Friday, 25 July 2008

TES: "Swimming hopefuls left high and dry"

Times Education Supplement: Swimming hopefuls left high and dry

Emma Seith

Published: 25 July 2008

Funding plug is pulled on Commonwealth medallists’ club that balanced training and school demands

Many of scotland’s most promising young swimmers will never fulfil their potential, following the closure of the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh, predicts a British Olympic team swimming coach.

Frederic Vergnoux launched a scathing attack this week on the sport’s governing body in Scotland after his club, which is based at the pool, was forced to close because its funding was withdrawn.

World-class swimming in the capital is dead, he said, because Scottish Swimming has axed funding for City of Edinburgh Swimming, whose members include Commonwealth medallists Kirsty Balfour and Gregor Tait.

Mr Vergnoux, who has been head coach since January 2005 and seen his swimmers break 110 national, Commonwealth and European records, is leaving after the Beijing Olympics to take up a job at the Racing Club of France in Paris, but says he would rather have stayed in Scotland.

The club will close next month, with nothing lined up locally to replace it, said Mr Vergnoux.

The consequences will be particularly dire for younger swimmers as the club played a vital role in helping them balance their sport with their school work, he claimed.

Scottish Swimming withdrew its financial support earlier this year because the Royal Commonwealth Pool is closing next year to be refurbished for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“If you support performance swimming at the highest level, the facility is one of the biggest parts of it,” said Scottish Swimming’s performance director, Ally Whike.

Instead of investing in Edinburgh, Scottish Swimming was investing in facilities in other parts of the country, he said.

“We have engaged sports consultants KKP (Knight, Kavanagh and Page) to work with the local clubs on putting together another performance organisation,” he said, but such an organisation would not come into being until 2011 at the earliest, when the new pool is scheduled to reopen.

Edinburgh City Council’s funding support of £150,000 over three years was earmarked for developing swimmers for the Olympics, and that, too, has ceased.

A spokesman for the council said it was working with its leisure trust company and schools to offer alternative facilities while the Commonwealth Pool is closed.

Mr Vergnoux, who was named coach of the year for Scotland and Great Britain for the past two years, told The TESS: “When you swim in my programme, you do 10 sessions in and 10 sessions out of the water: weights and running. It’s a full-time job, but on top of that you have to go to school. If you don’t work with the school and have a weekly plan, they won’t help you.

“We can say, ‘This kid is a good swimmer at their level and they need to train and compete. Help us get them an education too’. There will be no programme providing what we provide at the moment.”

Megan Gilchrist is one of the young swimmers who has benefited from Mr Vergnoux’s programme.

She left Whitburn Academy in West Lothian this year and Mr Vergnoux expects her to make it to the 2012 British Olympic team.

She will “certainly” represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, he predicts. “Megan’s school was so supportive. We had a system where she did the full programme with us and the school provided tutoring. Sometimes a teacher would be at the pool side when she finished training.”

Lucy Ellis, currently a member of Dunedin club and a pupil at Inver­keithing High, could miss out from that kind of support, he said.

Lindsay Roy, former headteacher of Inverkeithing High, who has followed Lucy’s progress, commended programmes such as that created by Mr Vergnoux.

“It is a sound approach because it makes sure sporting youngsters are balanced with an appropriate input into their education, both in terms of time in school and time devoted to homework,” he said.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

"The Olympics Scam"

From City Strolls:

"This is East London, four years short of that 17-day corporate extravaganza, the 'primary strategic objective' to which we are all so deeply mortgaged. Haggerston Park, E2, a modest enclosure replacing war-damaged terraces and the demolished Imperial Gas, Light and Coke Company, has long been an oasis. It was opened as a public park in 1958. Its scandals are old scandals and have no bearing on the current frenzy for makeovers, peppery paths, wooden obstacles for training circuits, laminated heritage notices. Spanking new carpets are woven for clapped-out football pitches, changing rooms erected to replace shower blocks opened in the dark ages by Wendy Richard of EastEnders. Back in the 1820s Gas Company funds were misappropriated, illegal payments made to council officials and stock accounts falsified. Now, in more enlightened times, when bureaucratic malpractice is exposed and celebrated every day, urban-pastoral reservations hidden behind high walls win prizes for visionary planting schemes and restored municipal beds. Unnoticed, rough sleepers in thin bags utilise the stone terrace of the park cafĂ© that has been shut for years. Late risers, having nothing much to rise for, burrow deep into dismal kapok-stuffed cocoons, while dog-accompanists use ballistic/prosthetic devices to hurl soggy yellow-green tennis balls for their hunt-and-retrieve pets. And the stoic Chinese couple, accomplishing their own version of the Long March, scorch rubber treadmarks around the padlocked novelty of the pristine football pitches. Artificial grass is better than the real thing, tougher, each blade individually painted. False chlorophyll dazzles like permanent dew, the permafrost of conspicuous investment. Some of the rough sleepers are not elective invisibles, victims of property mania or traumatised war veterans: they are construction workers, possibly Polish, saving their wages and choosing to kip down close to where the action is. The tsunami of speculative capital, wanton destruction, hole digging; the throwing up of apartment blocks, dormitory hives, warehouse conversions along the murky waterways. A new development calling itself Adelaide Wharf, and appearing very much like an aircraft-carrier that has ploughed into a wood yard, replaced a long-standing cold-store operation. 'With its 147 units (prices up to £395,000), this is a tremendous example of aspiration coming to fruition,' says Stephen Oakes, area director for English Partnerships. Inch by inch, the working canal between Limehouse Basin and the Islington tunnel has become a ladder of glass, connecting Docklands with the northern reaches of the City. Footballers, with loose change to invest, are rumoured to be buying up entire buildings as investment portfolios; many of these gaudy shells, low-ceilinged, tight-balconied, are doomed to remain half-empty, exhibitions of themselves. The look is mirthlessly playful, Ikea storage boxes gimmicked out of swipe-cards and toothpicks. The urban landscape of boroughs anywhere within the acoustic footprints of the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley has been devastated, with a feverish beat-the-clock impatience unseen in London since the beginnings of the railway age. Every civic decency, every sentimental attachment, is swept aside for that primary strategic objective, the big bang of the starter's pistol."

