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Would Scottish athletes be willing to switch to Team Scotland before the Rio Games?

With recent polls swinging either way and suggesting that the referendum is balanced on a knife-edge, it is little surprise that the Scottish independence debate is dominating the news and attracting the attention of the general public both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border, writes James Allen.

Understandably most of the coverage is focused on the potentially seismic ramifications of a yes vote and the mechanics of how a newly-independent Scotland would be formed, separate from the rest of the UK (or rUK, as is being proposed).

This has sparked a great deal of subsequent debate – both within sports governing bodies and the wider media – about how structures and funding might be rearranged between Scotland and other members of the Union.

In fact the question of Scotland’s sporting future has been the subject of a detailed inquiry and report by the Working Group on Scottish sport, interestingly titled ‘The continuing development of Scottish sport – including the impact of independence’.

The title is telling – because many of these changes could well happen irrespective of what Scotland decides.

A key area addressed by this report, and one that has generated interest from the media and general public alike, is the potential future status of a Scottish Olympic and Paralympic team, as well of course as the infrastructure to serve those teams.

The aim, again repeated through many sections of the report, would be to replace current Team GB or equivalent infrastructure, facilities and coaching with alternatives of alternative or better standards if that decision is taken.

It acknowledges that there would be a potentially complex and uncertain process to go through in securing this new status and approval from international committees – but, as is common to several other areas of the report, it concludes that there are “no obvious or major barriers” to securing full status, with the aim of doing this in time for Rio 2016.

The group are also clearly keen to avoid any possibility of a significant downgrade in quality of support for teams and competitors in the event of independence and the creation of a new team.

Here at the Alliance, we do have our doubts as to whether Team Scotland status could physically be achieved by Rio 2016, purely because of the time needed to go through all of the formal ‘hoops’ of achieving recognition.

Also with current GB athletes already over half way into their current Olympic training programmes, relying on UK Sport and lottery funding and many being based at coaching facilities in England, would Scottish athletes be willing to switch to Team Scotland so soon before the next Games?

The fact is, there are many uncertainties right now. But if the outcome of the referendum does indeed turn out to be yes, it is certain that there would be a period of fundamental change for British sport.

The issue for us is not whether this is good or bad. The most important thing is that the sports sector is as prepared as possible for the eventuality. Because whether it’s a yes or a no following this Thursday’s vote, what’s clear is that there is appetite for this change in Scotland irrespective of the outcome.

James Allen is head of policy at the Sport and Recreation Alliance


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