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From Greenock to the Super Bowl along the road to prosperity and social mobility

The left shouldn’t ignore the importance of sport – and Scotland doesn’t need to accept losing its talent

In the Scottish Hall of Fame resides a man of Scottish descent who came to North America and is we believe the inventor of baseball back in 1891. On Sunday February 5 2012 the New York Giants’ 21 – 7 win over New England Patriots gave Greenock-born Lawrence Tynes his second Super Bowl ring after triumphing in 2008. The 33-year-old Celtic fan had one day earlier claimed that he was honoured to be representing Scotland at Superbowl XLVI. It is one thing to acknowledge Scots playing in one of America’s most popular sports but this should not be confused by the myth that in order to make it in sport the road out of Scotland is the road to success and resources. Nor should we ignore the fact that Scots have given a lot to the world of sport.

With an estimated one million Scots born people living outside of Scotland it is perhaps not surprising to find the Scottish diaspora regularly reminding us that Scots have not only given a lot to the world of sport but have participated at the highest level in sports that might not be deemed to be Scottish.  Sims’s recent study of American Scots reminds us that while Scots transported customs across the Atlantic very little has been made of Scots sporting successes within the national pastimes of host countries such as the USA.

Gorn and Goldstein’s study of American sports makes reference to sports in the life of the emigré Scot and serves as a reminder that when emigré Scots left Scotland for the America they carried with them sporting customs from shinty to highland games to golf. In modern times University systems in the USA have long since drawn talent from around the world to feed a sporting system and model of professional sport that revolves around Universities rather than the more club orientated system in Europe. It has been suggested that the migration of sports labour from different parts of the world to feed the spectacle of American sport is unjust and unfair and undermines the efforts of other countries to grow their own sports systems.

Many a Kenyan or Ethiopian athlete has chased an American scholarship not only as a basis for seeing the world and accessing education but also as a reminder that athletes often run to escape poverty. The case of Tynes might give rise to a different set of issues but it should not be forgotten that sport can be a resource of hope not just for individuals but also communities and nations and in this sense the political economy of sport can help to redistribute resource to places where trade laws may be deemed to be unfair and unjust.

It is also a mistake to jump to the conclusion that in order to make it in certain sports one needs to leave Scotland. This is simply not the case. The example of Richie Ramsay the professional golfer who became only the second Scot to win the US Amateur Golf Championship in 100 years but also forsake the American University scholarship system for the Scottish University scholarship system is illustrative of the fact that the Scottish system has advanced and the choices open to athletes at an early stage of their careers are such that choices do exist both at home and abroad. The above example is a perhaps a marker of how much sport in Scotland’s universities has advanced from the days when David Wilkie left Scotland for an American Scholarship as a basis for going on to win an Olympic Medal.

If anything what Lawrence Tynes has reminded us of is that (i) Scots including diaspora Scots have made a significant contribution to world sport; (ii) that the sporting infrastructure in Scotland has improved to an extent that choices in certain sports exist where those living in Scotland can access the world sporting stage from a Scottish base (iii) that American sport in this case football can succeed by accessing Scottish University facilities as recent training camps have proven; (iv) that Scotland’s percentage GDP spend on sport is a valuable economic and social investment that needs to be sustained but has also progressed significantly and (v) that as the Scottish performance football coach has recently reminded us sport has a key part play in terms of social mobility and one of the traditional bases of Scottish football skill, working-class communities such as Greenock, Motherwell, Govan, Leith, Dundee, have much to offer Scottish sporting futures and as they have the past. The social value of sport to Scotland is priceless and with increasing levels of youth unemployment amongst those under 25 Scotland needs to maximise, recognise and realise what sport and education can offer now.

The Scottish Left needs to articulate the social value of sport for it is potentially part of the social glue that holds communities together, provides a resource of hope and a proven avenue of social mobility. Perhaps that is the lesson to be taken from the case of Greenock born Lawrence Tynes who claimed his second super bowl – that sport can help with social mobility and Scotland should value the power of sport for all it is worth- which is a lot.

Grant Jarvie is currently with the University of Stirling but will shortly be moving to the University of Edinburgh.