Full article here and here

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Best laid plans...

From Scotland on Sunday:

Glasgow 'will struggle to sell properties' to raise £100m for 2014 Games

Published Date: 06 July 2008
By Nathalie Thomas

CONCERNS are growing that Glasgow City Council will be unable to raise up to £100m towards the 2014 Commonwealth Games due to a decline in interest for regeneration projects.

The council is hoping to raise funds from the sale of 56 "surplus sites". But commercial property experts warn that, given the current state of the market, it is unlikely the properties, which include several former schools, will achieve anywhere near the expected sum.

The market has been slowing down and prices falling and few expect a recovery until next spring at the earliest.

There are also mounting fears that the council will not be able to find an appropriate private sector partner for the sales, which it is proposing to carry out through a joint venture. With many of the major building companies suffering severe financial strain, sources say there is no appetite for the project. If it fails to get off the ground, sources warn that the council is going to fall short of the £375m cost of the Games. Around 80% is expected to be met by the Scottish Government, with Glasgow City Council providing the rest. One leading commercial property consultant said: "I'm not sure there is an appetite for the joint venture in the commercial sector. If it doesn't happen, they are short of a fairly serious capital receipt."Another source said: "Companies that tend to get involved with these joint venture projects rely on banks and debt financing, and that's incredibly hard to get your hands on these days. It doesn't surprise me that they'll experience difficulties."

David Bell, director of the public sector group at CB Richard Ellis, warned that regeneration projects are always the first to fall by the wayside during economic downturns due to the higher risks involved. "They are now really quite peripheral in this market," he said.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said the process of finding a joint venture partner is "still ongoing". She added that the money raised through the sales will go towards supporting "a number of the council's priorities", including the Commonwealth Games, but a specific proportion of the £100m has not been earmarked for the sporting event in 2014.

The deadline for proposals was March 14. It is understood the council wants to transfer all 56 surplus sites to the new joint venture by the end of the current financial year.

The news comes just a few weeks after Lend Lease, the Australian developer working on the £1bn Olympic Village in London, admitted it has so far not been able to raise the £450m it needs to fund the site in Stratford. Lenders are increasingly reluctant to back the project because they fear falling property prices could lead to them not regaining all of their money.

And from Halifax, more news about the failed Canadian bid:

Bid report bang on — councillors

Sun. Jul 6 - 11:29 AM

A handful of municipal councillors feel the findings of an independent review of Halifax’s failed 2014 Commonwealth Games bid are bang on.

The councillors that The Chronicle Herald spoke to Saturday admitted that they haven’t had a chance to read the entire report, which was released to the public Friday. But they said everything they have heard so far backs up their earlier complaints about the bid process.

"I don’t disagree with anything they said," Coun. Andrew Younger (East Dartmouth-The Lakes) said of the review by the Public Policy Forum in Ottawa. "Their findings are exactly the same things that myself and a number of other councillors complained about from early on."

The nine-page report highlights a number of problems with Halifax’s $1.7-billion bid, primarily its lack of transparency.

"It was very frustrating," Mr. Younger said. "I’m sure members of the legislature felt the same way. MLAs, councillors, none of us knew anything about the bid.

"We’re supposed to be the guardians of the public purse, yet nobody would tell us anything."
Coun. Gloria McCluskey said it was "ridiculous" to think that everything had to be kept hush-hush so as not to tip off the competing cities of Glasgow, Scotland, and Abuja, Nigeria.

"Something that’s handled like that, to me, is doomed to failure," said the Dartmouth Centre representative. However, Ms. McCluskey said not all the blame can be put on the bid committee.
"Everybody was sworn to secrecy," Ms. McCluskey said. "That’s the biggest mistake I made was agreeing to that going the way it went."

Coun. Sheila Fougere (Connaught-Quinpool) said the failed bid should be used as a learning tool.
"No matter how you look at it, from beginning to end, it ended up being a huge disappointment," she said. "But there are lessons to be learned from it.

"Secrecy and lack of transparency . . . it just breeds distrust and discontent. Whereas if you put everything above board, people have the opportunity to not only react but to perhaps react in a positive way."

Mr. Younger agreed any Canadian city thinking about hosting an international event could learn a lot from this, especially what needs to be in place before the city signs on.

"I don’t think as a country we can be bidding on international events of this magnitude without early in the process knowing how much the federal and respective provincial governments are going to contribute to the bid and what facilities are needed," he said.

Mr. Younger also criticized Ottawa for only offering money for recreation facilities if Halifax agreed to take on the bid.

"If a community needs facilities, the federal government should be there as a partner, regardless of whether there is a major event coming," he said.


Saturday, 5 July 2008

Halifax Games would have cost $2.2B

From the Times and Transcript of New Brunswick:

HALIFAX - The 2014 Commonwealth Games would have cost $2.2 billion if Halifax had followed through on its bid and been chosen as host, Nova Scotia's health promotion minister said yesterday.

Barry Barnet made the revelation after a report released yesterday stated that even the people who signed the cheques on the cancelled Halifax bid were kept in the dark about escalating costs.

The Nova Scotia government and Halifax Regional Municipality pulled the plug on the bid in March 2007 after the estimated cost reached $1.7 billion. Glasgow, Scotland, eventually won the Games.