Shetland’s outstanding sporting facilities have received international recognition in the shape of the European Community of Sport award for 2013.
It follows a visit by a team of inspectors from the European Capitals of Sport (ACES) this week. The award will be formally presented at a special ceremony in Brussels on 7th November.
The four-strong team pronounced themselves hugely impressed with the range and standard of facilities available to residents. They were particularly taken with the high quality of activities and services on offer at Clickimin and the other leisure centres operated by Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT).
Shetland is only the second community to receive the award, and was nominated by the current European Community of Sport, the Isle of Man.
ACES president Gian Francesco Lupattelli said the inspection team had seen that sport, recreation and health were “very much valued and promoted” by both the SRT and the council.
He said: “There truly is sport for all in Shetland, whether it is play, active recreation, or assisting with elite athletes through the local athletics support programme.”
Vice-president John Swanson said he had travelled “far and wide” in Europe examining sports facilities in major cities such as Istanbul, and what he had seen in Shetland was “quite unique in terms of the quality and depth of provision for really small local communities”.
“It’s absolutely excellent, albeit it was some extraordinary circumstances that led to that happening in terms of the trust set up through the oil, but nevertheless it was visionary at that time and it’s still producing the goods to have a healthy, vibrant Shetland islands all these years later.”
SRT chairman Joe Irvine said he was “delighted” with the award: “Shetland has a strong and evident passion for sport, and it’s great to see that recognised at an international level.
“The inspection team have seen at first hand the wide range of high-quality services provided here in Shetland – this is a tremendous recognition of the work being done to support sport at all levels in the community.”
SIC convener Malcolm Bell said: “I’m very proud of Shetland, and its commitment to sport, which is evident in the very high participation rates in the isles. Well done to all those in the community who provide – and participate in – sporting life in Shetland.”
Mr Swanson said it was down to Shetland to decide how to make use of the award, and to “let people know that you’ve been recognised as providing first-class sport, recreation and health for communities”.
He was particularly impressed at how barriers are broken down to allow children to take part in sport from a “very early age”. Mr Swanson added that the facilities would mean nothing without the “enthusiasm and professionalism” of staff, which had not gone unnoticed: “Unless you’ve got the right people delivering the service then it’s not going to happen.”
In the wake of the London Olympics, there has been some debate nationally about whether the priority should be encouraging greater numbers to take part in sport, or to focus more on elite athletes.
Mr Swanson said ACES felt it was important to strike a balance. “Pack them in, but make sure they have a quality experience and they’re more likely to keep coming back, and you’re more likely to produce your Chris Hoys and your Andy Murrays of this world,” he added.