Lack of sports facilities in the more remote areas of Scotland has led to a boom in Sportshall athletics. Graham Ross, the development officer for the Scottish Athletics Federation, reports record entries for the third successive year for the 1996 events which begin next month.
Three years ago, eight district teams competed in a single Scottish final and this year more than 300 districts will compete in six regional finals which will lead to a national final at Meadowbank on March 17. The Scottish winners go on to the UK finals at the Aston Villa Sports Centre in Birmingham on March 30-31.
The programme is sponsored by Reebok and is backed by the Scottish Association of Local Sports Councils and the Health Education Board for Scotland.
One of the major successes has been in the North region, fuelled by the Gael Force Ten initiative, where numbers have soared after demonstration tours last summer and at the tail end of 1995. Skye and Lochalsh and the Western Isles are both sending teams for the first time to the regional final at Inverness on March 2 at both under-13 and under-15 levels. Shetland have also entered a team for the first time after a demonstration visit by North-east Scotland organiser Linda Low.
Maggie Roger, local organiser in the North, says: "Sportshall athletics is booming in the islands because there are no athletics clubs there and they don't necessarily have the equipment for other sports. Sportshall athletics can be staged in any school hall at any time and it has proved tremendously popular.
"We have not reached some of the smaller islands yet but the likes of Skye have joined up with Lochalsh to send a team. I have no doubt that many of the schoolchildren also play other sports and it's not restrictive in any way to children in other sports."
A total of 1,200 competitors are expected to take part in six regional finals in Irvine, East Kilbride, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Inverness and Grangemouth. "We have been greatly encouraged by the numbers who are taking part since we targeted the outlying areas. It has been a tremendous success," said Graham Ross.