The chief executive of the national sports body sportscotland, Stewart Harris, was in Shetland on Friday to present swimmer Andrea Strachan, who won four gold medals at the Island Games in the Isle of Wight in the summer, with her richly-deserved accolade of Sportsperson of the Year 2011.
During the ceremony Mr Harris showed a short film of people across Scotland helping mainly young people to enjoy a wide range of sports. The scenes were familiar to those involved in sport in these islands. Judging by the success of Andrea and her fellow award winners Petur Petursson, Haydn Thomason, the Whalsay hockey team and the AHS netball team, we are blessed with dedicated individuals and fine facilities.
While sport for the vast majority must be about taking part in an enjoyable pursuit, Mr Harris raised the issue of how the best Shetland sports people can get to the next level, to Commonwealth or even Olympic standard. Partly, it is psychology: believing you can is fundamental. Assuming that we cannot produce sportspeople of such distinction makes little sense; other places with small populations are able to. Yet, the welcome contributions of NorthLink and Flybe notwithstanding, expensive travel remains a barrier to competitors performing on the national stage – a key component in raising standards.
Perhaps sportscotland and Shetland Charitable Trust could establish a bursary system for our most promising young athletes which would give them the best possible opportunities in their chosen sport(s). It would be a good start.