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.
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.
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.