Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Wightman and the Olympics

I haven't seen Andy Wightman since - or before - 1996. He had recently published a book called Who Owns Scotland? that was a real eye-opener. Vast swathes of Scotland were (still are) owned by a surprisingly low number of people (or, to avoid tax or snooping investigators like Wightman, by shell companies owned by trust funds with anonymous PO box addresses abroad). It was a complete coincidence that we met, both being invited to Peel Fell on the border by Dave Hewitt, editor of The Angry Corrie. I'm not quite sure why I was invited, having achieved nothing of note, but I was in exalted bagging and general outdoor company. Alan Dawson, author of The Relative Hills of Britain, mega-baggers Richard Webb and the Bowkers were also there. I recall Andy had an infant in a rucksack who was carried all the way up to the summit near the England-Scotland border.

It was surely down to people like Andy Wightman that the Scottish Parliament passed land access legislation in 2003, making it legal to walk wherever you like over wild land. It is commonly assumed that this has always the case, but in fact it wasn't - anyway, since 2003, the de facto right of access has been law.

So when I saw that Andy - in conjunction with Lesley Riddoch - had a show at the Edinburgh Festival, I went. The Scottish Six, discussing land issues and other things, is the kind of show that should be televised for the enlightenment and benefit of the general populace. It runs for the rest of the week and I recommend you go if you can. A few minutes into last night's show the venue filled with a thick scent of ethnic cooking and a fire evacuation followed. On resuming Andy then had to rattle through his talk a bit too quickly. It gave food for thought. But, ironically, not about land issues. About the recent Olympics.

Chris Hoy's golden post box in Hunter Square:


The Olympics have been a massive success, with even a sports spectating refusnik like myself getting enthused. Capitalising on that, Colin Moynihan has recently called for greater investment and participation in sport on the back of the Olympics, to enable even higher medal counts in future games. It seems obvious that higher medal counts will naturally follow on from greater participation in sport, but in my opinion Lord Moynihan is in danger of falling into a trap. They are two separate things. And given a limited pot of money to spend, they may well be mutually exclusive.

The experiece of Australia provides a cautionary example. Towards the end of the last century, the Australian Institute of Sport was given increased funding for the purpose of increasing Australia’s medal count at major events in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics. In this they were massively successful and other countries, including Britain, copied the Australian example.

But it came at a cost. Australia – whose image is of healthy outdoor pursuits – is now the second most obese country in the world (after the USA, another country that spends vast amounts on its elite athletes). Australian sporting endeavour became hollowed out - vast sums spent on the elite, and everybody else left to their own devices.

Greater participation in sport is often cited as one of the benefits of the Olympics. But the example of Australia shows that, unless a deliberate effort is made to invest in grassroots facilities, the opposite is more likely. So policy makers like Moynihan have to decide what they want. Personally I would happily never see another gold medal again for Britain if the population's fitness was maximised. Think of the improvements in quality of middle aged life, savings in the NHS, greater social cohesion for bored teenagers. That is worth more than a few baubles.

Unfortunately I fear that Olympic fever has gripped the country, and there will be a greater concentration than ever of resource and effort at the elite, medal-winning level, whilst the rest of us become less fit, sitting on our sofas stuffing ourselves with MacDonalds and Coke, cheering at the gogglebox whilst other people run around a field.

1 comment:

blueskyscotland said...

Agree with you there.Even where they held the rowing events(Eton) was an elite off limits private body of water for the select few.
As for private land I,ve always gone where I wanted just been very low profile about it.