Fears for 'lost generation' of ice skaters as all but one Scottish rink remains closed

Only one of Scotland’s ice rinks has reopened to the public since the Scottish Government gave them the green light to do so two weeks ago - sparking fears that the sport could lose an entire generation of Scottish skaters.

Monday, 14th September 2020, 12:51 pm
Updated Monday, 14th September 2020, 1:30 pm
Adult international skater Mika Bosphore-Ward is having to travel to England to skate while his home rink - Murrayfield in Edinburgh - remains closed.

Dundee Ice Arena, which trains elite skaters including British champion Natasha McKay, has opened fully, allowing public skaters onto the rink on a daily basis.

Meanwhile Galleon rink, in Kilmarnock, has also opened, but to skating clubs and hockey players only.

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All other rinks north of the border - totalling around ten - remain shut since March, with many still without a date of when - or if - they will reopen.

Rink owners warned that re-opening while social distancing regulations remain in place could be financially impossible without help from Scottish Government handouts, such as those given to the arts sector. Keeping ice frozen costs thousands of pounds a month, requiring large numbers of public skating ticket sales - and revenue from events such as ice hockey matches, which are currently suspended.

A #backontheice campaign backed by celebrity Scottish skater and Dancing on Ice star Mark Hanretty saw the Scottish Government bring forward the date which rinks could legally open to 31 August, however, the vast majority - including rinks in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Fife and Dumfries - have still not reopened.

Hanretty warned that the continued closure of rinks could lead to the loss of a generation of “potential stars”, who would move on to other sports if unable to practice skating.

In Auchenharvie in North Ayrshire, hundreds of skaters have held protests outside their shuttered rink after management originally announced it would remain closed until January - with a temporary gym having been built on top of the rink. They have now been given a provisional reopening date of the beginning of November.

Parent Kate Lock, whose daughter skates four times a week at the rink, said young skaters were missing the community of their sport.

She said: “They love skating. It is a big part of their lives - it’s not just about being fit, it’s also being able to achieve something and they form friends and bonds with coaches for life.

“KA Leisure, which runs the rink, advised there have been issues with the financial costs of the centre and there are also potential works required to the rink ventilation system so that the rink can be opened safely.”

She added: “There is now an opportunity for all user-groups and potential user-groups to work together to re-shape the operation of the rink so that it can go forward in a co-operative and covid-compliant manner which will be sustainable for many years to come.”

At Murrayfield Ice Rink in Edinburgh, some adult skaters are practising individually on in-line skates specially-created for figure skaters in empty car parks, while others have been forced to drive four hour round trips to access ice.

Murrayfield, which is privately owned, has not yet given any indication of a reopening date.

Mika Bosphore-Ward, a French teacher from Fife, competes internationally and has been forced to drive to England at weekends to train. Without having access to a Dundee coach, he is unable to attend specialised figure skating sessions at the Tayside rink and is not allowed to practice jumps or spins on public sessions. He usually trains at Murrayfield four times a week before work.

He said: “Skating is the only sport I have a passion for. It keeps me fit and healthy and there is a whole life surrounding it: with the competitions around the world, the friends you make along the way. It does really help keeping a healthy work/life balance. Without it, I feel like a whole chunk of my life has been taken away from me and it has also led to some unhealthy habits and weight gain.

“It is a pity the Scottish rinks haven’t reopened yet. I have had to travel to Whitley Bay to be able to practice and get a feel of ice again. However, financially, this is not viable in the long run and there is also the physical exhaustion coming with being forced to travel so much. As a teacher, my weekends are needed to recharge, so driving back and forth for so long doesn’t help. Learning as an adult, you have to keep on top of your training or you lose it quickly.”

Murrayfield Ice Rink managing director Richard Stirling said: “For us, it is a case of waiting and watching over the next few weeks until we see if when we can get up and running again. We have costed all of the things we would need to put in place, such as extra cleaning, a one-way system around the building and sanitising – but we have estimated it will cost £50,000 in start up costs, including getting the ice back down.

"One thing we are worried about is that we could start up again and then have to close if there is a local lockdown. Without opening to full capacity, it is just impossible to make enough money to run.”

He added: “They are giving support to theatres and nightclub, but sports facilities seem to be completely left off the radar as far as funding is concerned.