22 Feb 2016
Steve Cram is a thoroughly impressive chap. It’s not just that he still looks in perfect shape to tackle another record breaking mile round the track despite having retired from racing over 21 years ago. It’s not even that he can take you on an insider’s tour of the issues facing sport ranging from the controversial state of international sports governance across broadcasting and sponsorship to the everyday challenges of an elite sportsperson. It’s also that he is a properly personable man; easily chatting away in that Tyneside accent that we have got to know so well in his role as the BBC’s chief athletics commentator.
He was in town on Friday ahead of the Glasgow Indoor Grand Prix athletics at the Emirates Arena. It’s an Olympic year and the athletes are using events like the Glasgow meeting to measure their progress towards Rio de Janeiro. So Steve was happy to use much of the day in his role as ambassador for the Clydesdale Bank to support Chamber events. He spent breakfast with us at a Glasgow Talks and then headed straight to All Saints Secondary School to meet with the teachers and children as part of the work the Chamber is doing to connect business and schools more closely and naturally together. The Chamber’s role in promoting Scotland’s Developing the Young Workforce initiative helped forge the relationship between the Clydesdale Bank and All Saints.
I’m very aware of Glasgow’s appetite for attracting major sports events to the city especially now that facilities are so well developed. Since the Commonwealth Games we have already hosted the World Gymnastics Championships in 2015 and the GB versus Australia semi-final of the Davis Cup in tennis. We have the European Sports Championships coming in 2018 and we are currently bidding for the 2019 European Indoor Athletics Championships. Glasgow will then have its part to play in football’s Euro 2020 tournament.
Steve makes it clear though that this success in attracting elite sport – along with the economic and social benefits that follow – is a UK wide phenomenon and is not an accident. The decision to invest in sport using National Lottery funds was a deliberate one and has been extraordinarily successful. GB finished 3rd on the London Olympics medal table in 2012. Only 16 years earlier in Atlanta GB finished 36th. The impact of Lottery funding on the professionalism of the support for elite performance was fundamental. At the same time the UK’s skill in bidding for and then operating major events has also been hugely improved and so it’s not just Glasgow that is seeing the benefit of an expansion in international sports tournaments. So too are Manchester, Birmingham and other UK cities.
The challenge is for Glasgow to maintain its current effectiveness and I would highlight the work of both Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Marketing Bureau at the local level alongside Event Scotland and Visit Scotland in delivering for the city.
Nor did Steve shy away from the more controversial issues with which we are sadly now so familiar including the evolving challenge of drug-taking. But as he says that challenge is as important to all those who benefit financially from successful sports like broadcasters and equipment companies just as it is to the athletes and the sports federations. Who should be providing the funds that an effective World Anti-Doping Agency needs? That Steve is as deft in tackling questions like these as he is in telling anecdotes of his life as a world-beating athlete shows how politically astute a modern sports commentator has to be.
Suffice to say we should not lose sight of the fundamental popularity of sport. The tickets for the Glasgow Grand Prix were sold out.