, along with her flatmate from Biggar, Emily Nicholl. We will take leadership from Mairi Gougeon, who seems to run all the time, to inspire others.
Presiding Officer, although you made the off-the-cuff remark that it does not matter if someone does not take part in sport, it is important that, regardless of their ability, people take part in sport. I should point out the success of walking, which has delivered the population-level increase in participation in activity that Scotland has needed. It is important to recognise that, at all ages and all stages, although taking part in sport and activity should be inspired by the heroes that we saw at the Commonwealth games a few weeks ago, sport needs to be accessible.
With all those indicators, we will continue to push for the changes that we need to make to enable our country to become more active more often.
Thank you. I am duly reprimanded, although, in my defence, I was talking about activity, not sport. Some of us do not like sport but we quite like to be active. That is the last that I will say on the subject, and I will not be jovial again.