EDITORIAL: Drug testing in shinty recognises sport’s social responsibility

Action between Kinlochshiel and Skye from shinty’s Premier division. Pic, Willie Urquhart

As the shinty season got underway last weekend, the sport suddenly found itself in the wider media spotlight over the forthcoming introduction of random drug testing for players.  

On the face of it, it seems a bizarre step.

The grand old amateur game is not exactly reckoned to be in Tour de France territory when it comes to the proliferation of performance-enhancing substances among its top competitors.

But it is the widespread use of recreational drugs among the young that is underpinning the move – which in practical terms will mean about 8-10 random tests being carried out across a season which takes in over 600 fixtures.

The move is a sign shinty’s governing authorities recognise their social responsibilities, and for that they deserve credit.

Shinty communities are no more, or no less affected by the drug issue than any others. But the sport is in many respects unique in that it connects places that are geographically distant, but share similar characteristics.

They tend to be small, rural and because of both these things their young people can face familiar challenges when it comes to opportunities, employment and the often unfair contrasting perceptions around the life choices of those who stay, and those who leave.

When different clubs in different communities begin to recount similar experiences among those at the core of their sport – and sometimes with tragic consequences –  it becomes easier to join the dots between them.

Drug testing in shinty will not of itself stop players taking cocaine on a Saturday night out – but it can hopefully at least help raise awareness that this is an issue those entrusted with the governance of the sport are prepared to take seriously.

There are some clear social and economic consequences to the issues around drugs.

It would also be naïve to think their usage is also not a factor in issues around mental health, and suicide – of which there have been far too many tragic examples to recall in recent years.

Testing won’t work in isolation, but if combined with other measures around education, counselling and support – allied to individual clubs adopting their own codes of conduct – some positive steps can be achieved in the sport, and by extension in the communities where it is played.