Athletes voice concern over costs of competition

Fears have been raised about the rising costs of competing in the island games ahead of athletes travelling to Gotland this summer.

Several sporting figures in Shetland are worried about the financial stumbling block, with this year’s competition costing more than £1,000 per athlete.

A joint letter has been submitted to the Shetland Island Games Association from six athletes including a plea that “all unnecessary spending should be eliminated” and “every potential revenue source should be explored”.

It also argues senior athletes should be given the option to choose whether to travel with the team and whether there should be flexibility for them not to have to stay for the whole event.

Shetland Island Games Association (Siga) has spent £80,000 on a chartered flight from Aberdeen to fly directly to the games in Scandinavia and a total of 140 athletes are expected to represent Shetland this year.

Isles runner Katie Bristow is among the athletes who have signed the letter and felt cheaper options could be considered.

Isles runner Katie Bristow has raised concerns about the cost of competing. Photo: Kevin Jones.

She said: “I’m not competing but I’m going out there and I’ve managed to pay myself to get all the way to Gotland and back for under £250, which considering the chartered flight just from Aberdeen is £600 shows they have not looked into a cheaper option.”

Miss Bristow said she wanted to travel by herself and also wanted to go to Glasgow before the games to see her coach in preparation.

She said financially she put across the point that she could stay with family in Gotland free of charge.

“They said no I had to travel with the team and stay with the team,” she said.

“I wanted to compete, so for about a month I kept my name in the team, though, unfortunately, I got injured at the start of November. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit £1,500 …

“There were a lot of half marathon runners who said ‘I don’t want to be sitting around for eight days before an event’.

“Why can’t I travel on my own and just be there for the race? In the past they used to be fine with that.”

Miss Bristow said she loved being part of the Shetland team but feared increasing costs for athletes could reduce Shetland’s medal chances in future.

The half marathon men’s team were not competing, she said neither was Claire Wilson because of costs after medalling at the last games.

Ms Wilson, one of the isles’ most successful runners, said: “I was down to compete until last month. I pulled out on the basis of receiving a letter from the athletics club stating Siga wanted £130 for the kit, that didn’t include racing kit either, which I paid £50 in the previous games for the crop top and T-shirt. I feel uncomfortable paying those costs when there is a local business’s name all over it – why are the athletes paying for sponsored kit?”

Fellow athlete Charlotte Black said she also had concerns about costs.

“I want Siga to recognise that the cost and time commitment they require for participation in the island games is extremely prohibitive to many competitors,” she said.

“I would like them to have a fresh look at how they organise the games and try to minimise these restrictions.

“I know of many people who have turned down places in the team over the years because they either cannot afford it or cannot give the time required for the trip.

“Shetland has, and will again this year, miss out on medals because of this.

“I do believe there are areas where the Shetland team costs could be reduced and I think Siga could try harder to attract further funding.”

Games association defends expenditure

In response to claims about the cost of travelling to represent Shetland Siga secretary Bob Kerr said the Western Isles and Orkney had also chartered flights to the games.

Chartering the flight for Team Shetland worked out at £600 per person, Mr Kerr said, and it was easier than taking a minimum of three scheduled flights from Aberdeen to Gotland.

He said athletes who were representing Shetland did not have to travel and stay with the team but their plans had to be agreed by the committee.

Mr Kerr added there was a need to maximise the number of people on the charter flight in order to keep costs low. If someone chose to make their own arrangements that would have a knock-on effect for others.

There were a number of athletes being allowed to make their own arrangements he said, and family grounds and employment reasons had been taken into account for alternative arrangements.

Siga secretary Bob Kerr says athletes are encouraged to travel on the chartered flight to keep costs down for others. Photo: Kevin Jones.

He argued there were benefits to athletes travelling together and staying together, both for morale, organisation and points of contact. Trying to get 140 people on three scheduled flights was “unworkable”.

Mr Kerr said this year’s games was a £150,000 project overall and they were grateful to sponsor Malakoff’s support.

He recognised it was expensive for athletes and said the level of grant assistance had reduced from the SIC with no grant money for Jersey. Ferry travel and air fares had also gone up.

