10th December 2018
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Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

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Last week may not have been the best of times overall for Jeremy Corbyn – is it ever? – but he did raise the ongoing issue of inflated wages for sports people.

The Labour leader told television reporters he believed there should be a national cap on higher earnings to clamp down on “grotesque” footballer and top company executive salaries.

Corbyn laid into the “simply ridiculous” earnings of Premier League footballers, the levels of executive pay and the gap between the rich and the poor.

Replying to a slightly impudent question by one interviewer, he refused to put a figure on the suggested cap, but said it would be “somewhat higher” than his own salary of £138,000. He went on to ask why anyone would need more than £50 million to live on.

Although later the same day Corbyn appeared to backtrack from his original statement, he is absolutely correct in stating that the earnings gap between the poorest in society and the very rich needs to be addressed.

Not surprisingly, however, his call has been dismissed by various so-called experts as being idiotic and economically misguided. One deep-thinking pillar of wisdom even went as far as to describe it as “absolute bananas”.

Who are among those so irked by Corbyn’s suggestion? Economists of course. A former Bank of England monetary policy committee member, an executive director of the Adam Smith Institute think-tank and the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. The very people who may be affected if his idea ever came to fruition.

I have my own thoughts on excessive pay at the top of society, which obviously drives down wages at the other end of the scale. As Corbyn has hinted, it is completely indefensible for chief executives of some of the largest UK companies to be taking home 100 times what some of their employees are earning.

I simply don’t buy into this “brain drain” thing. If someone wants to leave the country because they can earn a few more million elsewhere then let them.

Under a future Labour administration, Corbyn has said the chief executive of any company awarded a government contract would be paid no more than 20 times the company average. But he proposed going further by introducing measures across the private sector. If only.

If it is footballers specifically we are talking about, my views on that have already been aired. The money paid to some of the players in the UK is completely ridiculous.

At the top of the tree sits Wayne Rooney, reported to have pocketed a cool £14 million last year, with his Manchester United team mate Paul Pogba at roughly the same level.

Players at the top clubs in the English Premiership are routinely taking home two or three million a year, with even the poorest paid earning vast amounts.

Apparently Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels, a very consistent performer in recent seasons, is “only” receiving £13,000 a week, or £676,000 a year. Your heart bleeds for him.

Managers are also grossly over-rewarded, with the likes of Jose Mourinho bagging over £13 million annually and Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino all being paid between £5.5 and £9 million. Even Rafa Benitez, now at Newcastle in the Championship, takes home £4.5 million.

I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done about this, but even having Corbyn highlighting the issue is surely a step in the right direction.

Major clubs are charging up to £40 a ticket to watch matches, and exorbitant amounts for hospitality packages. And don’t get me started on the £55 replica shirts which cost under a pound to make – and for doing so someone in the Far East gets paid a few pennies.

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The high cost of leisure in Shetland, compared with other rural areas around Scotland, was highlighted last week by two different people.

Lerwick woman Emma Williamson, a keen swimmer who organised the successful charity crossing from Bressay to the town a couple of years ago, has done her own calculations. She says she could pay over £1,000 more annually on her family’s fitness than she would spend in Orkney, the Western Isles and the Highlands.

A “gold” individual membership at Clickimin costs her £59.50 a month, whereas in Stornoway a couple with children under 18 can purchase a family subscription for just £25 a month.

Similarly in Orkney a family membership at the Pickaquoy Centre, which caters for a range of facilities, will shortly cost only £29.50 a month. That is helped by the “ActiveLife” scheme, a partnership between the Pickaquoy Centre Trust and Orkney Islands Council.

Another issue which arose this week is the price of hiring the new artificial indoor pitch at Clickimin. I refuse to refer to it as the absurd “60-40 facility”.

Booking a third of the total area for an hour will set clubs back around £40, which depending on numbers could mean individual players having to fork out up to £5 each. That is a fairly steep increase on hiring half the main hall at Clickimin which comes in at just under £30.

The recreational trust is obviously under pressure with funding from Shetland Charitable Trust, but it does seem a great pity that some poorer people could be priced out of the market.

While there are arguably two or three leisure centres too many in Shetland, they have been of immeasurable benefit to isles sports enthusiasts since they were introduced over 30 years ago. Hopefully the boosts which have been provided will not begin to dwindle as the cost becomes too high for some young people.

Emma and her friend Jerry Gibson have both stressed the importance and advantages of Shetland’s facilities, but importantly the latter pointed out that not everyone has the luxury of using them.

The ActiveLife scheme in Orkney is apparently based on similar ventures in the Highlands, the Western Isles and Moray. They were designed with focus on flexibility and affordabiltity, and have seen increased uptakes in memberships.

Surely some similar idea can be introduced here. It seems ironic that in the area with the greatest oil wealth it is costing the most.

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When the story about closing the main door at the Clickimin Leisure Complex broke my first reaction was to consider it an unusual decision by Shetland Recreational Trust, mainly because of the limited access road to the centre from Lochside.

But on reflection, and after considering the arguments put forward by Clickimin manager Robert Geddes, it does seem the best way forward.

The foot access to the current main door is rightly described as a series of “torturous” ramps and steps, and turning some of that space into a new reception area and fitness suite would seen reasonable enough.

But concerns still remain about the traffic flow between the centre and the main Lochside road, a worry expressed by Lerwick Community Council chairman Jim Anderson. The access road is not the widest, the sharp dip from Lochside makes visibility awkward, and sometimes queues can develop at peak traffic times.

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Many congratulations to my old mate Allan Rorie, who had the honour of throwing up the ba’ to start the traditional New Year’s Day game in Kirkwall.

After he moved to Shetland to teach technical subjects, Allan always retained his loyalty to the game, culminating in a great moment 25 years ago when he received the winning ba’ to keep. It has pride of place in his living room.

Sadly Allan and his wife Margaret now intend to move back to their homeland. I’m sure I can speak for many when I say they will be very much missed. As a fellow Orkney teacher put it this week: “I doot it’s the dra’ o the ba’.”

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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