Sport is well supported by the Borders press.
Recently, however, many of the sports headlines have been given over to the possible closure of three swimming pools, with relatively scant mention of the wider issues addressed in the recently published Sports Facilities Report.
There is no reference to, nor consideration of, the previous two facility planning reports commissioned by SBC over the past 30 years.
In terms of a strategy for sports facilities in the Borders, history shows that the way forward is not through forward planning but opportunistically – either through politically motivated decisions, the building or renovation of schools, or local effort.
Neither Scottish Borders Council nor the Sport and Leisure Trusts have a policy on the closure of swimming pools. Indeed, to my knowledge, the council has not mentioned closure in any of their recent budget statements.
Nor is there direct reference to any cut to the subsidies which allow these community-based facilities to continue. However, the report constantly refers to the need for the council to make operational decisions on opening hours and maintenance, almost ignoring the fact that it is the trusts’ responsibility for management and disregarding the time it would require for the council to close facilities against the wishes of the trusts.
There is clearly limited support for a regional facility at a cost to community-based facilities. However, facility provision for performance in addition to participation could embrace community-based sport for recreational purposes and performance-based sport where participants seek to achieve their full sporting potential at the highest level possible.
Every year without fail guests attending James McLean Trust Annual Celebration of Sport comment with some surprise on the range of sports and the array of talent across the Borders.
Over the past 15 years this celebration has presented 441 awards to representatives of 36 different sports.
During the past 10 years, Scottish Borders Council has spent more time and money on participation in and the development of sport than in any one of the previous 25 years.
The growth in participation is testimony to the work of the council’s team of officers and their support to local clubs and sports councils. Borders Sport and Leisure Trust has brought a new dimension to increased participation, customer-focused quality provision and reinvestment of funds by reducing the subsidies required by each centre in the past.
However, a review of the present list of focus/target sports is long overdue (they were first established in 1995).
This should embrace plans for a planned network of designated facilities which reflects the selected target sports.
Only the following sports are dependent on indoor facilities provided by the local authority: badminton, basketball, netball, volleyball and gymnastics.
Of the current list of focus/ target sports, only four are dependent on the use of local authority facilities.
There can be little or no doubt that what produces the junior internationalist is not the facility on its own, but the need for more committed and informed coaches.
Recent successes in judo, netball and cricket bear that out. Judo and cricket do not depend on council facilities, yet are doing very nicely, thank you very much.
The notion of designating existing facilities, to be enhanced in support of targeted sports through which progress can be made realistically to international status, could be along the following lines: Duns (badminton, swimming and tennis); Earlston (gymnastics and martial arts); Galashiels (football, rugby and netball); Jedburgh (racquet sports); Selkirk (swimming); Tweedbank (athletics and hockey).
Widening the base does not produce performers, nor does it provide a foundation for the development of performance sport on its own.
We need to provide, at a centre young athletes can reach within half an hour, the facilities that will act as a bridge between participation and performance.
SportScotland recognises 62 governing bodies of sport – 36 are practised in the Borders. In the pages of the Southern Reporter, Peeblesshire News, Border Telegraph, Berwickshire News and the Hawick News over a four-month period from June to September there were reports from 27 different sports from archery to yachting.
Taking an average participation rate over the same period, by my calculation, 14,130 Borderers are active through sport at least once per week – that is about 13 per cent of the Borders population – from 10 – 80 years of age.
Of the nine target or focus sports, few have current full internationalists. In football we manage the very occasional Premier Division player, but it is a long time since we had a full internationalist.
The number of rugby internationalists has taken a nosedive during the past decade and where are the hockey, badminton and tennis internationalists?
There are more full internationalists from sports not supported by the council, for example, bowls and equestrianism.
We have more swimming pools than most other places, but no homegrown full internationalist since 1998.
Something is not right!
Graeme Donald lives in Lauder and is immediate past chairman of the Scottish Borders Network of Community Councils and was also the region’s first advisor in PE.