Hebrideans set for island games return

Island athletes heading the games in Guernsey have been boosted by money raised by Peat & Diesel. The final total from a WIIGA Fundraiser Concert at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow  was an incredible £22,432.30. Uilly, Boydie, Innes and their team handed over the cheque, which will contribute to the substantial costs of getting the squad to Guernsey. 

A party of 104 Hebridean athletes, coaches and officials will jet off from Stornoway today (Friday) heading for Guernsey and the NatWest International Island Games.

The Games – which are normally biennial – are returning for the first time since 2019, after the Covid pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2021 event.

It will be the ninth time the Western Isles has competed in the multi-sports event, which brings together 24 island groups from across the world.

The Hebrideans will be competing in nine of the 14 sports in this year’s programme – with participants in athletics, swimming, shooting, cycling, badminton, golf (men and women); football (men and women); bowls and – for the first time – archery.

There are 90 Western Isles competitors, 54 of them heading to their first games.

Team manager Iain ‘GG’ MacLeod played down the team’s chances of repeating some of the medal heroics of the past – but added that he was delighted to see the games back on the sporting calendar.

Since the Western Isles first participated in the games in Shetland in 2005, they have provided a platform for some superb Hebridean sporting achievements.

The most decorated athlete has been swimmer Kara Hanlon, who won 12 Island Games medals – eight of them gold. She won’t be able to defend the titles she won in Gibralter in 2019, however, as she is now competing at a world level for the GB team, and also featured for Scotland at least year’s Commonwealth Games.

Kara Hanlon

Another previous Commonwealth Games competitor, and multi-island games winner, is Uist cyclist Kerry MacPhee. She will again team up with sister Kerry in the cycling team in Guernsey.

Kerry is fresh from setting a new women’s record time for cycling from Inverness to Glasgow.

Last month the Uist cyclist went from Inverness Castle to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in 19 hours and 32 minutes, following the trails and tracks along a 210-mile route known as the Badger Divide.

The cycling team is managed by the remarkable Christina MacKenzie – back on the bike again after a horrific hit-and-run incident left her seriously injured last October.

The Stirling-based athlete achieved sporting greatness by conquering the famous 839-mile Land’s End to John O’Groats route in 51 hours, five minutes, and 27 seconds to set a new record in 2021.

Last October Christina MacKenzie was seriously injured after being knocked from her bike

Iain Campbell said: “It’s a young team and it’s a recovery games after Covid. We’ll be targeting personal bests and improvement more than medals in most events. We have some excellent athletes in all the teams – and it will be a high standard as ever.

“From the outset the island games has always been about raising the bar in terms of opportunities and standards for sport in our islands. 

“It’s a fantastic event and you can see the impact it has on so many who have had the chance to take part in it.”

This Western Isles team, which will leave on two separate flights to Guernsey on Friday, is being sponsored by Bakkafrost Scotland, which recently presented the squad with their team kit.

Ian Laister, managing director of Bakkafrost Scotland, said: “Events like the Island Games help present opportunities to foster friendships through sports and represent the Western Isles at international level. 

“We are proud to be sponsoring WIIGA for the ninth consecutive year and wish all the athletes taking part the best of luck in the NatWest International Island Games XIX Guernsey 2023.”

Norrie MacDonald, WIIGA chair, said: “Our continued membership of the International Island Games Association is so important in providing our talented athletes the opportunity to compete at an elite international sporting event where they can also mix with other islanders from around the world and learn about their cultures.

“All our athletes have worked incredibly hard to prepare for their events and we can’t wait to get down to Guernsey.”

As well as the tremendous support WIIGA receives from main sponsor, Bakkafrost Scotland, WIIGA and its sports teams have received financial support from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, local businesses and organisations, and sincere thanks are due to all of them.