Peter Jardine: Media head from Hampden to Holyrood

East Kilbride ACs Tartan Army in full voice. Picture: Katie Dunlop
East Kilbride ACs Tartan Army in full voice. Picture: Katie Dunlop
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Question: when do you know there really is something significant stirring in athletics in Scotland and – importantly for this correspondent – a reawakening in the media interest and overall profile?

Is it:

a) When the double World and Olympic champion Mo Farah, in his first press conference since being awarded a knighthood, is asked – in deadly seriousness – to assess whether the wee Scottish lassie to his right can make an impact on London 2017 doubling up in events and/or become Olympic champion in 2020?

b) When Callum Hawkins, after becoming the first British athlete to beat Mo Farah in seven years, and after ninth place in Rio, is asked if he is setting his sights on a marathon medal in Tokyo?

c) When STV invites Hawkins onto the sofa for their 5pm interview show on Monday but have to be advised he has politely declined because he’s just slipped out the door for an 18-miler less than 48 hours after Holyrood Park on a Scottish January afternoon?

The answer, of course, is any one, any combination, or all of the above.

Even by recent standards, it has been a pretty extraordinary few days for athletics in Scotland and for those of us challenged with pushing the good news to a wider audience.

Last Wednesday night, Laura Muir stripped bare the British Indoor 5,000m record held by Liz McColgan with a startling performance. Barely 12 hours later, she was named GB and NI captain for the Great Edinburgh XC event.

Come Friday lunchtime, and Sir Mo was being invited to answer all manner of questions about Scottish athletes who, in turn, posed a few of their own – and delivered answers, too – across the Holyrood Park turf another 24 hours later.

It has been fantastic to be involved in but, frankly, it has not been a surprise. The profile is rising all the time, and steadily, and that’s been in direct proportion to the achievements of Scottish athletes.

It emerged last week that a story on Muir’s record run on the main BBC website athletics section has drawn in excess of 300,000 hits. Our own social media channels have leapt to Rio figures in terms of “reach” and “likes”. Our Twitter impressions over a seven-day period will be around 400,000 and the Facebook “reach” for the past seven days is at 175,000.

What was new last Saturday was that while the crowds in Edinburgh didn’t quite match the 10,000-15,000 who attended for the World Cross in 2008, this time they had Scottish athletes upon whom to focus.

In that regard, we commend the coaches and clubs involved in developing our best athletes – and also those just below that level, who strive to be the best they can be. That’s vital work, almost always by volunteers, and isn’t to be underestimated.

The “Holyrood-becomes-Hampden” support is exemplified by the memorable image of the “Tartan Army” from East Kilbride AC, who attend Euro Cross events each year, roaring on Hawkins on that final-lap battle with American, Leonard Korir.

Farah wasn’t quite an afterthought for the crowd, but very nearly, and that’s further evidence of a good place to be when the highest-profile athletes at an event in Scotland are the Scots.

Further evidence of growth came with eye-catching TV viewing figures. The Edinburgh event drew an average of one million during a 2-hour 15-minute broadcast on the BBC, while Manchester United on BT Sport attracted a 500,000 average; racing on ITV 325,00 average and Pro-12 rugby on Sky an average of 45,000.

We’d love to see broadcasting interest grow in the likes of the Scottish National XC at Falkirk on 25 February – with more than 2,200 entries last year having the event at a near 25-year high in terms of participation.

There are still frustrations. Despite the SPFL top-flight football being on a winter break, some newspapers carried more words on Morton v Dumbarton than they did on Hawkins v Farah v Korir. Old habits die hard.

But it is starting to feel as if the “media tanker” has turned around and there is a firm belief within scottishathletics that a growing profile for our elite athletes will help stimulate growth across other aspects of the sport.

Peter Jardine is head of communications at scottishathletics, named Governing Body of the Year for 2016 at the Scottish Sports Awards, www.scottishathletics.org.uk