COUNCILLORS have warmly backed the creation of a £12,000 fund to help with travel costs for eight sportspeople from the islands to compete in events on the mainland.
Some members also called for the community to “set our ambitions high” and look at whether Shetland could host the Island Games at some point in the 2020s. The islands’ previous staging of the international event, in 2005, was deemed a huge success.
The SIC and other island authorities have made the case to the Scottish Government and COSLA in recent years about the high cost of competing in national and regional sporting events for islanders.
Sportscotland has now responded with a three-year pilot to support talented athletes from Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.
The national agency will contribute £10,000 a year in funding for Shetland athletes, with the SIC providing up to £2,000 annually, with an additional £3,000 of “in-kind officer support” to administer and coordinate the scheme.
Grants of up to £1,500 can be paid to applicants or their parents/guardians, meaning eight islanders can be supported each year.
Presenting a report to a full Shetland Islands Council meeting on Wednesday, sport and leisure manager Neil Watt said the local authority was keen to “get the scheme launched as quickly as possible”.
It was announced by Scottish sports minister Aileen Campbell in Lerwick at the start of February.
SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith said it had been “a long time in the making”, but he was “really pleased” with the outcome.
“It’s good to see the government now does recognise the need for a leveller playing field,” he said. “It offers the opportunity for our highest achieving sportspeople to at least get to the mainland and then hopefully have no greater cost than someone from Aberdeen would face.”
South Mainland colleague Allison Duncan said the isles had seen great achievements from “true ambassadors” in sports including table tennis, swimming and athletics in the past, and he hoped the fund would enable more people to follow in their footsteps.
North Mainland member Alastair Cooper said he would also like to see emphasis on events locally, and he wondered whether getting the Island Games back would be possible.
Smith said he felt Shetland should “set our ambitions high and in time we should consider whether we could host the Island Games again”.
“It must have been brilliant to participate as an athlete in that games [in 2005] – it’s something that we should look to see if we can possibly bring in.”