Bringing football’s World Cup final to Scotland for the first time is among the Conservatives’ election promises to fix the country’s mental health crisis.
The party believes encouraging physical activity is one of the keys to easing the strain on psychiatric and psychological services as we recover from the pandemic.
Gyms would be reopened immediately, funding for leisure centres improved, £1 million spent opening more school facilities to the public and cash for Sport Scotland doubled, under a series of election pledges unveiled today.
And the plans include backing the bid to bring the showpiece finale of the world’s biggest sporting event to Hampden in 2030 alongside a strategy to boost grassroots football in the years running up to the tournament.
Party leader Douglas Ross said it was vital to encourage more people to take up sports both for mental and physical health and suggested it was perfectly possible Glasgow could be the venue for an inspirational occasion such as the World Cup final.
Mr Ross, an assistant referee in the SPFL who gave up the chance to officiate at a world cup amid controversy over his priorities after becoming an MP, said: “It would be great for Scotland to host such a showpiece event.
“It is an opportunity, it is possible. Hampden has shown it can handle major showcase international footballing events in the past and I think it can host a World Cup final as well.
“I’ve been fortunate to be at a number of national finals, Hampden is a great venue when it is full and one team are celebrating a win and another commiserating. To see the World Cup final would be very special and who knows, if the men’s team keep qualifying for tournaments there is also a chance Scotland might be there.”
The Scottish Tories’ proposals also include an increase in the share of the health budget spent on mental health services, from 8.1% to 10% over the course of the next parliament and the expansion of community mental health provision, including cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support services.
— The FA (@FA) March 1, 2021
Jumpers for goalposts
Mr Ross said the proposals would try and encourage as many young people as possible into sport and exercise, denying that the policies focused more on those from more affluent backgrounds.
He added: “Our increase in SportScotland funding is directed at both those performing at an ‘elite level’ and also at grass-roots.
“We want to encourage people to take up sport, a young person might take up football but find they prefer running, so might change to athletics.
“Yes it is expensive to get in to some sports, but I wouldn’t say it is expensive to take up football, necessarily. There are opportunities through sponsorship. I remember from my younger days, you would put a couple of jumpers down and kick a ball between (them).
“I know the ball itself can now be more expensive than when I grew up, but by putting in money at a grass-roots level it gives people an opportunity to choose a sport they are interested in and develop some skills.
“A set of golf clubs or tennis racquet, I know that is not cheap, there are different costs for different sports. But we need to encourage people in to begin with.
“Then hopefully we can look at that next challenge in terms of how expensive or otherwise it is once we get them into a sport that improves their physical and mental health.”
He added: “We need to look at all manner of policies in improving mental health.
“The important thing behind that is making sure it receives an increase in funding. It currently sits at around 8.1% of the health budget…an increase to 10% would see an increase in the amount of money directed, whether that is nurses in GP practices or more in schools. Whatever we do, it always comes down to paying for it.”