David chats at one of our round table sessions at the National Club Conference (photo by Bobby Gavin)
David Ovens has paid fulsome tribute to the efforts of volunteers and clubs in helping recover lost momentum for athletics in Scotland.
And the new Chair of scottishathletics, who took over from Ian Beattie in September, underlined his thanks to members for returning to us as governing body in their hundreds in the past eight months.
Club activity and events were suspended for four months or so at the start of 2021 but the ‘fightback’ since then has been impressive.
Olympic and Paralympic success helps inspire those at the grassroots, of course, and there can be little dispute that Scottish athletes continue to punch above their weight – with a record-equalling cohort in the GB team and Megan Keith’s gold at the Euro Cross last weekend as the most recent example.
Above all, David’s Festive message formed a vote of thanks to our members.
‘I was appointed Chair at the AGM in September but I’ve been involved and around the sport for a long time – coming on 40 years now– and so had good visibility of where athletics in Scotland is at and where it has come from,’ said David, in our special video interview.
‘I have to say that athletics in Scotland is in a good place, notwithstanding all the issues and difficulties associated with Covid-19 impact and restrictions.
‘Performance levels at the top of the sport by Scottish athletes speak for themselves. That has been a theme over the past five years, if not the last 10 years.
‘In terms of the governing body, clearly the pandemic presented a very challenging time as a new Chair coming on board.
‘But it was not just a new Chair coming in. This time last year our CEO, Mark Munro, was preparing to move to UK Athletics and Stephen Maguire, our Head of Performance, left us for a post with Sport Ireland.
‘The great thing is we were able to replace those key roles from within the sport – as Colin Hutchison took over as CEO and Mark Pollard took on the Head of Performance.’
Our memberships fell to as low as 9700 at the start of May but are now hovering around 12100 – please do renew! – and internally there were natural adjustments to leadership change at the top.
But, with the combination of huge commitment by volunteers and staff expertise, the return to sport has arguably been smoother than might have been anticipated.
‘Pre-pandemic we were in the very early stages of our Strategy ‘Building a Culture of Success’ ,’ recalled David.
‘That Strategy is based around five pillars: clubs, competition, performance, partnerships and recreational running. And the sport was vibrant then.
National Club Relays at Linwood in September drew a record number of teams across the age groups (photo by Bobby Gavin)
‘Then Covid hit and it was a torrid time for everyone, as we know, but also for our sport.
‘There was constantly evolving Government guidance; there were virtual events – which are good, but not the real thing; and clubs had to find all sorts of ways to deliver some kind of training. The membership of Scottish Athletics dropped significantly.
‘So there were challenges there stretching into all corners of our sport. But I think the clubs responded and I think the NGB responded in terms of efforts to keep people engaged and connected via clear communications.
‘Thankfully we reached the point where people in athletics in Scotland were on the same page and it has actually been a great year.
‘I was at national championship events like the Seniors at Grangemouth, the Age Groups in Aberdeen and then the Club Relays at Linwood at the end of the track and field season and I have to say the atmosphere was superb – people enjoying their sport to the full.
‘And then the performances in Tokyo for the Olympics and Paralympics were inspirational. Scottish athletes contributed very significantly to Team GB medal tallies at both those global events.’
Olympic medals for Josh Kerr and Laura Muir help inspire those at grassroots (photos by Sam Mellish and David Pearce)
With his own background as an athlete and now a coach, and with family involvement, David is acutely aware our sport is rooted in local communities and issues at local level have a knock-on effect.
Working with CEO Colin Hutchison, the Development team, SAL staff and jogscotland, he’s keen to try and broaden the base of athletics.
‘Strong and thriving communities are what makes sport happen in Scotland,’ he said.
‘Local facilities underpin the well-being and fitness of people within those communities. I am really keen we try to expand grassroots participation.
‘But in particular we are keen to try and draw in and engage with people who have not been able to access athletics or recreational running.
‘We have a great club and volunteer system in Scotland which does that but one area we are focussing on is our Facilities Strategy.
‘We plan to publish that early in 2022 and what we are really keen to try and do is unlock investment in new facilities across Scotland. To make sure there is a focus on local communities to sustain the physical and mental wellbeing of people who live in them.
‘The sport is not Scottish Athletics; the sport is the athletes, the coaches, the clubs, the Officials, the mums the dads and the teachers. That is what fires the sport.
‘Our role as NGB is to try and support all of those individuals and groups and try and create an eco-system where it can thrive and flourish.
‘It is about pulling in the same direction and it clearly has been in the past 10 years and as Chair I am really keen for that to happen over the next 1o years, too.’