Yesterday, the phenomenally successful and inspirational Scottish track cyclist, Chris Hoy, speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, identified one of the core problems for Scottish athletes of all kinds were Scotland to become independent – training facilities and coaches.
He was not speaking politically. He was speaking as an athlete. His position was objectively analytic – and it is unanswerable.
He said: ‘If you’re really serious about it [Ed: 'it' being producing internationally successful athletes] you have to provide the facilities and the coaching infrastructure.’
The cost of providing world class facilities and services for any, never mind all, of the sports in which Scottish athletes compete is clearly not realisable. Our best athletes would be left either lowering their ambitions or leaving to train elsewhere and potentially competing under other flags anyway.
Chris Hoy made it clear that he had no choice but to go to live in Manchester to train there with the British cycling squad – and that, without those resources of facilities and specialists in all aspects of physical preparation, equipment, training and competition, he could not have got where he did.
Hoy has always been unequivocal that he is proud to be Scots and proud to be British. He resolutely refuses to be recruited as a political prize by either campaign in the independence debate; and is remarkably steady on his feet in staying out of that arena.
But his openly rational assessment of the realities of what competing successfully at the highest level involves, has brought down upon him a swarm of cybernats in full sting.
Today’s press is reporting that, amongst other – and scatological – abuses, Hoy is being called ‘a bigoted anti-Scot’, has been told to ‘Naff off’ and described as a traitor to his country.
This is the very ugly face of the raw nationalism that is being triggered by the independence debate and fuelled by populist Scottish Ministers controversially using the phrase’ anti-Scottish’ in Holyrood debates.
The issue Hoy is highlighting is one of straightforward practicality and it is one that must, of course, be addressed.
The issue is even more complex than one of facilities and coaching.
Being in Manchester was not just about having access to the best facilities and the best coaches.
It was training with the British squad.
The cyclists likely to defeat Hoy in competition were members of this squad, not purely athletes from other countries.
Training with this squad - which includes internal competitions and trials – is what kept Hoy at the very top level of competitiveness. He was constantly tested by the very best in the word, who were his peers – and they will have pushed each other to their limits all the time.
This atmosphere, this centralisation, supported by the breathtaking range of expertise available, is what has made the UK great in cycling, under the unmatchable Dave Brailsford.
How many of could not wait for television coverage to get back to the velodrome during the London 2012 Olympics? How many of us were utterly invigorated by the abilities and achievements of the entire team? How many of us were not warmed by being part of that? How many of us did not identify ourselves with that glorious team of [English] women cyclists, the endlessly giggling track assassins of the pursuit, Danielle King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell ?
Being part of this triumphant set up didn’t make Chris Hoy less of a Scot or any of us less proud of where we live – but it made us a part of something superb, winning, world beating; something fun and exhilarating that reminded us of the value of ambition and made us bigger.
Competitive sport IS about scale, about numbers, about a big enough catchment to trawl and put together a squad of such potential that they will drive each other to be the best there is. A small country, however successful, simply cannot produce this.
No one with the ability and the will to be the best will settle for less than this – and if they did, they would be unlikely to become the best.
None of will forget the sight of Chris Hoy, coming into the last bend in the final of the Kierin, losing track to Germany’s Maximilian Levy and, summoning everything he had, driving himself over the line to take his sixth gold medal by the whisker that was all it needed.
That was sheer will – and what bred and sustained that will was the level of internal competition and competitiveness that was in the air he has breathed with the Manchester squad at that facility.
To see a Scottish athlete of that incomparable calibre now subjected to the abuse of a cybermob who are unlikely, between them, to be able to summon much in any array of achievements is simply shaming.
Note: The Radio 5 Live interview also retrieved the memory of a particularly cringe-making attempt by the First Minister to ‘brand’ the Scottish athletes competing in Team GB, by referring to them as ‘Scolympians’ – which sounded like a disease. [Is it Scoliosis?] Asked what he thought of this branding, Hoy said briskly, ‘Not a lot’.