Scottish football is a billion-pound beautiful game '“ leader comment

Qualification for World Cups should be a greater priority because of the national game's health benefits.

Stephen O'Donnell in action for Scotland
Stephen O'Donnell in action for Scotland

Pele famously described football as “the beautiful game”. While he was talking about the skills and vision of players, a new report spells out just how valuable our national sport is to Scottish society.

In hard cash terms, it made a direct economic impact of £200 million, but on top of that were “social benefits” valued at £300m and healthcare savings estimated to be worth £700m, making an impressive total of £1.25 billion.

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The report says that an astonishing 780,000 people – more than 14 per cent of Scotland’s population – play the game, mostly informally, so it is perhaps not surprising that it has such a significant effect on the country, preventing an array of conditions, from mental health problems to diabetes and heart disease.

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The men’s international football team may be at a low ebb at the moment – unlike the women’s side who have just qualified for the World Cup for the first time – but, in the broadest sense, Scotland’s footballers appear to be doing a great job by staying fit and healthy, while having fun.

With about two-thirds of the population either over-weight or obese, the importance of doing that cannot be over-stated. Experts have warned our increasingly sedentary lifestyles – and the rise of the associated diseases – could eventually cause the collapse of the NHS.

So whether people are turning out for their club, playing organised five-a-side or just having a kickabout in the park, they are, in a sense, performing a patriotic duty by helping to ease the pressure on public finances. SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said football was part of the “essential fabric of Scottish society”, while sport minister Joe FitzPatrick described the game as “a powerful force for good in our communities”. According to another recent study, attendances at top-flight matches were higher in Scotland than any other European country in proportion to the population. So, given the commitment of the fans, the number of people playing the game and the health benefits of doing so, qualification for international tournaments should be a greater national priority.

Not only will moments like Archie Gemmill’s goal against the Netherlands in 1978 make people feel good, they could inspire even more Scots to take up the game. And, as this new report shows, not only the players themselves but the country as a whole will reap considerable benefits as a result.