Shetland folk are being offered the chance to be involved in the 2012 Olympics when the torch comes to the isles as part of a UK-wide tour.
The torch will be carried on its relay by 8,000 people, all of whom are to be selected from nominations from the public, which can be made through the games website.After arriving from Greece on the 18th May next year, the Olympic torch is to visit 74 locations in 70 days, starting with Land’s End and concluding with Westminster on 26th July as part of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) Moment to Shine campaign.
Among the areas to be visited are six of the British isles, including Shetland on Sunday 10th June.
LOCOG are looking for inspirational people to carry the torch. They can be anyone who has made a difference to others’ lives or that has inspired others to do something they never thought possible.
It could be a friend who helped through a hard time, a hard working sports coach, a youth or community worker – any “inspirational people who have gone beyond their personal best”.
The campaign, launched yesterday at Land’s End, was attended by Shetland fencer athlete Mhairi Gifford, 15, from Brae High School, who represented Scotland at the event.
The torch is coming to Shetland as part of work by Shetland Arts. Director Gwilym Gibbons said that talks over how to include Shetland in the tour began three years ago and that the organisation was “delighted” at the result.
Mr Gibbons said: “The image and the spectacle of the torch running through Shetland, broadcast to millions around the world will be fantastic for the isles. Shetland Arts will continue its conversations with the torch relay team and local partners to ensure Shetland can celebrate in style this once in a life time event.”
SIC convener Sandy Cluness said the torch’s visit offered a huge boost to the isles. He said: “This recognises Shetland’s tremendous sporting achievements and our commitment to sport as a real aid to the development of a healthy, active, and thriving community.
“It affirms the worth of the investment in sporting facilities we have made over the years, and will also expose the best of Shetland to the wider world and give local people the chance to nominate some of our island heroes to carry the torch – a once in a lifetime privilege.”
SIC sports and leisure service manager Neil Watt said the torch’s presence would encourage sportsmen and women in the isles to feel connected to the wider world of sporting achievement.
“It brings the Olympics to Shetland and connects us to the best in the world,” Mr Watt said. “I see the torch as something that will hopefully light a flame of passion for competition and participation in the hearts and minds of local folk, young and old.”
Former Olympic gold medallist and LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe said: “We are thrilled that Shetland Islands Council has agreed to host the Olympic Flame on its journey right across the UK.
“The Olympic Flame will shine a light right across Shetland, celebrating the culture and heritage of the area and showcasing the very best of the islands. We have no doubt that the welcome Shetland will provide will demonstrate how the spirit of the Olympic Games is reaching out across the UK as excitement builds as the start of the 2012 games draws closer.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael welcomed the news, saying: “Having the Olympic torch visit the isles is a small but welcome gesture which I hope will make local people feel in some way connected with the Olympics when they come to the UK next year.
“I have always said that the Olympics must be for the whole country, not just London. With the best will in the world, however, they are going to be very London-focused.
“People of all ages and abilities across Orkney and Shetland enjoy their sport and it the benefits of participation go well beyond the immediate health upside. The Olympics is a real chance to increase awareness of the positive impact that sport can have in our communities.”
Meanwhile MSP Tavish Scott tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament to mark the inclusion of Shetland in the torch relay, noting that Shetland was “all too often overlooked by Scottish and UK bodies sometimes not even appearing on their maps” .
Mr Scott said: “It makes a pleasant change for Shetland to be included in an event such as this. It would have been all too easy for the route planners to decide that getting to and from Shetland was too difficult, but to their credit, they have not.
“I hope that, when more details are revealed, the torch will be in Shetland for long enough for a reasonable number of Shetland athletes to take part in the relay, and for those that want to see the torch pass to do so. And I hope that the good example of the relay organisers is followed by many other Scottish or UK organisations when they plan ‘national’ events.”
The motion also paid tribute to Miss Gifford and other Shetland athletes who would hopefully get the opportunity to act as torchbearers.
* For details on who to nominate and how to do it, go to the Olympic Torch Relay website at www.london2012.com. Nominations close on 29th June.