By Bob Duncan
The ‘Better Together’ coalition has been ‘celebrating’ as success of the Union, the fact that most medal-winning Scottish athletes in the London Olympics had to travel, and often live, south of the border in order to access proper training facilities.
The anti-independence campaign, which consists of the Scottish sections of the Tory, LibDem and Labour parties have also been at pains to point out how many Scottish athletes are currently based in England.
According to a table on the campaign website, twelve of the thirteen Scottish medal winning athletes, including Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Katherine Grainger had to move to England in order to achieve success in their sporting field.
The table shows that 11 of the athletes were funded by the UK lottery, all 13 were trained at a UK governing body facility, and that all but 1 currently resides in England in order to be near their training facilities.
Astonishingly, this lack of suitable facilities in Scotland is presented by the No campaign as a ‘benefit’ of the Union. The website states that the list of athletes forced to move south to train “reveals how the UK elite sport system has enabled Scots to become Olympic champions”.
The site’s suggestion that the Scots athletes were reliant on a UK wide lottery pool of cash also fails to acknowledge that Scots have contributed to the fund and the loss to Scotland of an estimated £150 million of funds as a result of funding being diverted to the south east of England.
A campaign to ensure that the UK Government repays £638m that was diverted from the Big Lottery Fund to pay for the Olympics recently lashed out at a government minister who said the repayments will not begin until 2020.
The Directory of Social Change, who run the Big Lottery Refund campaign, said Olympic minister John Penrose’s timetable is “totally unacceptable”.
It is calling for repayments, which are to be made from the sale of Olympic Games assets, to begin immediately after the closing ceremony this August. However Penrose said that the repayments would come from the receipts of the sales of the Olympic land over a period of 25 years, and would not be beginning until 2020.
Jay Kennedy, head of policy at the training body the Directory of Social Change, said: “The timescale is not good enough and we are not going to just sit back and say OK. We need to build a head of steam.”
In 2007, the government announced it would be diverting an additional £424m of funding that should have gone to the Big Lottery Fund between 2008 and 2013.
This was on top of £213m that the UK government had originally planned to take from BIG, means the charity funder has donated nearly two-thirds of the £1.085 billion Olympics contribution from general lottery revenues.
The Scottish Government has previously put pressure on the UK Government to ensure that £150m that has been diverted from Scottish good causes to the Olympics is returned.
Despite the cut in lottery funding and similarly disappointing Olympic contracts awarded to Scottish firms, it is expected that Scotland will soon have several new world class sporting facilities of its own, partly as a result of the Commonwealth Games which will come to Glasgow in the summer of 2014. For the first time Scotland will have a world class velodrome and cycling centre.
An Olympic size aquatic centre is also expected to be completed in Aberdeen around the same time, including a 50 meter swimming pool and diving centre. Speaking in 2011, Inverurie’s Commonwealth Games gold medal swimmer Hannah Miley welcomed the development.
She said: “I am delighted that the aquatic centre is one step closer. Having such a facility in the north east of Scotland will help develop swimming across the area.”
Meanwhile an article in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday, it was claimed that even if Scotland voted Yes in 2014, the nation would be forced to compete as part of team GB in 2016.
A Scottish Government spokesman said that the claim from Sir Craig Reedie was nonsense. The spokesperson pointed out that Montenegro, after voting for independence, competed in Beijing under its own flag just 2 years later.
Insisting that Scottish athletes benefited “hugely” from being part of a UK-wide set up, Sir Craig, a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee and former chairman of the British Olympic Association, said it would be “a long way into the future” before IOC approval would be granted to the new country if voters back independence in 2014.
Reedie also claimed that Scottish medallists at the London games, such as rower Katherine Grainger and cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, backed the current set up where they receive funding from UK Sport as part of a British team alongside competitors from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In a thinly disguised attack on independence, Reedie questioned whether a separate Scottish set-up would be able to offer elite sportsmen and women from north of the Border the same resources.
He said: “The reality is that the top Scottish athletes benefit hugely from the funding that comes from UK Sport. Speak to Katherine Grainger, or Chris Hoy or David Florence and they will tell you that the present situation works very well and it works to the benefit of Scottish athletes.
“Team GB benefits massively at the moment from funding. That comes from the Exchequer and it comes from the National Lottery and it seems to be unlikely that a much smaller unit would find it easy to match that funding.”
However the Scottish Government pointed to the recent case of Montenegro, which gained IOC recognition a year after becoming independent in 2006 and in time to compete in the Beijing Games of 2008.
A spokesman said: “The IOC is a body with long experience of welcoming new countries within a very short time of them becoming independent, and the process would be similarly straightforward for Scotland following a successful Yes vote in 2014.”
He added: “If Scotland votes Yes, we will be an independent country by the time of Rio 2016. Team Scotland will already have competed in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and we already have more than the necessary five National Federations which are affiliated to the International Federations that govern sports included in the Olympic Games programme.”