Letters / Why can’t Shetland?

It’s a ‘braa twartree’ years since I participated in any competitive sport. My main sport was badminton and I represented the East of Scotland and the Highlands and Islands as well as Shetland over twenty-odd years.

Playing in places like the UK mainland, Faroe, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, I saw the quality of facilities and coaching available when we were limited to playing in church halls with the odd Scottish coach appearing for a few days, catering for the whole of Shetland, every couple of years or so.

Between about 1980-1985, we were very fortunate to gain the Brae School gym, the Anderson High School gym and ultimately, the Clickimin Centre. Thanks to SIC oil money and a progressive attitude to sport by various councils, Shetland facilities and performances have gone from strength to strength since then.

I represented Shetland at the inaugural Inter-Island Games (IIG) in 1985 and the new facilities helped me in no small way to win a bronze medal in the men’s singles – one of four won by the entire Shetland IIG Team.


The facilities and improvements in coaching have led to stunning recent performances by Shetland sportspeople in both IIG and national competitions with gold medals – a considerable achievement – becoming a regular feature and Shetland teams finishing well up the medals tables.

I can remember feeling envious of players from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man who have always been able to compete in the Commonwealth Games, alongside those of Scotland and England, benefiting enormously from the experience, sponsored generously by their governments. Many of those players represented England and other countries, internationally, as well.

One girl from Guernsey won the English Singles Championship six months after the 1985 IIG.

So when we see high quality athletes like Andrea Strachan and Emma Leask fighting hard to be picked for Scottish teams in events like the Commonwealth Games, we may ask ourselves, why is it that sportspeople from UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories, even the tiny Falkland Islands, are able to represent their own islands while Shetlanders (and Orcadians) have to fight their way into Scottish teams?

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Why are Faroese and Icelanders able to represent their own islands in European and world championships, respectively, while Shetlanders have to fight their way, against great odds, into Scottish or UK teams?

Because all these places have self-governing status, either linked to a larger power like the UK or Denmark, or like Iceland, they are a fully independent country.

With full tax-raising powers and control of their own Exclusive Economic Zones e.g. the Falkland islanders control their own fishing grounds and oil fields, these self-governing island groups have become prosperous and set a high priority on their representation by sportspeople.


In these ways, money becomes available and, crucially, is made available to advance sport, facilities, travel and permanent coaches – look no further than the Faroese football team for possibilities!

Contrast this with Shetland’s last IIG Team members who, I believe, were asked to put up around £800 each, the result being that Shetland, who won the Team Silver at badminton in Shetland in 2005, were unable to field a team at Bermuda.

This is because of the dire financial position in which the SIC currently finds itself, the supreme irony being that Shetland contributes nearly £90 million a year more to the government in tax than it receives back.

Shetlanders, however, are “thrilled” to carry the Queen’s Commonwealth Games baton around the isles and as ushers, to watch the games for free, while these other island groups compete.

Talk about ‘fiddlers’ bids’!


I was therefore astonished – and aghast – to discover on a recent trip to Shetland, the virtually zero knowledge, understanding or even, interest, among the Shetland sports fraternity about the SIC’s involvement in the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign to win increased self-government.

Every week, our politicians tell us they “see no evidence of a desire for independence, locally”.


If the 3000-strong Falkland islanders can manage their own affairs, why can’t Shetland?

Shetland sporting community, “For God’s sake, waaken up an’ stamp your feet”!

John Tulloch

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