In writing the foreword to Fifty Years of Amateur Athletics in Scotland, I am conscious of the value of the work both as a record of past endeavour and as a guide to future policy.
Our first introduction to athletics is generally gained at school, and it is interesting to remark the extraordinary progress that has been made in cultivating that fertile ground since the inception of the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association in 1883. At the present moment organised games and sports are as much an accepted feature of school curriculum as are arithmetic or history, and are generally admitted to be of equal importance.
There are those who consider that undue stress is laid upon the physical side of scholastic life, but for myself I cannot admit it. The average boy is full of a superabundance of energy which must find an outlet. If that energy be directed into a proper channel, it can be made a vital factor in the building of the boy’s character. If it be not so directed, it will find an egress in ways altogether undesirable. The Victorians visualised high spirits as a waste product, which must be eliminated by disciplined suppression. Our modern view teaches that boyish energy is a by-product of infinite value which can be used with results altogether beneficial, and that games and athletics supply that anchor-hold, that definite background during the critical period of adolescence without which the majority of us would give Satan a congenial task in finding “mischief still for idle hands to do”.
It is difficult to realise the extent to which sport I its many branches has influenced the character of the British nation. They have given to us, in my view, a balanced judgment, a complete immunity to panic, and a good humoured tolerance which must surely be the despair of the agitator and the revolutionary.
I hold that at the moment Great Britain is the only country where a natural democracy exists. Democracy demands a common meeting ground, a community of interest. Sport provides that, and I know of nothing that could take its place.
If we value flattery, then we may claim that the world has accorded us the sincerest form by imitating our methods, by accepting our standards and our valuations with an enthusiasm that we can only marvel at. What the effect on the diverse mentalities of other races than our own will be, we can only surmise, for national character is not formed in a generation. Perhaps the lessons they learned from sport will differ from those we have absorbed. However that may be, I feel they cannot be bad, but, on the contrary, must be good and beneficial in the highest degree. This book contains a record of Scotland’s contribution to the world of amateur athletics – and indeed it is not a small one. In it are names honourably known far beyond the Scottish borders, names of men in every walk of life, wh have upheld the high traditions of our race on the athletic field.
We can look in retrospect on that first meeting under Scottish Amateur Athletic Association rules, held in 1883, and trace the rapid growth and development in everything pertaining to the sport until the present day.
We cannot compare the champions of old with the present day athlete – and who wants to? Their times may have been greater and their distances less, but the conditions under which they competed were inferior in every respect. Let us, then, leave them that niche they ever hold in the memory f their countrymen; for their hearts were in the right place, which, indeed, is all that matters. In achieving the position that it holds today, the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association has had no easy road to travel, and all praise is due to those who have guided its destinies along the thorny path of control.
The Editors of this publication have earned the thanks of all Scottish sportsmen for their meticulous care in chronicling events of so great an interest, and for leaving us a record of the traditional and characteristic athletics of our country, and of those who gained fame in the fields of high endeavour.