Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has urged the Scottish Government to back current and future islands athletes on the eve of Team Orkney arriving in Gotland, Sweden to represent the county at the NatWest Island Games.
Mr McArthur was speaking during a debate in Holyrood on the Island Games, led by his colleague Tavish Scott MSP, where he joined the Shetland MSP in calling on Ministers to establish a ‘travel fund’ to support island athletes. This was an idea proposed in the Liberal Democrat manifesto last year and initial discussions with the Scottish Government suggest a willingness to consider such a scheme.
Athletes from Orkney will join competitors from as far afield as Greenland, Bermuda and the Falklands to compete across a range of sports over the next week. However, Mr McArthur highlighted the prohibitive cost of participating in the Games as well as other competitions held over the course the year.
Orkney's MSP said: “The NatWest Island Games are extremely prestigious and representing Orkney in these Games is often the pinnacle for most local athletes.
"Unfortunately the cost of attending the Games can be prohibitive, often running into four figures. I know how grateful the athletes are to sponsors who are supporting them to make the journey, but I think more needs to be done to help Island athletes meet some of the higher travel costs involved in competing.
“During the election last year, my party proposed a travel fund for Island athletes. Initial discussions with the Scottish Government suggest that Ministers are open to such an idea. I am grateful therefore to Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf, for his willingness to look into how such a fund might be created."
Orkney’s MSP also used the debate to urge the Scottish Government to engage directly in supporting Orkney's bid to host the NatWest Island Games in 2023.
Mr McArthur is actively involved in helping develop Orkney's formal bid and said: “When Shetland hosted the games in 2005 the support from Government and its agencies was crucial. To date, EventScotland and SportScotland could not have been more helpful and along with the fantastic support from OIC have allowed good progress to be made with the plans for 2023. However, the lesson from Shetland is that direct Scottish Government engagement is vital too.
"The benefit to Shetland was some £7 million to the local community, and a sporting legacy that has inspired young people to take up sport and themselves compete at future games, including this year in Gotland.
“I will continue to engage with the Islands Minister and others across the Scottish Government to help not just in bringing the Islands Games to Orkney but ensuring we create a lasting legacy in our Island.
"For now, I wish all involved with Team Orkney the best of luck and look forward to cheering them on over the coming days.”