There were many highlights of the Natwest Island Games in Jersey a month ago. One of the best was the 4x100 metres relay women's race where Shetland won gold. The victory was brought home by 17 year old Sophie Moar who built on an outstanding team performance to anchor the 4 girls to gold.
This weekend Sophie is back in action on the track. She has been selected to compete for the Scottish development athletics squad against Wales and Ireland at the Celtic Games in Grangemouth. As she is ranked 4th in Scotland at the long jump in the under 20 age group not only is she running but jumping too. In a busy weekend of sport at home with the senior football inter-county at the Gibbie, many eyes will be on their mobile phone feeds hoping for good news from central belt Scotland.
Sophie's inclusion in the national athletics squad highlights a wider point about Shetland sportswomen and men competing on the Scottish mainland. This was recognised by the Orkney and Shetland Ladies hockey teams after the inter-county on the Brae pitch last weekend. Both teams are in this years Scottish District Cup starting in October. That will inevitably mean travel, time away and money.
We need an Islands Transport Fund to help Shetland’s sportsmen and women with the extra travel costs that local athletes, swimmers and teams face in competing on the Scottish mainland. Sophie Moar and her family have had little over a week to prepare and arrange to be in Grangemouth. That means high ticket prices for travel. To their credit Loganair have stepped in and helped with costs. The airline have taken a lot of stick of late. I want to recognise and thank Loganair for their assistance.
However we need a better and fairer system. Earlier this year I took Shetland and Commonwealth swimmer Andrea Strachan to meet the Scottish Government's Sports Minister. Andrea knows the reality of travel for a top sportsperson. She also explained the commitment needed to compete with the best of the UK when we start in Shetland. So we made the case for an islands travel fund. At the very least it should mean that Shetland competitors would start at the same cost point as someone on the Scottish mainland. The Minister, Jamie Hepburn was sympathetic and I am grateful for his interest. So too are Sportscotland's chairwoman Rhona Martin, who spoke at last years Shetland Sports Awards, and the chief executive Stuart Harris. Jersey provided another opportunity to press this case. But we now need this understanding to become a concrete fund that helps with travel costs.
Sophie's athletic career can go from strength to strength. To do that she will need to compete against Scotland's best and the top athletes across the UK. That will take huge levels of commitment. A travel fund would help Sophie and many more promising Shetlanders.