Upcoming Independence Vote In Scotland Could Be Gamechanger For Athletes
Sport in Scotland could be transformed in September if Scottish voters decide to vote "yes" for an independent Scotland, ending more than 400 years of ties with England. Should they vote "yes" -- polls suggest it is still in the balance -- then a new Scottish Olympic and Paralympics team would be formed -- though Scottish athletes would have the choice of whether to compete for Team Scotland or Team GB. Some Scottish athletes believe they would lose prestige by only competing for Team Scotland while critics of an independent Scotland suggest that if the majority of Scottish athletes opt to stay with Team GB then it could render Team Scotland uncompetitive, which could negatively impact future generations. The counterpoint is that Scottish athletes would have a greater chance of getting to an Olympic Games as part of Team Scotland than they would Team GB. In the 2012 London Olympics, Chris Hoy and Andy Murray helped Scotland win 13 medals -- including seven Golds -- out of a total haul of 65 medals won by Team GB.
TRAINING CENTERS IN QUESTION: Just about all of the top Scottish athletes, around 100, train in top class English “centers of excellence,” such as swimmer Michael Jamieson, who trains in Bath, competing with other Team GB athletes. The only Scottish center is for curling. According to the Scottish government, Scottish athletes would be able to continue to train outside of Scotland and vice-versa, if Scotland became independent. A spokesperson for the Scottish government said, “We envisage working in partnership with agencies from other countries to provide training facilities that will be of interest to athletes across the world.” However, to entice foreign athletes to Scotland, significant extra investment is needed from the Scottish government to grow its number of centers of excellence.
COST OF EXCELLENCE: Currently, Sport Scotland -- the government agency which has responsibility for sport in Scotland from grassroots upwards -- has an annual budget of around £75M ($125M), around £19.5M ($33M) of which is spent on top-level sport in Scotland. On top of that, Team Scotland would hope to receive the 8% share of UK Sports’ £350M ($582M) budget, £28M ($46.5M), that it currently receives for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Overall, this would mean Team Scotland would have £106M ($176M) to spend on top-level athletes over a four-year Olympic cycle, which is unlikely to be enough to fund new infrastructure and performance given that there will likely be more Scottish athletes to fund.
COMMONWEALTH BOOST: However, Scottish Olympic athletes will benefit from the sporting infrastructure and facilities which have been built for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, such as the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. But for those sports which are not part of the Commonwealth Games, such as rowing, Scotland does not have the required training facilities, so investment would be needed in these areas. One other factor is that Team Scotland would have to be formally ratified by the IOC, which in previous cases has taken as long as a year for a new country. There are pluses and negatives to both sides of the argument, but the Scottish government thinks an independent Scotland offers plentiful opportunities for athletes. A Scottish government spokesperson said, "There can be no prouder moment for any athlete than representing your country on the international stage. Independence would increase the opportunities for exceptional Scottish athletes who are missing out on places to compete at the top level. Athletes are currently free to choose which county they represent proving they meet that country’s relevant qualifying criteria. Whilst we hope that all athletes who are qualified to represent Scotland will do so, this is a personal decision.”
John Reynolds is a writer in London.