High Ground edition 17; dateline 1 February 2013

Lance chance saloon
Hello all, and best wishes from Caledonia for 2013. MacSideliner has been busy wrestling with the challenges of domestic bliss in the form of plumbing in new domestic appliances, including a washing machine. While working up my development plan for this piece of work, coming up with a vision, setting out the outcomes, constructing SMART targets (using the Sport Scotland guidance digest, of course), and devising a cunningly complicated but ultimately meaningless, even if you could find £250K to properly evaluate it, system of monitoring the effectiveness and impact survey (also using national agency examples) my mind understandably drifted to top-flight cycling; well, it would do. As I plumbed I remembered that Mrs MacSideliner had recorded the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah and then asked me when I thought was going to find the time to watch it. She wasn’t alone there, I can tell you so as I piped I reflected and wondered what’s to see, really? Lance is a big – a really big – cheat. Why did he do that? Because that’s what cheats do. They cheat and, if they can get away with it, they win, get rich, get famous and get Sheryl Crow as a girlfriend for a while. So that’s a good four hours saved – awesome!

UCI and I see you
Then I thought about the UCI and governing bodies in general, and specifically the way they treated Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree when he built a new style of bike using, among other things, parts from a washing machine. The UCI’s response to his success was to try to sling him out the sport. Beautiful! They did something similar when he developed the Superman riding position, again with some success. This is a guy whose top-flight, professional road cycling career lasted a matter of days when he wouldn’t sign up to Team Doping. Meanwhile, Lancer the Chancer rode on into a yellow-tinged sunset.

If you build it, they will come.
Well, they might if the hire charges are set low enough to avoid a governing body going bust, while the local authority-stroke-arms-length charity (delete as appropriate) operator racks up the public sector deficit even further to help balance the facility books. This is Scotland having its own national performance centre. It’s an interesting scenario this one, given the upcoming independence referendum. The standard nationalist narrative appears to go like this. Does England have something? It does? Well, we need to have something different otherwise the Unionists will shout, “Britain has one already – why do we need or even want something similar in Scotland? Everything is just lovely the way it is, and anyway if we had one of our own we wouldn’t be rich/strong/clever/all of the above (delete as appropriate) enough to make it a success.” However, the argument about the national performance centre is a bit different. England has opened the new, shiny St Georges Park  and somebody up here likes it, so much in fact that the Victor Kiam effect has taken hold. We now want a MacGeorges Castle of our own – very nice! But hold on a wee minute – didn’t Scotland invest over £100 million in the implementation of something called the National/Regional Sports Facilities Strategy, which has put on the ground a network of specialist centres in Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Stirling, Lanarkshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with the Glasgow Emirates Arena doubling up as the national bit, Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and all? So why tout for bidders for another national performance centre on top of that with a £25-million sweetener to get interest up? It’s fairly common knowledge that Scottish governing bodies have struggled to find the cash to make the appropriate level of use of the existing facilities as originally envisaged and that the operators are having to work really hard to get any business through the door. Could a ‘Suits you, Scotland Sir’ solution possibly be the right answer or is this just another case of shiny building syndrome meets a Keynesian/Roosevelt build-your-way-out-of-recession approach to economic recovery? When you drive in the north and get towards Inverness you will see a road sign saying ‘Wick 150 miles this way’. At this point you as far from Glasgow as Glasgow is from London. That’s how far up Scotland goes and in the north the distances are serviced by A and B roads; and I use ‘serviced ‘advisedly. It’s stuff like that which formed part of the rationale for the National/Regional Sports Facilities Strategy being a network across the country. So why reverse it now? Answers on a postcard please and if we can cut a deal with the Post Office we could raise enough to subsidise some sport.

