Comment: Team effort’s no sprint but a marathon

Meadowbank stadium. 2014 reminded us of the importance of investing in sport and benefits of physical activity. Picture: SNS
Meadowbank stadium. 2014 reminded us of the importance of investing in sport and benefits of physical activity. Picture: SNS
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TO maintain and improve the standards of our sports facilities we must examine those existing venues and look to rebuild or refurbish for the future, says Richard Lewis

Scottish culture has been built on a shared history and love of sport and it’s something for which we are world-renowned.

Our football and rugby teams have supporters’ clubs in far flung corners of the globe; Scottish golf courses and the highland games entice tourists year-in and year-out; and Team Scotland, with a very impressive 53 medals, ranked a fantastic fourth place in last year’s Commonwealth Games.

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Thanks to the excitement of the Games and the Ryder Cup, the events of 2014 really helped to bring our sporting heritage and success into sharp focus.

In Edinburgh, we hosted and welcomed a range of successful spin-off events for local communities, for rising sporting stars and fans alike to participate in physical activity in 2014. Edinburgh’s refurbished Royal Commonwealth Pool became the only venue in the world to host a Commonwealth Games event for a third time when it held the diving competition to a packed audience and even bigger TV viewership.

World class sporting facilities across the country are crucial for participation from local communities as well as those striving to be top athletes. I hope the legacy of 2014 will be investment in world class – but affordable and accessible – sports facilities which encourage local people to get active.

We already have some great success stories in the Capital when it comes to encouraging people to have an active lifestyle, and the City of Edinburgh Council’s Physical Activity and Sports Strategy outlines a vision where being active is a part of everybody’s way of life.

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Initiatives such as Active City, a campaign to increase regular involvement in physical activity and sport by all local people, has raised awareness of sports clubs and events in local areas. The construction of the National Performance Centre for Sport, which will create a multi-sports base for our national sports squads, will get under way later this year.

A couple of weeks ago the city council announced the next steps in thinking seriously about the future of the very first venue built in Scotland for the Commonwealth Games – Meadowbank Sports Centre and Stadium.

For almost 50 years, Meadowbank has nurtured sporting participation at all levels, from those taking part for recreational and health benefits, to those training for success and medals on a Scottish and international stage. Each year over 500,000 users still visit Meadowbank, which is managed by Edinburgh Leisure on behalf of the council, and it is still a much-loved city sports facility.

The fact remains that it is reaching the end of its lifespan and we need to consider whether or not we can rebuild the venue so it can remain fit for the 21st Century. Architect plans as they are at the moment would see the existing site in the East side of Edinburgh city centre transformed into a new sports complex serving sporting needs locally and nationally.

But if we want to maintain and improve sport in the city, we also need to look at the facilities we already have and invest where and when we can. On 12 February when councillors meet to discuss and set the council’s budget, difficult decisions need to be made. We need to make savings in the capital, but we also need to invest in our roads, schools, health and social care and a range of important public services.

The projections for building a new Meadowbank has a funding gap of at best £11.3 million and at worst £19.8m. Should the council agree to proceed with a redevelopment, and funding is secured, the new Meadowbank could be ready by 2018. If the decision is taken not to proceed, we face a crisis point for the venue and options for a review and planned withdrawal of service at Meadowbank over the forthcoming five years will need to be identified.

We have an ageing population in Scotland. Addressing the health issues which come with this, encouraging young people to foster healthy lifestyle habits, tackling physical inactivity, obesity, type two diabetes, and mental health concerns are all key areas that need funding and investment in health, wellbeing and sport can help to address these issues.

Already the Council provides £9.3m of funding for Edinburgh Leisure to deliver sports and leisure opportunities across the city in venues and through outreach programmes with the aim of increasing participation in sport and physical activity.

Meadowbank plays a key role in this. We are currently undertaking a Strategic Sports Review with Edinburgh Leisure, which will look at the services on offer, governance, and facilities, including schools. This will help us understand use, access, and where efficiencies and savings could be made.

Whatever the outcome of the budget meeting, it is important that the future of sporting venues and facilities, including the future of Meadowbank, is considered thoroughly.

Edinburgh is not alone in needing to spend less and save more as a city, and across the board local authorities are considering improving the use of sports facilities and sustaining lifelong participation. The ‘big year of sport’ reminded all of us of the importance of investing in sport and physical activity, but I hope as a country we don’t leave our big ideas and aspirations behind now we’ve waved goodbye to 2014.

• Councillor Richard Lewis is convener of culture and sport at City of Edinburgh Council www.edinburgh.gov.uk