Olympics: Team GB are showing just what the UK can achieve when it is united – Ian Murray MP

What a stunning performance by Team GB’s swimmers to win gold in the men’s freestyle relay in the Tokyo pool.

Team GB have been scooping up gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics (Composite image: Mark Hall/JPI Media)

How wonderful it was to see England’s Tom Dean and Scotland’s Duncan Scott combine their incredible talents to power the team to victory.

Team GB has brought the country together, with people in every corner of the UK cheering on the heroics of Tom Daley, Adam Peaty and Charlotte Dujardin, rekindling the joyous memories of London 2012.

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It’s a remarkable turnaround in fortunes compared to as recently as 1996, when we finished 36th with just one gold medal.

That disappointing performance led to the creation of UK Sport and the roll-out of National Lottery funding for sport.

It’s UK Sport that helped Adam Peaty to his second gold medal in Japan, having been awarded a grant back in 2012 after initially relying on fundraising parties by friends and neighbours.

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And it was lottery funding that supported one of our greatest ever Olympians, Edinburgh’s own Sir Chris Hoy.

But, just like Team GB’s success in the pool was powered by the combined might of the UK nations, our extraordinary cyclists from every part of the country owe much to the creation of the Manchester Velodrome.

Pooling and sharing resources across the UK ensures that we can punch above our weight on the Olympic medals table.

And it means we can revel in the success of every Team GB athlete, with fans in Edinburgh just as excited as those elsewhere for the forthcoming appearances of Laura Kenny, Dina Asher-Smith, and Scotland’s Laura Muir.

There are, of course, a few exceptions – namely a handful of nationalist politicians who have never been able to understand the positive public mood created by the Olympics.

That’s what happens when your sporting outlook is defined by maps rather than medals.

In contrast, the Olympic spirit shows the power of unity and teamwork, which goes right to the heart of what sport can achieve.

While investment in our elite sports stars has brought joy to millions, it is just as important to invest in grassroots sports.

It’s vital that governments and councils properly fund local facilities so that young people have the opportunity to improve both their physical and mental health.

Covid recovery will take years – and that must remain the priority for politicians.

But inclusive, community sport for all must be at the heart of that recovery.

There are direct links between physical activity and health, education and the economy, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Yet Scotland remains among the least active nations in the world.

At all ages, sport builds relationships, strengthens communities and improves both physical and mental health.

We need a new Active Scotland Plan to promote active travel, the right to play and access to school sports facilities, supporting every community to have access to at least one open, freely available local space for sport and recreation. We need the same Olympic strategy of 1996 applied to grassroots activity.

Not only will that deliver long-term health benefits for the next generation, but we may also discover the next Duncan Scott or Laura Muir in the process or maybe it’ll just deliver an awful lot of fun for those taking part.

Ian Murray MP is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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