EIGHTEEN months of careful planning will be fulfilled next week when Shetland sends a team of around 140 people to this year’s NatWest Island Games in Jersey.
The isles will provide its largest ever group of competitors in the history of the games – barring when Shetland hosted the event ten years ago.
The 2015 games take place between 27 June and 3 July, with Shetland competing in 12 out of the 14 sports, from football to golf and table tennis.
The isles will be hoping to build on their haul from the last Island Games in Bermuda two years ago, with a smaller team bagging a total of 16 medals to land ninth overall.
The team – whose main sponsor this year is Malakoff Ltd. – will go head to head with the likes of Gotland, the Isle of Man and Rhodes at the event.
Team secretary Bob Kerr said that around 124 competitors from Shetland would be joined by a number of coaches and physios on the trip to Jersey.
They will hop aboard the NorthLink ferry to Aberdeen on Wednesday night before flying straight to Jersey, while two vans provided free of charge by Bolts Car Hire will drive equipment through the UK to the games.
Kerr said that there were no doubts about Jersey’s ability to host the Island Games – despite the channel island’s territory amounting to “the size of Unst”.
“Jersey is a very organised and professional island. They have a very strong economy built around finance and business, so culturally they are very organised,” he said.
“It’s clear they have planned things for some months ahead and they have a lot of experience of the games, and several sporting events have been held there. They have a population of about 99,000 people living on an island the size of Unst.
“It seems to be well funded and well supported by the community. So we have no hesitations at all about their capacity to host and deliver a successful games.”
The only two sports Shetland won’t compete in are tennis and basketball – two disciplines not usually associated with these islands.
Kerr hailed the team’s “mix of youth and experience”, with Commonwealth Games swimming star Erraid Davies Shetland’s youngest competitor at the age of 14.
“This is our biggest team that we’ve had ever going off the island, so in that sense, you never know what opportunities might present themselves.
“We’ve got really strong athletes at the moment, our swimmers are always well organised, we have the football team who haven’t been for several games now and a volleyball team who haven’t been since 2005. And the archers and shooters have had medals in the past,” he said.
The cost per competitor this year is “around £950”, with the different sports invited to fundraise or gain sponsorship to help cover outgoings.
However, “most of the team will have to pay out of their own pocket to some extent” as the costs of travel and accommodation rack up.
Kerr, who said that seeing a Shetlander on the podium makes “the 18 months of preparation worthwhile”, believes the Island Games have a different spirit than other sporting competitions.
“The reason for the games is to bring together sportsmen and women from islands who don’t have regular access to sports competitions. If you think about the scale, the guys in St Helena don’t get to many sports competitions very often compared to Anglesey for example – it’s a three day boat journey from there to Namibia in West Africa.
“It’s called the friendly games and it is just that. There’s an identity as a sportsperson living on an island that’s different to that of someone on the mainland.
“For some islands they have other opportunities – the Faroes and Gibraltar now play in European football – but for many islands, Shetland included, the Island Games is the focal point for sports opportunities.”
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