The halcyon days of rowing on the Clyde are gone but not forgotten. A new schools project could lead to a comeback, writes Roddy Mackenzie
Leading Glasgow schoolchildren to water is not as easy as it once was. The Scottish Amateur Rowing Association is hoping that by keeping them indoors, there is still an opportunity to produce world-class rowers for the future.
An initiative to be launched in January will see at least five indoor rowing machines installed in all 29 secondary schools in Glasgow as part of a three-year project which will change the physical education curriculum in the city.
SARA has joined forces with Glasgow City Council and received funding through the Steve Redgrave Trust to enable the pound;250,000 project to go ahead. It is expected to be fully operational within the next year.
At least two teachers in each school will be trained in using the rowing machines by two part-time development officers, who will oversee the scheme.
Teachers will undertake a four-hour training course to enable them to program the rowing machines.
School sports co-ordinators from Glasgow's education department will support the project to ensure it is integrated into school activity. In addition to PE, logging and grading the results could have spin-offs for computing, maths and science departments.
The project is not aimed directly at producing future world-class rowers.
The health and fitness benefits to children are the main reason why the scheme has been approved. Rowing machines provide accurate monitoring of pupils' fitness and progress.
The charitable trust established by five-time Olympic champion Steve Redgrave set up a similar inner-city project in Birmingham to encourage fitness in schoolchildren and fight the dangers of obesity. Rowing was fitted into the curriculum and after-school activity. Now the trust has donated pound;100,000 to enable a similar scheme to be set up in Glasgow.
Forty years ago every school in the city took part in rowing, with up to 800 pupils in the Glasgow Schools Rowing Club participating in activities on the Clyde twice a week.
Iain Somerside, vice-president of SARA, is a former pupil of Whitehill Secondary and well remembers those halcyon days.
"When I was at school in the early 1970s, Wednesday afternoon was sports afternoon and you were given a bus token to go to either the river or the playing fields," he recalls.
"I don't see those days ever returning. The climate has changed and teachers are just not going to give up so much of their time to take extra-curricular sport.
"I think in any sport it is now down to the clubs to be well organised and go into schools to provide coaching and establish strong school-club links."
SARA is hoping that by recreating the 1960s level of participation in the sport in Glasgow, there will be the chance to get more children back rowing on the Clyde.
"It will be great to have 1,000 new registered rowers but getting children on to the water would be a by-product," Mr Somerside says. "It is not something that is being emphasised at this stage.
"I don't think we are geared up for that just now in terms of the number of coaches we have. It would be up to clubs to take any opportunity that arises from that."
In Glasgow, there are plans for inter-schools indoor rowing competitions involving every school in the project. A website will be set up for schools to monitor results and rank pupils, and even allow online competitions.
Pupils will also be able to monitor their individual progress over several months and set their own targets.
SARA is still hoping to receive some additional funding from SportScotland but enough money has been accumulated to allow the project to run.
"We haven't managed to raise the total amount. We have enough for all the equipment and we have two part-time development coaches who will take half of the schools each," explains Mr Somerside.
"There are other areas we do not yet have sufficient funds for. We're not in the comfort zone and we could do with a commercial sponsor but that is always difficult to achieve."
The Steve Redgrave Trust is keen to expand the project to all major cities but getting it into other cities in Scotland would be down to two things: a willing local authority and ongoing funding.
There are other schools in Lanarkshire that are keen, Mr Somerside says, and rowing has been traditionally strong in Aberdeen.
"The main driver for the trust to start in Glasgow was the health record in the city and where it stood on the national deprivation index.
"It would be fantastic if we could roll this project out across the country."