If you’ve been out and about in Glasgow over the last few days, you may have encountered the slightly unusual sight of a giant friendly seal posing for selfies with passers-by.
The Glasgow 2018 mascot, Bonnie, has been unveiled – and she certainly is bonnie.
She’s also a timely reminder that in a little under a year’s time, Glasgow is once again going to be hosting a major international sporting event – and it’s time to start getting excited.
The European Championships will be the biggest sporting event held in Scotland since the Commonwealth Games.
Who can forget that wonderful sense of pride that we all felt just three years ago, when Glasgow hosted tens of thousands of people from across the world, and was beamed to hundreds of millions homes around the world?
The legacy of Glasgow 2014 lives on – sometimes in very visible ways, with a host of world-class sports facilities across the city and significant community regeneration.
2018 is a new style of event – bringing together the well-established European Championships of a number of different sports into one big festival of sport.
We are honoured to be co-hosting these inaugural 2018 Championships with Berlin, once again placing Glasgow on the international stage.
Some of the statistics are very impressive. 3,000 athletes, 11 days of sport, 12 sporting disciplines, 52 competing nations and hundreds of artists as part of a dynamic cultural festival - attracting event attendances of 250,000 and a potential TV audience of over a billion.
While Berlin hosts the athletics events, we will host the Aquatics, Cycling, Golf, Gymnastics, Rowing and Triathlon.
Although Glasgow is the host city, other parts of Scotland will also take part – whether it’s open water swimming at Loch Lomond, golf at Gleneagles, diving at Edinburgh’s Royal Commonwealth Pool or rowing at Strathclyde Country Park.
Bonnie certainly caught the headlines when she was unveiled in our city last week – and she’ll be travelling right across Scotland in the lead up to the Championships – but there’s a serious point to her as well.
Mascots are, by their very nature, intended to encapsulate the underlying message of the event they represent.
The idea for Bonnie actually came about through consultation with Glasgow schoolchildren.
Bonnie is young, female and a novice at sports.
That’s an important message. One of the big legacies we want from this event, as we did from Glasgow 2014, is to encourage children not to be embarrassed and to have a go at things.
Improving participation in sport and physical activity among our young people – particularly female participation – is absolutely key to building a healthier Scotland.
We’ve had some success in this regard – indeed, figures out just this weekend showed the number of women and girls involved in sports clubs in Scotland has increased by 10,000 over the last year alone.
More generally, the proportion of schools offering two hours or periods of PE per week has increased dramatically, from less than 10 per cent in 2004-5 to 98% per cent in 2016 – backed with an £11.6 million investment.
We’re also implementing a number of exciting initiatives to get our kids active. The Daily Mile, which sees school pupils put down their pencils, head outside and walk or run a mile each day, was first introduced by St Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling and has been enormously successful.
We’re supporting its rollout across Scotland, and almost 200,000 children are now taking part in over 1,000 primary schools.
And of course, having some of the world’s best athletes right on their doorstep can only be a positive thing. There will be a huge push to get young people along to events, with a 50 per cent discount on all ticket prices, and many more events completely free.
As well as the sporting benefits, Glasgow 2018 will bring significant wider benefits.
A £750,000 pot of funding is being made available for artists, art organisations and community groups to deliver cultural activities during the Games.
Whether it’s music, visual arts, theatre, dance, literature or much more – we want to showcase the very best that Scotland has to offer for our visitors.
And we mustn’t forget the thousands of volunteers, without whom the enormous logistical challenge of running a major international event sporting event would not be possible.
There are a wide range of volunteering opportunities across the games, designed to give the volunteers a meaningful and lasting experience.
The volunteers were of course a major feature of the Commonwealth Games, and did our city proud. The response to the invitation to get involved this time around has been just as overwhelming – proving that the phrase ‘people make Glasgow’ is not just a slogan.
We’re still a year away, but everything is coming together to make Glasgow 2018 another fantastic and memorable event.
As Glaswegians, we may not always be able to guarantee good weather for visitors to our city – but we can certainly guarantee a warm welcome to the thousands who will come for next year’s Championships.
This article originally appeared in the Evening Times.