More sporting politics
“EU officials behave like sports governing body office bearers shock!” Clearly a made-up headline but not one without foundation. EU Commissioners have been popping up with answers to enquiries about Scotland’s European Union status, should we get a Yes vote in the referendum, as if they were UEFA representatives banging on about changing penalty shoot-outs or re-formatting the Champions League. I was going to compare them directly but remembered that, unlike EU Commissioners, the UEFA lot actually have to get themselves elected, of a fashion. Never mind the obvious Team Scotland versus Team GB governance issues potentially awaiting us after 2014, when will Scotland next be at the Euros? [Not any time soon, pal. McEd]

Tartan Army of one, maybe none
While Rory decides which kind of Irishman he will at the next Olympics, we in Scotland have another wee sporting political conundrum. With Monty not selected to captain the European Ryder Cup Team when it’s held here in 2014 and Paul Lawrie unlikely to repeat his remarkable feat of making the team, will we see the event taking place in Scotland without a Scot featuring centre stage? Successive governments have backed the Club Golf initiative for over a decade to the tune of around £500,000 a year, seeking to encourage and develop a pathway for the game and we are still not quite making the green. First minister Alex Salmond might be the nearest we get to a golfer on the tee. Just goes to show that in sport even when you have a plan it doesn’t always pan out the way you thought it would.

Knock me Down with a Feather
Pardon the weak headline but a Scottish newspaper’s front page nicked in front of me with Unlucky White Feather, which is a play on a Scottish saying coined by a comedy writer whose depressive street vendor character was always experiencing misfortune. After regaling the viewers with various tales of woe, the sketches always ended with him offering the camera his main product: “Lucky white heather?” Not unlike our own Olympic and US Open champion Andy Murray losing to Novak Djorkovic at the Australian Open because at an apparently critical moment during the second tie-break a feather floated in front of him and he stopped his serve to remove it from court. The Murray then double faulted, lost the tie-break, the next set and the match. I rather thought the guy on the other side of the net played his part too, just a wee bit, with a fantastic display of skills and endurance but I appear to be in a minority.

Your country needs you (for eight days anyway)
The call has gone out (again) for volunteers for the 2014 Commie Games in Glasgow. By Commie I mean, of course, Commonwealth, previously known as the Empire, dear boy. CVs will soon be burgeoned with voluntary summaries by keen-eyed individuals looking for a step on the sports development administration trail (and good luck to them, I say) as well as by more generally motivated citizens. I believe it will be a great time for the city and the country but I also think Scotland should avoid trying to make it look like some kind of  Olympics Lite affair. The Scottish media, well BBC Scotland, have already got themselves into an identity crisis mindset just covering the volunteer call launch. Glasgow 2014 organisers had brought up some of the Olympic choir (who knew we had one of those?) to Glasgow Central Station to serenade commuters arriving for a day at the office. The 2014 advance volunteer guard were also there to buttonhole the poor beggars. As if this wasn’t confusing enough for the punters -- Olympic choir, Commonwealth Games – the BBC piece also spliced in footage of Jess Ennis winning her heptathlon gold and Mo doing his stuff with a voiceover saying, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could see and cheer that on again at the Commonwealths? Well not exactly, as the home Scottish crowd would then be seeing another medal for our greatest sporting rival clocking up on the medal board. I’m sure that as current Olympic champions compete the event results will be pretty close to the scenario in the piece and our crowd will respectfully recognise winning performances, but I’m not sure it will be another ‘heady experience’. To be fair, Auntie Beeb did include Chris Hoy, Katherine Grainger and some other Scottish athletes whose sports aren’t part of the Commonwealth events programme but, hey, let’s not let the facts get in the way of sloppy journalism.

And on the subject of national rivalries...
The Calcutta Cup fast approaches with Scotland’s Dutch and Zimbabwean warriors taking on the might of England’s South Sea Islanders and South Africans. Oh, how I love the purity of international, professional sport at its best. I’ll still be watching of course, just as avidly as if it were Bannockburn all over again and will do at least until the 4G synthetic pitches kick in and change the game forever. I’d settle for another 13-14 scoreline too as we are the away team this year but, with Scott ‘Not a Scot’ Johnson talking a far better game than his boys could ever deliver, I may be disappointed.
Historical footnote. Both armies at Bannockburn comprised a range of different nationalities. The Irish were definitely present on the Scottish side, so can we just borrow O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, and I’d have O’Connell out of retirement too while we’re at it. Flower of Scotland lyrics on a handout anyone?





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