Holl pledges to give Scots athletics his ear

TO LISTEN and learn might be the kind of creed likely often heard in the run-up to the general election, but, upon his confirmation yesterday as the new chief executive of Scottish Athletics, Nigel Holl was prepared to play the consummate politician, dodging the traps and declining to offer any cast-iron promises before he acquaints himself fully with the inner workings of the sport's own civil service.

Still, he admitted, he will take up his post on 1 April with "my eyes open." Currently the performance director of England Netball, the 41-year-old already knows the machinations involved.

Having continued to reside in Stirling, where he was once a key figure in the Scottish Institute of Sport, he has a pipeline to the word on the street.

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While his soon-to-be predecessor, Geoff Wightman, departs with athletics restructured, a six-year forward plan in place, and new life breathed into its commercial partnerships and homegrown events, periodic reinvention is essential.

There is always another vote to be won.

"I've got quite a chunk of time to do a lot of listening to members as well as going back through the details of the strategic plan," Holl outlined.

"Some really good planning work has gone on in the past, led by Geoff. I need to go back through that and really make sure I do a lot of listening first. I don't want to jump to early conclusions.

"I want to listen to the board, key coaches, club coaches, members, right down to grassroots level. Because the danger is that the focus can be too much on the elite side of sport.

"We need to make sure that the opportunities for elite development around Delhi, Glasgow (Commonwealth Games of 2010 & 2014) and London (Olympic Games of 2012) benefit the sport at all levels right down into schools."

A runner at ultra-distance, Holl will opt to pace himself rather than sprinting to make his impact felt.

The long-term plan he inherits has not received a wholly enthusiastic response from all quarters over its first 12 months, not least from clubs who feel their voice was not heard and their efforts under-appreciated.

The incoming regime – that also includes December's elevation of former British Athletics supremo Frank Dick to the post of chairman – will hold out an olive branch to the disaffected and disengaged. "It doesn't matter how cleverly one group of people have put their minds to coming up with a solution, once you bring new people through the door, there will be time for review and revision," said Dick, who will tour Scotland next week for a series of town hall-style meetings. The promise is that feedback will be absorbed, and actions taken.

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Atop Holl's in-tray will be how best to implement the ideas of another fresh face, head coach Laurier Primeau, who has been given the freedom to craft a contemporary approach.

Individualism is out, sharing ideas is in, which is where the latest appointee's journey through a variety of sports, along with his role on the board of Commonwealth Games England, might provide valuable perspective.

"Cycling and swimming, along with rowing, have raised the bar over recent times," Holl acknowledges.

"There are potentially lessons to be learnt and in my role in netball, I have been trying to nick ideas.

"But they're not all relevant. We need to make sure that we apply ourselves to what is right for athletics and for the athletes who will come through from Scotland."

It's almost a pledge. At the end of his term, Holl will be judged on whether these are promises kept, and delivered. Hopefully they will prove more than the typically empty rhetoric of many a campaigning politician.