Oriam: Sports performance centre to help Scots best – and the rest

Oriam's indoor 3G indoot arena is world-class. Picture: SNS

Oriam's indoor 3G indoot arena is world-class. Picture: SNS

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There is a justifiable pride taken by all those involved in the creation of Oriam, the country’s new sports performance centre that engenders a genuine wow factor. Yet, just as impressive is that, with the bricks and mortar of a breathtaking facility in the grounds of Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, come no pipe dreams.

The £33 million complex, and the facts and figures attached to its every corner, dazzle. The indoor 3G pitch arena, which the senior national football and rugby sides will have at their disposal, is the tallest in Europe. At its peak it is the same height as the Forth Bridge

Every possible aspect of sports science is catered for in the high-performance wing, while top-level netball and handball players will be catered for in the sports hall – as will community clubs, students and the public. The hall, a raft of pitches and a fitness centre are for all, with the performance wing essentially self-contained. It can be so many things to so many people and serve everyone – from professional athletes to the first-time amateur.

Yet Oriam chief executive Catriona McAllister does not attempt to present the complex as some sort of Disneyland for sporting ambitions.

When the English equivalent, St George’s Park in Staffordshire, opened in 2012, Steven Gerrard said it removed any excuses from the football squad for not doing well at tournaments. They have flunked in every one since then.

McAllister sees Oriam for what it is, a world-class facility that stands comparison with anything similar at home or abroad. A place that will grow and develop – Scotland’s senior team won’t train there (on pitches with the exact dimensions of Hampden) until the construction of a 120-room athlete-modified hotel is completed on site next year – and justify the £24m of Scottish Government money, £4m from Heriot-Watt, £2.7m from Edinburgh council and £2.5m from Sport Scotland that has brought it to life.

“What they [Scotland footballers] will have is an excellent facility. When Gerrard said there are no excuses now when we opened St George’s Park I didn’t agree with that. There are so many factors that go into a team’s performance. What we have done is remove poor-quality facilities. This facility here isn’t going to suddenly make anyone a better player. It will mean he has a great training experience. It will impact more on the next generation.”

Measuring success “is difficult when some of it is subjective”, acknowledged McAllister. SFA chief executive Stewart Regan effectively wants Oriam to be the “catalyst” for qualifying for the next Euros. “We’re only one small part of that jigsaw,” she said.

“A lot of other things have to happen around Scottish football for that to happen. What I want to be able to do is produce a facility for them that is world-class standard whenever they need it. That’s me doing my part of their journey.”

Hibernian will play their U20s games there, and christen the indoor pitch with a match against Hearts this week. Community matters too, though. Currie Football Club are already in with a block booking. “We will be launching an extensive sports programme for kids and adults come January and getting some quite creative health initiatives around Oriam. That’s a measurable thing for me,” McAllister said. “Our relationship with the university means we also have some measurable indicators that centre on growing the student population and their performance at world student games and British university level.

McAllister says Oriam stands comparison with English Premier League training centres. “If you go to Manchester United they don’t have a full-sized indoor pitch. West Brom, they have a tent structure. You then go up to the likes of the new Manchester City facility that had around £150m spent on it and clearly has things that we don’t.

“But we’ve taken all the bits that we needed and put them in here. St George’s Park was £110m and a lot of that went on the hotel. We wanted to take the lessons from all these places and spend our money on what we felt we actually needed. The quality of our indoor pitch is unquestionably one of the best in Europe.”

The desire now is for the same to be said of some of the national sides that will play on it.

Oriam, Scotland’s sports performance centre, opens on Monday, 29 August. For more information visit oriamscotland.com

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