Commonwealth Games: Discovering what sporting legacy has been left for Glaswegians

What kind of an impact can we expect from an event which saw locals nearby exercising less than before the games?

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The Independent Online

It is just after midday at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in the east end of Glasgow, where a year ago the likes of Laura Trott and Anna Meares were winning gold at the Commonwealth Games, and 75-year-old Jimmy Marshall is recovering from his exertions at the top of the ramp leading onto the track. “The facilities are excellent – they’re just 50 years too late,” he jokes.

When the sporting legacy of last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is discussed, most of the attention is naturally directed towards efforts to produce the athletic stars of the future. But there is another cohort of people who have both the time and energy to make the most of the city’s glittering new venues: the over-60s.

Twice a week, Mr Marshall and a group of older cycling enthusiasts come to the velodrome to train on its gruelling track, paying £8.40 each. “After an hour here, you’re glad to get off. It’s hard old going,” he says, as another team of racers speed past in a blur of lycra, their faces set in concentration.

Most of the group are members of different cycling clubs, but enjoying the social side of their sessions at the velodrome. The oldest member is 83, and some can remember racing on tracks made of compacted cinders which could injure riders. “You never saw a crash, because if you crashed you were finished,” Mr Marshall recalls.

In order to be allowed to use the velodrome, each cyclist must go through a lengthy accreditation process involving four separate coaching sessions lasting a total of six hours. Although many of Mr Marshall’s group are already accomplished track cyclists, some have only recently discovered the sport.

“I’m completely new to this,” says Ian Hatcher, 67, who moved to Glasgow from Middlesbrough in 2003 and had never tried track racing until the velodrome arrived on his doorstep. “When this was built, I thought ‘I’ve got to give it a try’. I did the accreditation and just loved it – it really is a great facility.”

His main criticism of the venue is the strict rules which limit the number of riders allowed on the track to 15 at a time, which makes it difficult to reserve a slot. “I went to the velodrome in Perth, Australia last year and the first night we had 64 people and a motorbike. There were no accidents. It’s: ‘Come on in, give it a try’,” he says. More efforts should be made to invite those who may be intimidated by the sport to try it out, he adds.

But David Daniell, who won a silver medal at Delhi in 2010 and now coaches at the velodrome, says staff saw “a big rush” of new cyclists trying the sport for the first time in the wake of the Games. “It’s great for the future, especially for the youth of Scotland coming through. You’d like to think it two or three years time it’ll be generating people like Chris Hoy,” he says.

Existing evidence suggests that securing a long-term sporting legacy from the Games will be challenging. Early signs were promising: over the last four years, there has been an 11 per cent rise in the number of people taking part in the 17 Commonwealth Games sports across Scotland. But previous host countries have seen participation fall away when the event ends.

Research published last month suggested that people living in the east end of Glasgow, in the shadow of some of the city’s most prominent Games venues, are now playing less sport and taking less exercise than they did before the event. Residents surveyed said that the quality of their local sporting facilities had improved, but only 8 per cent reported taking up a new sport – or doing more sport – as a result.

Jamie Hepburn, the Scottish Government’s minister for sport, health improvement and mental health, admitted that past Games “have struggled to bring about a significant change in sports participation or physical activity on their own”, but insisted that the Glasgow venues were “being regularly used by members of the public young and old, as well as our elite sports stars”.

He added that the new infrastructure built for the Games had helped the city secure a series of follow-up events which could bring an estimated economic boost of £18.5 million. As examples, he cited the World Gymnastics Championships later this year, the 2018 European Games, Davis Cup Tennis and last week’s Paralympic World Swimming Championships, which were held at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre not far from the velodrome.

While hiring out the venues for international events seems like a prudent decision, the frequent closures of the facilities can actually discourage local residents from using them. One of these is Ann Blackstock, 64, who normally uses the Tollcross centre three times a week for fitness classes, gym work and swimming.

She said the pool had been “fantastic” since it was renovated for the Games, but that people who used it regularly had been disappointed at how often it was closed for use by professional athletes – something they had been assured would not happen.

“We’re very lucky to have it. The only drawback is that it’s closed for major Games, so local people don’t get the use,” she said. “Last week when the Paralympic swimming was on, you couldn’t use the centre – and during the Commonwealth Games it was shut for eight weeks. We were promised that at least one of the pools would be available, but that’s not happened.”