Sport brings physical and community benefits not always appreciated
Shinty camans are kept together by an adhesive which can crack after one hefty tackle, but the sport itself has been a social glue uniting Highland communities for over 100 years.
Yet not since the second world war have sporting fields been so quiet.
Due to the pandemic shinty, football, and all grassroots contact sports can’t yet resume, and they have left a void which extends far beyond the field of play.
Perhaps we’ve never appreciated so much that community sports teams – like those we are familiar with in the west Highlands and islands – can be a force for such good.
Sport brings benefits for physical and mental health, but players, coaches, supporters and volunteer administrators of all ages also come together to socialise around it.
All that has been set aside – and we still don’t yet know when it will return.
In the recent troublesome times we’ve seen sport and fitness used as a vehicle to fundraise, as initiatives like the Skye Community Response encouraged people to clock as many miles as they could to support worthy causes.
Never have our roads been so busy with cyclists, joggers and walkers.
Golf courses are now reporting a brisk trade, kayaks and catamarans dot the waters around the coast while the roadside car parks are filling up again as Munro baggers head again for the hills.
This week light began to emerge for those starved of their involvement in amateur team sports.
Training can now resume – though at the moment any contact and small sided games are restricted to those under 18, and numbers are strictly capped.
It’s not yet the Camanachd or Highland Amateur Cup. But it is a start, and for many youngsters stuck at home for months it will represent another big step towards normality.
The lack of social interaction has been one of the big psychological burdens enforced by Covid-19.
As we continue to move through the lockdown route map, let’s hope that when sports like shinty do eventually return they are embraced with gusto by players – and their communities – as never before.
Reset and re-shape tourism
As the tourism industry re-opens this week, the publication of a new study on Skye confirmed once again the importance of the sector to the area’s economy.
Research, commissioned by Skye Connect and carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University, revealed that in the year before Covid-19 visitors to Skye brought £211 million to the economy, and helped support 2,800 jobs.
But Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism and the lead author of the report, also had a warning.
“Skye is highly vulnerable to the downturn in international visitors that will continue for much of 2020 and beyond,” he said.
“Restrictions on access and reduction in air connectivity will impact on visitation.
“The island does benefit from direct road access which will hopefully help catalyse greater domestic visitation – which is likely to characterise visitation for the remainder of the year.”
In short Skye, and by extension the wider west Highlands, needs tourists and the region’s economy would collapse without them.
But as many former industrialised parts of the country would confirm – over-reliance on a single sector can also carry significant risk.
In future years this area will need alternatives.
We might also need to question the type of tourism which has come to characterise the region, and ask whether all the benefits are being as widely shared as they could be.
To use one obvious example, many of those heading north and west in the weeks ahead will be coming to stay in houses – perhaps rented at upwards of £1000 a week – that are owned by people who live hundreds of miles away.
Meanwhile, small hotels, guest houses and B&Bs – which provide local employment – are considering closing their doors as they find the burden of Covid-related regulations simply too onerous to make their business viable for the year ahead.
If, as seems likely, Covid-19 accelerates an existing trend for visitors to seek self catering, rather than serviced accommodation, then the question of who benefits is worth scrutiny.
A chalet on the bottom of the croft, put in to supplement modest family income, means money flows into the local economy.
Houses hoovered up by letting companies, or let for 50 weeks of the year by someone who might visit for the other two, results in money flowing out, while the availablity and affordability of housing is limited further.
In the most difficult of years all those involved in the local tourist trade deserve good wishes for the weeks and months ahead.
But let’s hope there are lessons to be heeded for the future.
As SkyeConnect’s project manager, Alistair Danter said this week: “We need to reset and reshape tourism for the new world and encourage a more sustainable approach that provides visitors with an immersive experience while ensuring that the island and its communities see the benefits of a tourism economy.”