NIGEL Holl, chief executive of Scottish Athletics, has promised the fans at the Emirates Arena for a Commonwealth Games appetiser in January that he will push for Eilidh Child and other leading home athletes to wear Scottish vests on the day.
Holl’s pledge came as it was announced that, for the first time in 23 years of elite indoor athletics in Glasgow, a Scottish team will compete when the city’s new indoor arena hosts the Glasgow British Athletics International Match on 25 January.
The idea is designed to spark interest in Scottish athletes six months ahead of their appearance in front of a home crowd of around 50,000 at Hampden Park, which will bring with it an unprecedented amount of exposure and pressure.
Holl insisted the move is primarily designed with the athletes’ interests in mind and he will instruct director of athletics Stephen Maguire to make it clear to British selectors that Child and others should be in Scottish vests competing against Great Britain and Northern Ireland, rather than with them. Also taking part will be the USA and a Commonwealth Select team.
“There is a bit of discussion to go yet. The teams aren’t selected,” said Holl. “All I will say is that I back coach Maguire to go and make his case very strongly. And, if I was the British selectors and Neil Black, I would be very worried about that.
“The reality is that, if we’re going to have a Scottish team, we need our best Scottish athletes competing for Scotland. Let’s be honest. There are greater numbers of athletes elsewhere in Britain who can come together for a very strong Team GB. My view is clear. Eilidh Child likes running for Scotland. She wants to run for Scotland. She should run for Scotland in January.”
From a UK Athletics perspective, the vest worn by world outdoor finalist Child on 25 January may hinge on whether Perri Shakes-Drayton, the Scot’s great adversary, is available to compete against her in the 400 metres hurdles. Like Child, promising 800 metres runner Laura Muir has also been confirmed to appear at the Emirates but it remains to be seen for which team.
Regardless of the outcome of negotiations between Maguire and Black, the news that between a dozen and 20 Scots will be taking on some of the world’s best athletes in Glasgow – in the past, Scots tended mainly to fill occasional guest lanes – should add a few decibels to the buzz around Glasgow 2014 at such an early stage of the year.
“It’s a cracking opportunity, in a Commonwealth year,” said Holl. “Come Hampden in the summer, we will have a Team Scotland. The indoor international has always been a really good event, historically at the Kelvin Hall – and we saw it come to life at the Emirates Arena last year. To have a Scotland team in is just a great opportunity. It’s great for the athletes, first of all.
“UK Athletes, Glasgow Life and the city council wouldn’t agree to a Scottish team in this event if the athletes didn’t deserve it, that’s important to say. They’ve made the case for inclusion and I think it’s a great chance for Scotland, on television, at the Emirates Arena, to get behind our athletes in a year when they will be competing at Hampden later on.”
Glasgow 2014 could have sold out the cycling and swimming events many times over, but athletics is always the chief attraction at a major Games, so Scottish Athletics is the local governing body with the most to gain and the most to lose in the next nine months.
“The golden eras of Scottish athletics were the 70s, then the late 80s and early 90s. What happened around that time? We had a home Commonwealth Games. I don’t know if that’s coincidence but, with another home Games next year, we have to make sure that kicks off the next era for Scottish athletics from 2015 on,” said Holl, who suggested that if a solid crop of elite Scots could make an annual commitment to an indoor season, the experiment of a Scottish team in Glasgow in January might be repeated.
“We’re in a different era, kids are different, athletics is different, more countries are competing, but we have a group of young athletes with potential. Will we be ready to feed the public’s expectation? I would like their expectation to be so high that we’re struggling with that,” Holl added. “But I believe we’ve got the athletes to meet really big public expectations.”