Promising athletes and top coaches could be given cash from the National Lottery under plans announced on Monday by the Heritage Secretary.
Virginia Bottomley's decision to allow individuals to qualify for awards marks a significant breakthrough in the distribution of lottery funds and could herald a wider reform advocated by Scottish sports organisations.
In an attempt to divert lottery criticism in the week of the second big roll-over, Mrs Bottomley announced: "I want to see lottery funds invested directly in people and their future, particularly young people. The lottery should allow us to invest in our nation's human potential as well as its buildings. Opening doors for young people to exploit their talents is perhaps the most valuable gift the National Lottery can deliver for the next millennium."
Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, has written to the Scottish Sports Council to seek its views on Mrs Bottomley's proposals. Ivor Davies, director of the Lottery Sports Fund at the SSC, has welcomed the proposals as a "first class idea".
The more young athletes who were supported, the more facilities that required capital grants from the lottery would be used. Plans to approve one-off spending on international events would also allow Scottish athletes to gain competitive experience.
But Mr Davies defended the current focus on capital projects. "Scotland has got enormous needs and there is enough there to occupy lottery money for the next 20 years," he stated.
The emphasis on excellence has also been picked up by Scottish Schools Sports, but it would prefer an expansion of the base of school sport. A paper on sports schools backs the principle of developing talent through specialist centres and calls for a pilot scheme, preferably based around a number of secondary schools.
A handful of schools would be identified in each local authority that would concentrate on particular sports. Up to 10 per cent of pupils would be chosen for their sports skills.
"Schools," the paper maintains, "are the natural centre to develop the sporting talent of individual children. The total well-being and educational development of the child is central to the practice and policy of schools.
"It is envisaged that in any sports school arrangement, individual youngsters would follow a full, normal school curriculum, including physical education. While each school will have its own ideas for the identification of talented youngsters, it will be essential for schools and sports to take great care in selection to consider age, general athleticism, psychological and social strengths."
The SSS points out that schools in Liverpool are currently piloting such a model, under which children will move school as their talents are identified and developed.
"A major strength of such an arrangement would be sharing of facilities. However, schools would have to be prepared to pass on their more talented youngsters," the paper adds.
Specialist schools would require staff with credibility in their chosen sport and links with sports agencies and governing bodies.