Group travel curbs threaten amateur sport

Referee Neillie ‘Ach’ MacRae keeps a close eye on proceedings as Will Cowie and James Pringle try to win the ball from Shiel veteran Paul MacRae at last weekend’s friendly at Rearaig – Kinlochshiel v Skye
PHOTO: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

Shinty’s governing body has been warned that competitions at all levels could be at risk, unless restrictions on group travel are relaxed in the coming weeks.

Competitive youth games and adult friendly matches were held in the past week, and a new regionalised senior league season is due to get under way on the 5th of June.

However, the Camanachd Association has said the current national coronavirus guidance as issued from sportscotland does not permit car sharing or bus travel to games. Shinty’s amateur, volunteer-dependent clubs are now facing a headache as to how they can best transport their matchday squads.

This week Skye Camanachd’s board members agreed that despite the guidance, the club should use a minibus, fearing that otherwise fixtures would not be fulfilled.

At the end of last Saturday’s friendly match at Rearaig, the managers of Skye and Kinlochshiel both issued their concern over curbs on matchday travel.

Skye have played Kinlochshiel at youth, reserve and senior level in the past week – but there was general agreement that the 80-mile round trip involved is about as far as could be expected for a fleet of up to 15 cars carrying only one or two people.

Although the Camanachd Association have attempted to localise fixtures this season, the distances involved are still substantial.

In the coming weeks Skye have youth fixtures scheduled in Kiltarlity (214 mile round trip) and Strathpeffer (194 miles). Senior teams are also facing ‘local’ league games in the likes of Spean Bridge (200 miles) and Fort William (216 miles). And of course, the same applies to all these teams having to travel to Portree.

Skye Camanachd chairwoman Fiona Cruickshank said: “As a board we agreed that our teams would need to use a bus. At youth level especially it is simply not feasible to expect parents to have to finish work at 3pm in the afternoon and expect them to transport their child 100 miles away for a match that starts at half past six.

“We take our responsibilities as a club seriously and believe we feel we can minimise risk through cleaning, face masks and having all track and trace details in place.

“We have had young players panicking that they might not get to play, as they do not have transport. If we allow that to happen it goes against our aims as a club to provide opportunities and extend participation in the sport.

“In Skye at the moment we are now seeing tour-bus companies arriving on the island – if measures are there to permit groups to travel together on holiday, surely they can be allowed to let groups of youngsters take part in amateur sport.”

Camanachd Association chief executive officer Derek Keir acknowledged that travel restrictions were a major issue for shinty. But he said it would be difficult for the association to put any further delays to the start of the season, which would normally begin in March.

He said: “We understand the frustration and are in regular contact with sportscotland, asking for a timeline as to when things might change.

“It is a challenge for all clubs, and we recognise that – particularly in shinty where so many clubs are in a rural location. However, the guidance is there for everyone, and it has been issued for a reason. At the moment, we have to go with it.”

As well as restrictions on vehicle sharing, clubs are advised against using changing facilities. And while some public events in Scotland can allow up to 250 people to attend, amateur sport does not fall into this category meaning fans are also currently being asked to stay away.

Mr Keir said: “There are challenges, but we have to stay positive and optimistic and acknowledge that progress is being made.

“So much of the credit for that goes to the volunteers for their efforts and the extra time they have had to put in to help get the sport up and running again.

“It’s just great to be speaking about live shinty, and to see kids and adults playing games once more.

“Spectators will want to get back too, but there have been so many steps clubs have had to take to get their players playing. Perhaps at this stage adding another layer of preparation and responsibility might not have been the right thing to do.

“But of course, we all want to see spectators back – and hopefully it won’t be too long before we do.”