By NEIL RIDDELL
THE CREAM of Shetland’s crop of athletes and competitors are being urged to make an early decision on whether they want to travel to Åland for next year’s Island Games after it emerged that members of the various squads will have to pay up to a four-figure sum to make thetrip.
Shetland Island Games Association (SIGA) is due to meet on Tuesday for further discussions on the logistics, but team manager Bob Kerr said initial estimates suggest the cost will be between £800 and £1,000 for each competitor.
It is a sizeable increase on the approximate £700 cost for sportsmen and women travelling to last year’s games in the Greek island of Rhodes, which Mr Kerr said was partly down to the fact that in 2009 the games will be eight days long for the first time, meaning an extra night’s accommodation.
The Shetland team is set to charter a flight direct to Åland from the UK mainland, either from Aberdeen or Inverness, after travelling to Aberdeen on NorthLink – a policy adopted partly because of problems with fog at Sumburgh when the team chartered a flight to travel to the Isle of Man in 2001.
“We need to make sure people who are thinking of going commit early,” said Mr Kerr.
“They will be asked to pay a deposit, probably before Christmas, because last time we went to Rhodes we had an overestimate of numbers initially and we ended up with empty seats on the plane.
“We also need to think about fund-raising, we welcome any sponsorship from local businesses and will be applying to the council for grant assistance as we have done previously.”
It is estimated that a total of 3,700 competitors will descend on the island – an autonomous Finnish province which sits at the southern edge of the Gulf of Bothnia, between Sweden and Finland – at the end of June.
Mr Kerr said he expects between 100 and 160 Shetland sportsmen and women will make the trip, and there may be as many as 30-40 supporters travelling with the team.
“In theory our maximum team size, if all the sports that could go do go, we’d be around 160, but I think that is unrealistic because I’ve heard of one or two sports that may not be going,” he said. “The important thing to say is the Åland organising committee have asked all islands to come with best estimates of team size so they can plan their accommodation, travel and logistics for all their competitors.”
Shetland’s football team manager John Johnson said he still hopes to take a team to Åland but that committing such a large sum of money in order to travel would be “a huge ask” for some of his squad, adding that “one or two” players have already expressed doubts as to whether they can afford it.
Mr Johnson said the matter was on the agenda at the football association’s monthly meet-ing,scheduled to take place last night, and that ways of fundraising to help the 20-strong squad, along with a coaching team, would have to be examined.