Scotland can be great sporting nation, says athletics chief

Ian Beattie isn't Martin Luther King but he does have a dream. And it's a good one.

Ian Beattie is  into his second and final four-year stint as the non-executive head of Scottish athletics governing body. Picture: Jane Barlow
Ian Beattie is into his second and final four-year stint as the non-executive head of Scottish athletics governing body. Picture: Jane Barlow

“I would like to see a greater sporting culture in Scotland,” says the scottishathletics chairman. “I’m not just talking about athletics, but all sport. I think we still have a huge amount of work to do to come close to achieving that, but I work quite closely with my equivalents across a number of sports and I really enjoy these meetings.

“We have sessions with swimming and cycling, who we are probably closest to, and there are a group of chairs who meet maybe twice a year and we are all passionate about sport. I want to see Scottish rowing, canoeing, tennis, football, rugby, all Scottish sports, doing well. The value of sport is underestimated and I really feel that, if that was more fully appreciated, then we could be so much more as a nation.”

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Beattie is into his second and final four-year stint as the non-executive head of the governing body, which will see 
him serve until 2020, and making the best of things and working to be the best you can be, are key doctrines for the enthusiastic club athlete, who has completed over 100 marathons.

“I would like to see sport given a real priority and for people
to accept it has real importance. We can’t have the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and have the focus and see the good that does and then just let it drift away. We are seeing a great legacy in athletics, but it doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen through an awful lot of hard work and by pulling together.

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“I have always had the dream of hearing a First Minister say that one of our main strategic goals is for Scotland to become one of the sportiest nations in Europe in the next, say, 10 years, and then really start building towards that.”

That would require a shift in mindset, a willingness to really weave sport into the school curriculum and build on the current two hours of PE a week in schools –“we have to recognise that sport and PE are actually two different things,” Beattie warns – the breaking down of barriers, historical, territorial and egotistical, and a belief that Scotland could lead the way.

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Society would benefit, he states. That could be reflected in areas of health, education, environment, in reduced crime levels, in a bolder, more positive psyche and more unified, tolerant and less ignorant communities.

It is one heck of a dream and in athletics, like so many other sports, there are role models.

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It wasn’t that long ago that the sport was thin on inspirational figures. The clubs and volunteers were plugging away, but something had to change. After the London Olympics, they did, according to Beattie.

“The sport has done a lot of work over the past five or six years and we have to give credit to the clubs because most of the people in athletics are volunteers. But Nigel Holl, when he was chief executive of scottishathletics, had the realisation that the clubs could do even more, with a wee bit of guidance. We knew after London that we needed to be in a better place for Glasgow because what we did not want was there to be lots of people wanting to go along to clubs but finding that there were just no spaces. So, the modernisation of the club process was started and was up and running by the Commonwealths, so that when the anticipated bounce came, the clubs were better placed to cope.”

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Dealing with details at grassroots level was one thing, but, given the wealth of Scottish athletes who shone throughout 2016, there has been some magic at the top as well.

With 15 athletes, Scotland had its greatest presence in a GB Olympic track and field team for over 100 years in Rio, with the results at the British Championships qualifiers the embodiment of the 
Perform When It Counts mantra extolled by the scottishathletics hierarchy.

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“It does have an inspirational effect. We have had 
other Olympians. We had Lee McConnell flying the flag and Eilidh [Doyle] has been around, but now we have others coming through and people are beginning to see what is possible.

“Our top athletes are great ambassadors for our sport.” And their willingness to still compete in national events and compete in races like this Saturday’s Great Edinburgh Run, at Holyrood Park, is inspirational to those they will no doubt lap and others who will try desperately to keep them within sight before nabbing a selfie at the finish line.

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“We all have to perform – club athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers – and so far that has worked quite well. It is maybe recognition that maybe in the past we have been able to produce good performances, but we have not been very good at nailing it on that day, once every four years. Cycling hasbeen superb at that. It is a mindset thing.

“Stephen Maguire, when he was performance director, always wanted the athletes to aim not for the Commonwealth Games but to be at the Olympics. He felt that if they aimed for Olympics, then everything else would take of itself. We have tried to send the right messages. We really believe that you shouldn’t make excuses. It is a cliche, but control the controllables and that is a really big thing. Sometimes in Scotland we were too quick to want to point the finger of blame elsewhere instead of just saying, ‘look, it is up to us to really go and get this and we can be the best if we really work at it’.

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“What I like about our athletes now is that they are expecting to be world class. They have that mindset. They know that, if they want to be the best in the world, then they have to beat the best in the world. They have a really good attitude and that drives through the sport.

“I would like to think that we will get to a time when people will think that because they are a Scottish athlete they have a better chance of winning, not that it will be a glorious failure. As a nation, I think we have had enough of that. In rugby, the All Blacks never expect to lose, they expect to win.”

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With personal bests smashed at all age levels and in so many events last year, the potential for success is there. There are athletes who were the fastest in the world in their events, who pushed for Olympic glory and with many years ahead of them, have laid a solid foundation. It is something Beattie has tried to do. He will step away at the end of this four-year term, but he wants to leave the sport and the nation in a better place when he does. If he fails, there will be no excuses.