Plea to push sporting excellence for all, not just budding Olympians

David Laing presenting David Arnott on behalf of Berwickshire Sports Council
David Laing presenting David Arnott on behalf of Berwickshire Sports Council

ONE of the Borders’ most knowledgeable sporting authorities says all athletes, whether their chosen discipline is among the host of Olympic sports or not, should be given the chance to compete at the highest level if they are good enough.

David Laing, chair of the Scottish Association of Local Sports Councils and Roxburgh Sports Council, was responding to last week’s front page article in TheSouthern, which reported calls for increased funding from the Scottish Government to ensure the region’s youngsters get the chance to emulate local Olympic medal-winning heroes, such as Peebles showjumper Scott Brash.

Mr Laing says that more investment is always welcome in sport from any source and the Borders’ four local sports councils are grateful for the current financial and administrative assistance and support that is provided by Borders Sport and Leisure Trust (BSLT), which allows them to concentrate on provision of grant aid to athletes who show improvement at local, regional, national and international level, whatever their sport.

“Not all sport is associated with the Games, and I feel that we must ensure that any elite athlete should be given the chance to progress towards the international and world stage in their chosen sport,” Mr Laing told TheSouthern this week.

“I appreciate that some concentration has to be given to the Games sports, particularly leading up to 2014 and 2016, but we must continue this legacy thereafter also.”

While congratulating Brash, as well as bronze medal Olympic horsewoman Caroline Powell, from Kelso; local Paralympians Kate Murray and Libby Clegg, and Special Olympians Anne Peacock and Lucy Porteous, Mr Laing said a good example of excellence in a non-Olympic sport is Kelso’s Alistair White, who recently became Scottish singles bowling champion.

He said: “Throughout the Borders there are a number of budding athletes who have almost reached Olympic qualifying standard or are performing to a very high standard at international level.

“We have ambassadors like young sailor Callum Airlie, who was selected to light the Olympic Flame, and who will hopefully become the Ben Ainslie of the future. We have many other young athletes including Alice Haining, Stacey Downie, Lucy Hope, Stacey McPherson, Lucy Younger…

“Therefore look out for a larger Borders contingent and a higher success rate for its athletes in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but remember if records are broken or personal bests achieved in what is most definitely a much more competitive world today, this must also be considered a success.”

Mr Laing said investment in Borders sports and sports facilities has been reasonably high in the past three years and is not quite as statistically low as has been implied in some quarters.

“We have a 3G pitch and a Borders tennis facility at Gala, a hockey training facility at Tweedbank, the PPP-funded schools with state-of-the-art facilities and artificial playing pitches in various towns.

“We also have a disability sports development officer back in post and a community sports hub co-ordinator in place to deliver sport in a more organised way at a local level.

“I would agree that more is needed and would still like to see more support for our budding performers, artificial playing pitches in all Borders towns, improved and better maintained grass pitches and an indoor multi-sport training facility in the region.

“However, we are in the hard times of financial constraint and realistically at present have to be patient and make better use of what is out there already. Local sports councils will continue to strive to support our budding athletes and provide for pathways towards excellence.”