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Neil Drysdale: Maree Todd pledges to help grassroots sport in a post-Covid future

Maree Todd is the new minister for sport and public health
Maree Todd is the new minister for sport and public health

She’s somebody who has committed herself to a daily run and a dose of healthy exercise away from the political chamber.

And having grown up in the Highlands with a passion for rugby, athletics and grassroots pursuits, Maree Todd has made it clear she isn’t interested in simply talking the talk now she has become the newly-appointed minister for sport (and public health) at Holyrood.

On the contrary, the Ullapool-born woman, who graduated with a science degree from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, appreciates the struggle faced by many community clubs during the Covid pandemic, and how important these organisations are to their communities.

There are no easy answers in grappling with the recovery from lockdown, but at least Todd doesn’t give the impression she plans a box-ticking exercise.

She said: “It is vitally important that we support grassroots sports clubs that have not been able to operate as normal during the pandemic.

“These clubs are often the cornerstone in our communities, and provide people of all ages and abilities with opportunities to experience the many physical and mental health benefits of participating in sport.

“I would like to thank our sporting bodies for their hard work and support throughout the pandemic, and I am looking forward to working with them.

Maree Todd will talk to sports governing bodies in the months ahead.

“Sportscotland and the Scottish Government have worked closely in partnership during this time to support the sector, helping sporting organisations to access financial support and to develop Covid-safe sport-specific guidance which has enabled a number of sports to continue to operate in communities across Scotland within the restrictions in place at the time.

“But, as clubs and activities resume, the role of volunteers is more important than ever. I am aware of the role which hundreds of them play across the country on a weekly basis, and I am sure they will all be keen to get back to the activities they enjoy.

“My son plays rugby at Ross Sutherland in Invergordon who are running a brilliant mixed touch tournament all summer and have seen huge numbers of people joining in – of all ages and abilities. I am looking forward to dusting down my boots next week.”

Todd has already endorsed a number of initiatives, including the Daily Mile venture which is being promoted by Scottish Athletics and the likes of former Olympian Eilidh Doyle, who announced her retirement last week.

Former Olympic athlete Eilidh Doyle has backed the Daily Mile initiative.

She said: “The Daily Mile Travel to Tokyo Challenge has been brilliant for linking this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics, it’s fantastic to see so many schools taking part and I would urge as many schools as possible to sign up to ‘Scotland Does The Daily Mile’ in the final celebration event on June 18.

“In recent months, children and young people have faced unprecedented challenges; with disruption to their routines, changes in their education and time away from their family and friends, which we know has affected their wellbeing and mental health.

“Now that schools have returned, physical activity is a terrific way for children and young people to get involved and feel connected again, which is why I support The Daily Mile initiative, which encourages young people to come together to get active and develop vital connections with peers and teachers.”

“I’ve been running a daily mile myself now for over three years and absolutely love it. I make time for it, because it makes me feel so good – it is only 20 minutes out of your day and it’s great for both mental and physical health.

“I particularly enjoy the daily connection with nature, and especially this past year. You can’t beat feeling the sun on your skin and hearing the birds sing while running through the coconutty scent of gorse – it’s magic!”

We’re backing The Daily Mile campaign – and urge primary schools to join

These are exciting times in Scottish sport, with participants involved in all manner of high-profile competitions across the world.

Todd believes the litany of major events offers an ideal platform to send a resounding message to her compatriots: think about joining your local club, no matter the activity, whether as an athlete, mentor, volunteer or member and help create a positive environment.

She said: “Starting with the European Championships this month, the success of the Scottish men’s football team in qualifying for a major tournament for the first time since 1998 is hugely exciting, especially with two of our group matches taking place on home soil.

“It is a real boost after all we have been through during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the whole nation will be willing the team on.

Highland MSP Maree Todd is the minister for sport and public health.

“All of these major sporting events [including the Olympic Games] are really welcome opportunities for Scotland to celebrate the ways sport can bring us together, and the joys of taking part and being physically active.”

“The Scottish Government is providing £20million of funding to local authorities and national partners to help improve the wellbeing of children and young people over the summer period, including providing opportunities for children and young people to play, be active and enjoy themselves.

“We’ve also provided £750,000 of funding to the SFA to support its Football for All campaign, which provides funding to hundreds of grassroots clubs.”

Some previous sports ministers, both at Westminster and Holyrood, have wandered around the country whipping up apathy.

Let’s hope that Todd can break that pattern in the months and years ahead.