Jason White hopes new charity can tap in to power of sport

Jason White at launch of new charity Sporting Start. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Jason White at launch of new charity Sporting Start. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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‘Legacy” is routinely dismissed as a meaningless buzzword in modern sport. Ephemeral, often intangible, and yet its intention is noble in recognising the life-changing possibilities sport can offer.

Usually trotted out as a pre-ordained, planned element of events like the London 2012 Olympics or Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, sometimes the richest mines can open up unexpectedly and it is up to those with the wit and foresight to make the most of it.

The Sporting Start charity has been set up in memory of Jason White's former friend Martin Macari who died of cancer last year, aged 47.

The Sporting Start charity has been set up in memory of Jason White's former friend Martin Macari who died of cancer last year, aged 47.

Saturday’s stunning Calcutta Cup victory was Scottish rugby’s greatest moment since the 1990 Grand Slam in terms of capturing the public imagination and lifting the nation... or a good chunk of the nation, at least.

The sport’s posh, middle-class image lingers but what better time than the glorious aftermath of Stirling state-school boy Finn Russell’s finest hour to push the message that rugby, and sport in general, provides an opportunity to flourish for all?

That is the aim of new charity Sporting Start, which was launched by former Scotland captain Jason White yesterday, and aims to help kids who face financial or other barriers which limit their opportunity to access or participate in sport.

The charity has been founded in memory of White’s friend and former flatmate Martin Macari, a Watsonians stalwart and inspirational, talented sportsman and sports lover, whose life was cut short last year by cancer aged 47.

White is now acting head of sport at the exclusive Loretto School in Musselburgh and would love to use Saturday’s thrilling events at BT Murrayfield as a catalyst to inspire less advantaged children than those he teaches on a daily basis.

“There is this sense of how sport can change a nation,” he said. “If the charity can harness just a little bit of that then fantastic.

“A big thing for me is having role models and the Scotland team at the moment are that. Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Huw Jones and the forwards are role models and that is so key to getting kids involved in sport.

“Sporting Start is to help kids, initially in the local area of Edinburgh who don’t have the opportunity to experience sport. Raise some money in Martin’s memory and fund one or two projects a year and then look and see if we can do anything a bit bigger.

“We’ve been out and spoken to some organisations. If it was in rugby it could be something like funding boots for those who don’t have any, or there might be kids who don’t have access to getting breakfast. Or running a mass event where kids come along and they get to try cricket, try rugby, football and squash, all in one day and see the benefits of getting involved.”

White made his international debut in the famous victory over England in 2000 and is in an elite club of 
Scottish players with three Calcutta Cup triumphs to his name. He captained the side in the 2006 success, putting in a late, shuddering, potentially match-winning tackle on Joe Worsley in that 18-12 victory and also played in the 2008 win.

The former Glasgow, Sale and Clermont back-rower believes the current crop of exciting young talent in the Scotland squad can continue to inspire the nation and attract more people to the sport but he accepts that it is now imperative they back up the England win with a good showing in Dublin a week on Saturday.

“They are the best-placed team we’ve had in a generation,” said White when asked if Gregor Townsend’s side can make the breakthrough and start winning big games away from home, starting with that challenging trip to face the world’s third best team at the Aviva Stadium.

“I was part of the previous generation. Of this group, I played with Ross Ford and John Barclay, but my 
generation is now past. At the moment we have a generation of players who lost to the All Blacks by a whisker, and beat England who were on a 24 out of 25 run. This is the team that needs to go away and win.”

White is excited to see how far this Scotland team can progress under his former team-mate Townsend but believes that the influence of his predecessor Vern Cotter, who the 
Aberdonian played under at Clermont, should never be forgotten.

“We have got to grips with professionalism and Gregor is a big part of the credit,” said White. “But a lot of credit should also go to Vern Cotter and what he did previously. He had the expertise and nous to ride out that storm in his first year when we got the Wooden Spoon [in the 2015 Six Nations].

“His age, his experience, his three-inch thick skin was enough to handle things. That might have broken a lesser coach. A lesser coach may have been told thanks very much but your time is up, so a lot of credit must go to many people.

“Gregor has done the right things, identified the type of rugby we have to play.”

Russell and Jones grabbed the headlines on Saturday but, as a former flanker and skipper, White was drooling over the magnificent display by skipper John Barclay.

“He is a fantastic link player,” said White. “He gets on the ball and runs it up. When Huw Jones ran the ball down the side [in the lead up to Scotland’s second try], when John got the ball back, rather than charging straight up, he went up then sideways and then reversed back slowly.

“That was a sign of intelligence, not just to trundle into the English forwards. I would have gone forward as far as I could and then potentially got tackled and turned over. John is an intelligent bloke in terms of his rugby ability.”

l Jason White was speaking at the launch of Sporting Start, a new charity founded in memory of Martin Macari, a talented sportsman whose life was cut short by cancer last year aged 47. The charity aims to help young people in Edinburgh who face financial or other barriers to experience and enjoy sport.