Politician runs back to her roots to tackle sports crisis

Former running champion turned councillor Alison Johnstone is going back to her roots in a bid to tackle a shortage of athletics coaches in the Capital. The Green councillor is set to begin her qualification in November to “give something back” to the sport she has enjoyed for years.

It follows a recent incident where two ten-year-old girls inspired by the Olympics turned up to join their local athletics club at Saughton, but were told to come back in a couple of months because it was too busy.

Cllr Johnstone, a former East of Scotland 1500m and 800m champion, fears if youngsters are unable to get involved in sport at an early age, it will discourage them in the future. She is calling for the council to work with clubs in a bid to encourage more people to volunteer their time as athletics coaches.

She said: “I’ve gained so much from being involved in athletics that I really want to give something back. It’s so dependent on adults giving their time and it’s really worthwhile.”

Cllr Johnstone, who is the Green Party’s spokeswoman for culture and leisure, is asking the council to back her calls for coaches to be given some financial reward in return for giving up their time to train young athletes. She said:

“It seems a bit harsh that we are continually relying on people to volunteer their time and coach children out of the goodness of their hearts.
“Even paying for their expenses would be a big help. The council needs to call for more Lottery funding, because we need to do all we can to support sport.”

She added: “Edinburgh has set itself the commendable target of becoming the most active city in Europe by 2020. “One way to do that would be to lobby for increased funding for our real sporting heroes: the men and women volunteers who spend many a wet and cold evening on the track side, or sidelines, encouraging young people who wouldn’t be there without the planning, organisation and inspiration that these coaches provide.”

Ricki Finlayson, 65, is one of these “sporting heroes” a coach with the City of Edinburgh Athletics Club.  He has been coaching athletics for almost 30 years, ever since his daughter Jacqui took it up. He said: “There is a shortage of coaches. I think less parents are becoming involved, which is where a lot of them come from.