AS SCOTLAND prepares for a year of sport like no other, with a home Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup on the calendar for 2014, Gavin Hastings called yesterday for a moratorium on the small-mindedness that may have held some of our sportspeople back.
The legendary former Scotland and Lions full-back became so animated at a launch of the Achieve talent development programme in Glasgow that he confessed to a long-standing urge to throttle someone. Not just anyone, but the “clown” who wrote the tourism slogan that labelled Scotland the “Best Small Country in the World” while Jack McConnell was First Minister in the mid-2000s.
And yet, as Hastings reminded us, he is an avid opponent of Scottish independence.
The 51-year-old passionately believes that Scots can take on any rival force in the world from within the blurred boundaries of the present union.
He referred to the feats of Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy to back up his argument and, when it was put to him that Murray and Hoy both left the country at a crucial stage of their development because they could be better fast-tracked elsewhere, Hastings said that the sporting infrastructure here was improving all the time, pointing to the Achieve scheme graduates who had been invited to Scotstoun Stadium to talk about their progress – and to feed off the great man’s famous enthusiasm.
“I keep being told that Scotland’s a small nation – so what? There isn’t a Commonwealth Games for small nations, there isn’t an Olympic Games for small nations. Just get on with it,” said Hastings.
“What difference does it make? The facilities that our kids have here are as good as anywhere in the world.
“What’s to stop our swimmers becoming the best swimmers in the world? What’s to stop cyclists becoming the best cyclists in the world? There’s nothing individually to stop them doing that. I hate this thing that we’re a small nation and we punch above our weight, because that to me is just a negative. We’re a fantastically proud nation – what’s wrong with saying we’re a really proud nation? You see all Chris Hoy’s success, and he cycles around with a Scottish flag, and Andy Murray. I think it’s magic. It’s brilliant when we get to show off the Scottish flag, because when we do things right, we do them better than any other country in the world.”
When it was pointed out that Murray begged his mother to send him to Barcelona aged 15 and the nearest indoor velodrome where Hoy could hone his trade was in Manchester, Hastings replied: “Maybe these kids are not having to do that now, right? But let’s not hide under the umbrella of ‘we’re a small nation’ because that really gets my goat.”
In identifying this strain of conscious self-effacement, Hastings said he agreed with comments that were made last week by Scott Johnson, the SRU’s director of rugby and interim head coach. In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, Johnson, an Australian, criticised the national urge to celebrate “passion” as a quality more pivotal to sporting success than skills or technique.
Hastings is, and was, terrifically passionate, a strength he has never let stray far from his patriotism. But there are limits to what he believes we can do as a nation.
“I am totally against independence and I’ve already been quoted on that. No, I think that would be the worst possible thing for us. But you understand where I’m coming from, because it’s all about exposure to the bigger picture, and Scotland is not the bigger picture. It never will be. We will not be able to do it amongst ourselves – we need to see the global picture in front us and be part of that picture, and, in my opinion, we will never be part of that were we to be an independent nation – which, by the way, we won’t be. You’ve got an opportunity to represent your country in hockey, in rugby, in football and loads of other team sports, and the individuals will always be Scottish the same way as Andy Murray is and Chris Hoy is.
“People say ‘what’s the greatest honour you had as a rugby player?’ Being captain of the British Lions. That’s bigger than being captain of Scotland, so you know what I’m saying.”
l Achieve 2014, run by Commonwealth Games Scotland and supported by Search Consultancy, will introduce 126 up-and-coming Team Scotland athletes to a multi-sport Games environment at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Achieve 2010 did the same for 28 young athletes in Delhi in 2010.
‘Hogg would be very suited to playing Sevens at Glasgow 2014’
Gavin Hastings has called on Stuart Hogg to convert himself into a Sevens player in time to represent Scotland at next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The 21-year-old Hogg, the youngest member of the British & Irish Lions squad in Australia earlier this year, is perhaps the most dynamic runner to have played full-back for Scotland since Hastings himself.
Former Scotland and Lions captain Hastings believes that the versatile Glasgow Warriors man would be a spectacular addition to the players already lined up for duty at Ibrox next year as part of the Sevens programme.
It would be a declaration of intent, he believes, as well as a move guaranteed to generate interest in Scotland’s campaign, not to mention an attractive opportunity for Hogg himself. Sevens will make its debut appearance at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
“I actually think we will and do take our Sevens pretty damn seriously, and my absolute hope would be that one or two of our high-profile ‘fifteens’ players will be competing for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games,” said Hastings yesterday.
“That is my fervent hope. They are two different sports in many respects and, at this moment in time, you would definitely want to be a better 15-a-side player than a Sevens player. At this moment in time. That may, however, change in years to come.
“I’ll give you one name – Stuart Hogg. I just think he would be very suited to playing Sevens.
“He would need to meet criteria, whatever that criteria is, but, clearly, as a person that the Scotland rugby public would get behind, I personally would love to see him in a Scotland Sevens team.”