A Highlands and Islands MSP has been learning for herself some of the challenges that await the world's best athletes when they arrive for the World Orienteering Championships in the Highlands and Moray this year.

Rhoda Grant joined members of the Inverness Orienteering Club at their opening event of a season that will end with the World Orienteering Championships and Scottish 6 Days events being held on their doorstep.

The shadow minister for health, equality and sport at the Scottish Parliament joined the Scottish Orienteering Association professional officer Colin Matheson at Craig Phadrig on the west of Inverness, where she learned at first hand the wide range of participation in the sport as well as the importance of the World Championships being held in Scotland.

Mrs Grant said: "If I was being totally honest, running round a forest on a cold and wet Sunday morning in March did not, at the time, strike me as the best idea I’d ever had.  Consequently, I was perhaps not as enthusiastic as I might have been when Colin Matheson, from Scottish Orienteering, offered to host me round a simple course during the Inverness Orienteering Club's opening event of the season.

"However, what I saw and heard from Colin impressed me and I did end up having a very enjoyable time

"Clearly, orienteering is a sport for all ages and abilities. I was surprised by the age range of those taking part, which included toddlers in buggies, children of all ages, and adults of various ages right up to veterans.

"Most participants were obviously highly competitive, with their performance and times being of some importance to them. There also seemed to be others  who were enjoying the sport at a more leisurely pace. There was even one participant who had taken his dog along for the exercise.

"That is, perhaps, one of the attractions of orienteering, the fact that it can be enjoyed by all ages in different ways. However, it also poses a serious challenge.

"How do you develop and keep the serious competitors engaged whilst keeping happy the others who see it as an enhanced walk in the woods? This is especially important at a time when one measure of success is gauged not by the numbers of participants but by the number of club members you have.
"Clubs have to cater to all levels of participation and from what I saw on Sunday, Inverness Orienteering Club is trying very hard to do so.

"Much of the discussion centred on the forthcoming World Championships and Scottish Six Day Event.
"In the first place, it is a great accolade for those involved in British and Scottish orienteering that the world body is showing such confidence in their ability to deliver this show-piece event.
"I'm a bit surprised at the different areas that events will be held in. I expected forests to feature but not parks and urban areas. I intend to watch carefully how these events unfold. However, with a total of 9 days of events being covered by the world’s sporting press, including television, it is also a great opportunity for the Highlands and Moray to show itself off world wide."

"I was also pleased to learn that over 5,500 competitors have already entered.  If we add to that officials and accompanying family and friends then it really is going to be a huge boost to the Highland and Moray economy.

"I am sure  that the organising team still have many hurdles to overcome but I am certain that they will deliver a tremendous sporting event."

Colin Matheson said: "Rhoda was a quick learner and was soon making sense of the control descriptions and detail shown on the map.

"She noted the massive amount of wind blow in the area – a scene of devastation that is now commonplace after the winter gales and which is having an effect on our preparations for the World Orienteering Championships and Scottish 6 Days.

"Rhoda was not too worried about her splits and final time and could see the advantages of orienteering as both a competitive sporting activity as well as the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors to improve general health and wellbeing."

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