ON THE eve of a meeting that could go a long way to determining the future of Meadowbank Stadium, Chris Hoy has spoken of his dismay at the news that a report to be discussed by councillors today makes no mention of cycling.
The Olympic cycling champion says that if Edinburgh Council does not provide a replacement for Meadowbank velodrome then they will be guilty of "short sightedness" and of recklessly abandoning a 40-year tradition of track cycling in the city.
"I think it would mean that cycling would go from being Scotland's second most successful sport at the last Commonwealth Games (last year in Melbourne] to a situation where we'd be lucky to win any medals at all at future games," claims Hoy. "It would be a massive backward step for the sport in Scotland."
The absence of any reference to the 40-year-old velodrome in the report, undertaken by the office of the council's chief executive, has been highlighted by the Save Meadowbank Campaign (SMC), who, in a report they have prepared ahead of today's meeting, state: "The most striking issue with the chief executive's report is one of omission: we invite you to search the document for any mention of the following terms: 'cycle track', 'cyclists', 'velodrome'."
They also accuse the report of disingenuousness in recommending that "some land (at Meadowbank] will need to be released for disposal to allow the Royal Commonwealth Pool (refurbishment] project to proceed", without mentioning that this would involve the loss of the cycle track.
Hoy, who was honoured by the city with a civic reception a week ago, claims that the disappearance of a cycling track in the Scottish capital would be catastrophic for the sport.
"Forty years ago Edinburgh Council made a brave and ambitious commitment to cycling by building a world-class velodrome for the Commonwealth Games. It paid off, because it has produced world class athletes, and that's what is so frustrating about what seems to be happening now.
"The velodrome has established a tradition of track cycling in Scotland. The tradition has been built up over the years and the fruits are only really being seen now. Scottish riders dominated British track racing in the 1980s and then, in the last decade, there have been riders, including myself, who have made an impact at world level.
"They say it takes eight years to create a world-class athlete, but it takes decades to build this kind of tradition, with all the expertise and experience of the people involved, in terms of organisation and coaching.
"If we lose the facility that will all be lost. It's as simple as that. We are getting a new velodrome in Glasgow, and that's great, but if I was a 14 or 15-year-old kid – the age I was when I started at Meadowbank – I wouldn't be able to travel there on a weekly basis. I would have been lost to the sport, I'm absolutely sure of that.
"It's short-sighted of the council not to include any cycling facility in their plans. We don't expect an all-singing, all-dancing track, just a basic, training-standard facility. A concrete 250-metre track with a canopy, or a 200m indoor wooden track – these do not cost the earth (around 5 million is the estimated figure], but they would provide a lifeline for young cyclists in Edinburgh.
"Where else can they go to try out the sport in safety? The roads are becoming increasingly dangerous, but a velodrome is a safe place for kids. It's not just about the elite end of the sport – it's about promoting cycling as a healthy and fun activity."
Hoy says that he believes the current crop of young cyclists, many of whom are affiliated to the Meadowbank-based kids' club Edinburgh Racers, could produce a conveyor belt of talent. But not if there's no facility.
"There wasn't a kids' club like that when I was young," said Hoy, "but the success of the Edinburgh Racers shows what happens when you have the kind of tradition that we have in the city.
"The people who run it are track cyclists who began riding at Meadowbank themselves – it's a natural progression for them, and it's exciting for the sport. It's very simple – if you have the numbers at the base of the pyramid, you're going to get a few champions at the top. If you cut off the supply, you've got nothing."
At last week's civic reception, Hoy was honoured for his achievements in 2007, which included two world titles and the world 500m record. A new award was also announced by Edinburgh Council, in Hoy's honour, to be made on an annual basis to the city's best young cyclist. "It's ironic," notes Hoy, "because if there's no velodrome, then there may not be any riders to award it to."
Hoy is quick to point out that he is indebted to his home city: "I wouldn't have achieved anything without Meadowbank velodrome, and without the support of Edinburgh Council."
A spokesman for Edinburgh Council said yesterday that the omission of any reference to a velodrome in the report did not necessarily mean that no facility would be provided. He added: "For the Commonwealth Games it was agreed that Glasgow would host a velodrome. The facilities at Meadowbank are subject to further discussion and reports to the council."