However other means of sponsorship were being explored.

As for the kit, he said there was an expectation every team would be wearing their island’s attire for the opening ceremony and athletes would wear it for the team photograph.

“The reason that people are able to buy their own kit is so they can buy additional kit if they want to do that. The funding we receive from our sponsor we set against the other costs that people have for travel and so on to contribute to the net figure that each person has to pay.

“We are working to find additional sponsors that will reduce everyone’s net contribution.”

Mr Kerr said: “The cost of the games in Scandinavia was never going to be cheap and the fall of the pound against the euro hasn’t helped. We are making efforts to fundraise and seek sponsorship. Some sports are also doing that. There are equally some people who are quite happy to pay.”

Siga chairwoman Karen Woods said the accommodation for athletes worked out at £30-35 a night.

“We’ve got some of the cheapest available accommodation in Gotland for any team and I think the other islands are probably paying more.”

Sponsorship was being sought for full-time students and younger members of the team, she said and sporting disciplines could benefit by selling island games raffle tickets to boost their funds.

The Siga chief said she had also been in touch with Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur regarding the use of ADS.

She said the Western Isles were able to charge £300 per person for their chartered flight though it was not possible for Team Shetland as the plane could not land in the isles, and instead had to be boarded in Aberdeen – missing out on the discount scheme.


Add Your Comment
  • David Griffiths

    • March 25th, 2017 19:26

    I am not from Shetland nor connected in any way to their Island Games team (I am from the Isle of Man), but find it very sad that this situation has arisen. Shetland’s athletics team was magnificent in Jersey. They had their most successful Games ever, which is hard to do in an ‘away’ Games, successes coming across the whole spectrum of events. From the men’s half marathon team winning silver on the first day to the women’s sprint relay team winning the gold medal superbly on the last day, the whole team was fantastic. Medals came in throws, jumps, sprints, middle distance, long distance, steeplechase and relays. It’s a team that should develop and continue to get even better. Without wishing to get involved in any politics, all I can say is that everyone in Shetland will remember the medals, the excitement and the pride brought by the team’s success in Jersey for a long time. Nobody will remember or care about how people travelled or where they stayed! For the sake of both Shetland and the Island Games as a whole, I hope a compromise can be found.

    • James Soper

      • March 26th, 2017 19:28

      Unfortunately, David, whilst any extra funding obtained at this late stage by SIGA would be welcomed by those going to Gotland it is too little, too late for those participants who’ve already decided they can’t afford the trip.

      It is great news to hear SIGA are trying to find new sponsors and that they are considering subsidies for the low waged however these measures needed to be put in place well before now.

      It bodes well for Gibraltar 2019, however, where I’m sure everyone would agree we’d like to see Shetland’s best sportsmen and women, not just Shetland’s richest.

  • Chris Morewod

    • March 27th, 2017 16:50

    Why have they chartered a flight from Aberdeen to Gotland?
    Are they combining the Orkney and Western Isles teams on the same flight?
    Surely it would have been cheaper to charter a flight from Sumburgh direct. There are a number of jet aircraft including the Faroese Airbus which could do the job.

    • James Soper

      • March 28th, 2017 9:50

      Chris these are questions that have already been put to SIGA.

      SIGA has confirmed that the flight was only ever intended for Shetland participants, there was no plan to share seats with other islands. SIGA has also confirmed that the plane can only fly from Aberdeen because of its size, Sumburgh airport is too small.

      The consequence of choosing this large plane has been SIGA’s inflexibility regarding personal travel arrangements. When you’ve booked 140 seats on a plane for a team that has never in the history of Island Games numbered more than 150 you just can’t be flexible.

      And this is why athletes writing to SIGA for clarification of SIGA’s travel policy were told by the secretary that “someone seeking to travel separately because of cost factors alone is not a reason that we would agree to.”

      For Gibraltar in 2019 it would make more sense if SIGA made their travel plans based on the numbers of participants who wanted them to organise group travel rather than organising group travel and then forcing (almost) everyone to take up that option. Hopefully this is something that can be changed by then.


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