Dougie Donnelly slams Scottish Government over sacking

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ONE of the country's most well-known broadcasters, DOUGIE DONNELLY has been a fixture on our screens for almost 30 years. He is probably best known for being BBC Scotland's anchorman at showpiece footballing occasions, such as the Scottish Cup final, but he is equally at home in a number of other sports, with golf being a particular favourite.

He was appointed chairman of the Scottish Institute of Sport in the spring of 2005 but this week was "asked to stand down" by the sports minister, Stewart Maxwell, as part of the Scottish Government's plan to merge the institute with SportScotland. His sacking, and that of his SportScotland counterpart, Julia Bracewell, has been branded as "cynical and vindictive" by opposition MSPs.

Born in 1953, Donnelly studied law at Strathclyde University. He began his broadcasting career with Radio Clyde, and began working for the BBC in the late 1970s.

Besides covering a variety of Scottish sporting events, he has also reported on the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games, and is an in-demand after-dinner speaker. Although he studiously avoids stoking up controversy for its own sake, he has steadily acquired a reputation as a commentator who will be outspoken when he thinks it necessary.

He and his wife, Linda, live in Glasgow. They have three daughters – Kim, Laura and Lisa.

Q & A: DOUGIE DONNELLY

Can you see any sense in the decision to merge the Scottish Institute of Sport and SportScotland? If not, why do you think the Scottish Government has made the decision?

It's not completely inexplicable. I can see why someone who had been badly briefed about elite sport could think it might be a good idea. That doesn't make it correct, of course, and I think it shows a lack of understanding about why the institute was set up. We all know why they made the decision. Scrapping SportScotland was a manifesto commitment, which they realised they could not fulfil reasonably, so merging it with the institute allowed them to save face.

How would you sum up the role of the institute to someone who had never heard of it before?

I'd start by saying what it doesn't do. It doesn't deal with grass-roots sport. It's about elite athletes, those who are hopefully already of international or world class.

It's a one-stop shop for them where they can find every possible kind of support, from sports science to lifestyle advice, expert coaching and so on. It's designed to help them cut that extra hundredth of a second off their time, or add that extra millimetre – those very narrow margins that, at the highest level, make the difference between winning and losing.

What was your role as chairman – chiefly ceremonial, or were you able to have greater input than that?

Officially, I served four days a month as chairman, but I don't ever remember saying 'Sorry, can't do that, I've already done my four days'. I hosted a lot of functions, because it's something I'm comfortable with, but I wouldn't say the role was ceremonial.

A lot of the time it was about managing a difficult relationship with SportScotland – far too often it was about defending the institute. But a lot of the time, it was also hugely invigorating.

Are you convinced the merger of the two organisations will not work, or will it depend on the people in charge?

I'd never say it can't work, but it will be difficult. It will totally depend on our executive director, Mike Whittingham, who has been absolutely top-class since coming to the job, and SportScotland's chief executive, Stewart Harris. Or if it's about two other people, it will depend on how they manage their relationship. It will need a great deal of goodwill and compromise, but I really hope it does work.

Do you agree with the Scottish Government's decision to relocate SportScotland's headquarters from Edinburgh to Glasgow?

Yes, it makes perfect sense, particularly with the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow in 2014. And I think everyone is aware that Glasgow, as a city, has shown a greater commitment to sport in recent years than Edinburgh has.

You were quite outspoken in your criticism of the Scottish Government this week. Has the BBC ever suggested that you should not voice opinions on sports matters?

No. My situation is totally different from, for example, that of a newsreader who may be expected not to speak out on political matters. I'm not a staff member of the BBC, but, in any case, after working with them for so long, I'd like to think they trust me not to say anything which might bring them or my position into disrepute. And there's clearly no conflict of interest.

When The Scotsman asked 100 celebrities their view on the SNP's first 100 days in power, you said your initial impression of sports minister Stewart Maxwell had been positive. Do you have a different overall view now?

It's certainly not personal, because I've always got on well with Stewart. I just think that, sadly, he and his colleagues have got it wrong on this issue.

What are your own political preferences? Would you want to declare an allegiance to any one party?

It's not relevant to the whole issue we're discussing. I do have strong views, but I prefer not to have myself pinned down as a supporter of this or that party.

What I will say is that I want Scotland and Scottish sport to succeed. I'm a patriotic Scot, and there's no contradiction between that and my broader political opinions.

Is there an up side to all this? In a way, will you be glad to have more free time, or had you mapped out things to do with the remaining 18 months of your four-year term?

To be absolutely honest, I have felt a sense of relief. It's been a huge privilege to be involved with the institute, and I've enjoyed probably 90 per cent of my time there, but it's not been so enjoyable recently.

In sports terms, what has been the high point of your time as chairman of the institute? Scotland's success at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 must have been pretty special.

It was. And it represented a breakthrough for the institute, because, of the 29 medallists we had, I think it was 22 who were institute athletes. It was also just a great time to be a Scot in Melbourne, and to have all sorts of people from other countries coming up to you and saying 'What are you guys doing right?'

Another special moment was Glasgow winning the bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, even though the institute was not directly involved. And the appointment of Mike Whittingham was a high point too.

What is your working week like at the moment, or is there no such thing for you as a typical working week?

I've never had any great structure to my working week or month or year. I've always done a bunch of different sports for different broadcasters.

I've got a couple of European Tour golf events coming up, and when I'm covering golf, there is more structure to my week. I also do a lot of after-dinner speaking – it's something I really enjoy – and I've got three dinners to do next week.

What do you like to do with whatever spare time you have? Golf remains a big interest, presumably.

As you'd imagine, a lot of what I do in my spare time is sport-related. We bought a second home at Gleneagles, where I'm a member of the golf club, and I like to play there when I can.

But I also enjoy simple, relaxing things, like taking the dog for a walk around the course. I don't really have the time to do anything more dramatic.

If the Scottish Football Association asked your advice about who the next Scotland manager should be, what would you tell them?

I'm very upset that my old mate Smudger (Gordon Smith, the chief executive of the SFA] has rejected my application out of hand. No, I've known Gordon for a long time, and it wouldn't be fair to him or to our friendship for me to voice an opinion in public.

What I can say is that I'd be happy with any one of the four candidates who are on the SFA's shortlist. I know them all – I know Mark McGhee, Tommy Burns and Graeme Souness well, George Burley not so well – and I'm sure they'd do a good job.

I think it's a good time, too, for someone to take over as Scotland manager, certainly a better time than it was for Walter Smith or even for Alex McLeish when he took over. We've got a fine group of young players coming through now, which wasn't the case a couple of years ago.

You're a self-declared Clyde supporter, but some people insist that your real allegiance is to Rangers. What would you say to disabuse them?

Anybody who supports any team outside the Old Firm gets that – it stems from a kind of arrogance that some Old Firm supporters have. "You're a Dundee United fan – but are you a Dundee United fan who supports Rangers or a Dundee United fan who supports Celtic?"

I've been a Clyde fan since I was a kid living in Rutherglen and my grandad took me to Shawfield. I've got the cheque-book stubs to prove I'm a Clyde fan.

What's the last book you read and/or film you saw?

I love reading, and I read a great deal. The last book I read was called The Grand Slam by Mark Frost. It's about the golfer Bobby Jones, and the post-depression America in which he grew up and became a professional golfer.

I mainly tend to watch movies on plane journeys, though even then I'll often spend most of my time reading or listening to my iPod. The last film I saw was Michael Clayton, though I can't remember too much about it, I'm afraid. I'm a big fan of Dustin Hoffman, and of Al Pacino, too, but I wouldn't call myself a real cinema buff.

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