Hanging a gold medal round the neck of a record breaking athlete at an international tournament must rank as one of the highlights of my sporting career. And I didn’t even have to break sweat to achieve it!
Anna Tait’s back-to-back victories for Orkney in the women’s 1,500m and 5,000m were undoubtedly the stand out moments of a memorable NatWest Island Games last week in Gotland. To be invited to present Anna with the second of her gold medals was an unbelievable privilege and one that even the bizarre decision by our Swedish hosts to accompany every award ceremony with a soundtrack from Monty Python’s Flying Circus could not diminish.
I got my first taste of the Island Games when attending the opening ceremony of Jersey 2015. This served to whet my appetite and so I leapt at the chance of being more fully involved this time round, not least to lend support for Orkney’s bid to host the Games in 2023.
As well as meetings to discuss Orkney’s bid plans and the wider development of the Island Games, the week was spent supporting Orkney’s sportsmen and women across a wide variety of events from shooting and cycling to triathlon to badminton with football, swimming, golf, archery and athletics thrown in for good measure.
All week, Orkney’s athletes punched above their weight, breaking Personal Bests, Orkney records and even Games records, roared on by coaches and supporters who all played their part. It was fascinating to watch the bonds develop, not just within single sports but across the group as a whole. Being accommodated in a single location undoubtedly helped, and saw the Team Orkney ethos develop over the week as everyone was able to feel part of every success.
For those competing at their first Island Games, having more experienced athletes on hand was invaluable. In turn, the presence of so many talented young Orkney athletes offered reassurance to more ‘veteran’ members that the future of Team Orkney is in excellent hands.
The team spirit created was tangible and delivered results across the board. Thanks to The Orcadian and Radio Orkney, this was conveyed to those watching and listening back home. Special mention should also be made of two of Orkney’s amateur broadcasting stars. Tim Ross’ effervescent ‘livestreaming’ of the athletics succeeded in getting most of the Guttevallen Stadium cheering on Team Orkney, while “Whispering” Charlie Always’s online commentaries of the football and golfing action painted pictures with words. Both built up large and loyal followings back in Orkney.
I also wish to thank Orkney’s football coach, Karl Adamson for giving me my Island Games ‘debut’, albeit only in a penalty kick training session as a means of protecting his first choice keeper, Cammie McConnachie. Cannon fodder, I may have been, but it was enough to make an old man very happy (if a bit sore the next day!)
On and off the field, Team Orkney did our islands proud. They also succeeded in increasing support amongst the other 22 islands for Orkney’s bid to host the Games in 2023.
Hosting the Games, of course, will be no easy task. There is much work to be done, not least to ensure we have the accommodation, transport and other facilities necessary. I firmly believe, however, that Orkney can and will deliver a successful Games.
Obviously, learning lessons from the experience of Shetland, who hosted the Games in 2005, will be important. That process is already well underway and with support from Orkney Islands Council, EventScotland, SportsScotland and the Scottish Government there is no reason why the 2023 Games should not deliver a lasting legacy for our islands.
This was a point I made during a debate in parliament on the eve of the Gotland Games. Along with Shetland MSP, Tavish Scott, who led the debate, I also made the case for a special islands travel fund to support those from our communities who have to travel south to train or compete. Ministers appear open to this idea, which is welcome.
If such a fund can help develop more of Orkney’s sporting talent, we could yet have more gold medals to cheer at the 2023 Island Games on home soil.