Team Orkney heads for Jersey
The 2015 NatWest Island Games get underway this weekend in Jersey, with more than three thousand athletes from islands around the world expected to take part. Orkney will be represented by around eighty competitors, and we've been hearing about the build up...
As the summer continues and folk in Orkney still glare out of their windows at grey skies, who wouldn’t look longingly to a lovely break somewhere slightly sunnier?
Well, eighty Orcadians are set to head to the warmer climate of Jersey in the Channel Islands this weekend – but the trip will certainly be no relaxing holiday.
They’ll be representing Orkney in the 16th NatWest Island Games - a competition bringing together sportsmen and women from islands across the world.
It’s a week-long celebration of sport, complete with opening and closing ceremonies, featuring squads from as far afield as the Cayman Islands, the Faroes and Falklands. Disciplines range from athletics, swimming and football to golf, archery and clay pigeon shooting.
“For many local athletes this will be their biggest ever sporting event and the highest level that they’ll ever compete at, so they are understandably extremely excited at the prospect!” said Robbie Fraser, Chairman of the Orkney Island Games Association.
“Orkney is sending its largest team for some years and what’s really exciting is that we’re going to have around fifty supporters there to cheer on the competitors too – we’re hoping there will be plenty of Orkney flags flying across Jersey!”
Orkney has taken part in every Games since they were launched in the Isle of Man in 1985. They’re held biennially and have grown in size through the years. This time around, three thousand entrants from twenty four islands will be competing across fourteen sports in Jersey. It’s a serious undertaking, with European, Pan American and Commonwealth standard athletes signed up. According to Robbie, that means medals will be hard to come by.
“With such a large number of competitors this year, the standard is bound to be higher than ever and getting up on the podium will be extremely difficult. Expect the Channel Island teams to be incredibly strong, along with the likes of the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man and Gotland.”
That doesn’t mean the young and talented local squad will return home empty handed though. Training has been intense and focused – competing under the Orkney flag always brings out the best in people. The Bermuda games in 2013 saw the squad come back with six medals, including a gold and four silvers.
“Our young javelin thrower, Thora Cant, claimed bronze last time and we have our fingers crossed for more of the same from her.” said Robbie. And there’s more…
“Small bore shooter, Bobby Spence, has been on the fringes of the Scottish team in recent years – he’s taking part in an incredible six different disciplines and will be looking to be in and around the medals too. Our Clay Pigeon and Archery teams always put in strong performances, and golfer Steven Rendall missed out on a bronze by a single stroke in the Isle of Wight in 2011, so he has unfinished business too.”
Orkney’s squad also has representatives in other athletics events, badminton, cycling, sailing, swimming and triathlon.
As all the competing teams know, a massive logistical effort is needed to transport a whole squad of sportspeople and their equipment to what are sometimes very small host islands. For Robbie, it wouldn’t happen without a great deal of local support.
“It has taken an immense amount of organisation to get the team out to Jersey. We’re all travelling on scheduled flights on the 25th and 26th of June, although some will set off even earlier. For the first time, we have a team hotel in the centre of the main town of St Heliar, and the overall cost is huge - around £900 per person.
“The local Association and the sports themselves have been working hard to raise funds, and sponsorship from Orcadian companies has been vital. The Energy Innovation Centre at Hatston and the tractor dealer Robertsons Orkney have both contributed, along with Scottish Sea Farms. We have to thank Orkney Islands Council for its support too. Without all that, it just wouldn’t be possible.”
It might be a cliché, but the NatWest Island Games really are ‘the friendly games’. Yes, there is the competitive element, but a special island bond is evident throughout the week. At the closing ceremony, squad members swap shirts, flags and pin badges. The Games seem to tie the teams together in a way that you just don’t get at sporting competitions in cities or in other parts of the UK.
“This will be my seventh games, both as a broadcaster for BBC Orkney and as part of our local committee, and I just love it. It’s such a positive atmosphere and you meet so many friendly, interesting and engaging people who all have that distinctive island take on life.” said Robbie.
The closest the event has ever been to Orkney was the 2005 Games in Shetland. That could be set to change though, as plans are being put in place ahead of a potential bid to bring the 2023 competition to Orcadian shores. It’s very early days though, according to Robbie.
“We are in talks – with the International Island Games Association, Orkney Islands Council and the local sports groups - but a lot of work will have to be done to make sure that everyone is behind the idea before we go further. The sports have demonstrated their commitment but it will cost a lot of money – potentially millions - and the only way of financing it would be through the Council.”
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. And Robbie is convinced an Orkney games would influence a new generation of local sportsmen and women.
“It looks like a daunting prospect, but if it were to happen, I firmly believe it would change our attitude to sport here forever.”