27 November 2003

S2M-661 Physical Activity: The Need for Improvement and the Cost of Failure

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-661, in the name of Tom McCabe, on physical activity: the need for improvement and the cost of failure. There are two amendments to the motion.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by doing something that I am slightly surprised has not been done before now: congratulating and thanking John Beattie and the task force, who have undertaken their activity without being paid for it. That activity is an excellent example of the way in which people who have been involved in sport can contribute to success in further generations' participation in it. I am sure that I will not be alone in saying that.

As a bairn, I was probably less sporty than even Duncan McNeil, because I was one of three asthmatics in my class in secondary school. That rather restricted my choice of physical activity and sport, so I played rugby rather than football. Members might ask themselves why I did that.

The reality is that, until the rules were changed bit by bit over 30 years to make rugby a sport that can really only be played by athletes, it was a game that could enable people of all levels of fitness—or lack of fitness—to participate, and I was certainly at the back of the queue for fitness. Scrum halves were small and slippery, wingers were fitness gods, and fullbacks were extremely mentally healthy so that they could avoid the intimidation of a tonne of opponents rapidly bearing down on them. I do not encourage the minister to make any undue reference in his closing speech to what I am about to say: I have a corrugated set of shins from playing in the front row of the scrum at school at, of course, loosehead prop. It says something about the standard of rugby at my school that our first rugby international, Dave Rollo, played football all the time that he was there.

There is an important point in all this: sport has increasingly become a professional activity that we watch rather than participate in. I regret that deeply, because, from my point of view, sport is what we do and entertainment is what we watch, and many of the professional teams that are active in Scotland seem to be disconnected from the feeder systems of people like me, of little fitness and less ability, who could nonetheless participate at the bottom end of an escalator that went up to international representation.

I want to address, on a purely factual basis, the answer to question S2W-3680 that Mr McAveety gave me earlier this month. I am slightly concerned by the data in the minister's answer, which will be the basis for testing his success in moving forward on this issue. The answer suggests that one third of our population is involved in walking 2 or more miles. I would love to believe that, but the samples that I have taken do not suggest that the figure is borne out. The written answer indicates that 21 per cent of people are involved in swimming, 10 per cent of people play football and 10 per cent of people cycle. Is there a robust methodology underlying the statistics, by which the minister will measure his future success or that will enable him to understand that he needs to make more effort? It is vital that sport is supported and that all people can participate in physical activity.

Earlier Sylvia Jackson intervened on the issue of PPP. On 16 May 2003, the Bo'ness Journal reported that a PPP school sought to charge £1,200 for an over-30s football tournament. That compares with the local council's rate of £7.25 per hour. Undoubtedly, there are a number of instances of the structure of the PPP contracts into which local authorities have entered inhibiting community access to facilities.

Dr Jackson: The member will agree—I think that he has done so by allowing me to intervene—that his comments apply only to some cases. We have learned from earlier PPPs and have improved on the situation. Balfron High School is a model of what should happen in relation to sport.

Stewart Stevenson: I accept that there are cases in which PPP works, but I know of many more instances in which it does not. There are much more recent examples of PPPs in my constituency where the community does not get access to facilities.

What are people's reasons for not participating in physical activity, whether as part of their normal day-to-day life or as sport? People say that they do not have time. In reality, we all have time, but we choose how to use it. The first step in getting those whose level of physical activity is far too low to step up to the mark is to persuade them of the importance of such activity.

People also say that they do not have the equipment. Members have talked about recycling bicycles. In the north-east, we are slightly less generous and recycle them inside our community. My bicycle, which I bought at the Whitehills church group held in Gatt's net store in Inverboyndie, cost £5. I had a choice of 20 bicycles at that price, all of which were sold. When the tyres finally wear out, I will buy another bike rather than fix it. We can recycle our bikes.

There are financial issues that act as barriers to physical activity. The Princess Royal sports club in Banff is also a community club that runs a very successful programme of going out to older people in residential homes to help them to take exercise. The club does not get paid for that and cannot keep doing it for ever. It has great difficulty getting the funding to make the programme work. We need to address such issues.

It is essential that exposure to risk is part of young people's growing up. Sport has been restricted to such an extent that people are no longer exposed to risk. We do not sledge in school or run in the playground. I refer members to Andy Nicoll's excellent column in today's The Sun—in particular, I commend the attached cartoon. Andy Nicoll says:

"I'd like to get down the stairs and cross the road to watch"

the debate on physical activity

"but somehow I find I just can't get out of this comfy chair."

Let us hope that he is in a minority.


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