Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 19th August 2016

This week, the possibilities of sport and super-strength sheep. 

The sun is shining. Children and young people are catching the school bus. A new academic year dawns.

The weather always seems better on the first day of school. We had six weeks of unbroken dry days which changed when the school holidays started. Now, as the bairns go back in, the skies are blue and there is heat in the sun. Ah well…that is the luck of a Shetland summer.

The weather elsewhere has been mixed too. In Rio’s magnificent velodrome the meteorological elements do not matter. Team GB has the best cycling team in the world. We have beaten the rest of the world in winning cycling medals at the Olympic Games.

There has been some griping about this from other nations. Team GB cycling bosses explained their strategy. It is a four-year approach aimed at peaking at the Olympics.

This is backed by National Lottery funds. John Major had a mixed record as Prime Minister. He had a broken and divided party who were humbled in 1997 by Tony Blair. But one of his initiatives that does stand the test of time is lottery funding for sport.

That has made a huge difference to elite sport. As the medal tables from successive Olympics have shown we are a notable athletic winning country. Team GB is feared by others in gymnastics, cycling and sailing. In other sports we have exceeded expectations.

There is lots of evidence that Welsh, Scottish, English or Northern Irish winners encourage more people to take up a sport. The Manx bullet Mark Cavendish is great for cycling. As is Bradley Wiggins and Laura Trott. She is shortly to wed Jason Kenny. Two of the world’s best sportspeople.

The television pictures have been amazing. I have envied Hazel Irvine’s anchoring role of the coverage, perched, as she has been, above the Copacabana beach. And the games have not been dominated by Russian drug taking. Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still look a shallow organisation compared to those in charge of the Paralympic Games. They have banned the entire Russian team because of state-sponsored use of performance enhancing drugs. That is what the IOC should have done too.

As children, young people and the rest of the country are inspired by success on the Olympic stage, sport must seize the moment. Active lifestyles are good for everyone’s health. I will never cycle like Jason Kenny. Nor run as fast as Mo Farah. But being a little fitter would be good. Watching the world’s best is inspirational. That is why the IOC should have thrown the Russians out.

A small digression on performance enhancing substances. At the Cunningsburgh Show there was much discussion about the choice of champion sheep.

I met a couple of friends on holiday in Shetland. They asked how the Shetland tup had been bred. Before I could answer, a local crofter who happened to be walking past observed that the tup was taking Russian-sponsored feed. Surely not!

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