by Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport
As this column is published, the NatWest International Island Games are just days away, taking place this year in Guernsey from 8-14 July. It’s a fantastic opportunity for athletes, their teams and supporters to join together to celebrate the wealth and diversity of sporting excellence from small island nations from across the world. With this year’s Games in Guernsey, it’s the perfect opportunity for us in Jersey to support our competitors closer to home and take part in the whole exciting experience.
I asked Steve Jacobs, chairman of the Jersey IIGA, what it is about the Island Games that makes them so special? He said: “It is a huge event for 24 similar islands and possibly one of the few occasions where a large number, up to 300 in our case, have the opportunity to represent their Island in various sporting disciplines as a team. It also allows them to visit other places in the world they wouldn’t normally visit and look at the similarity and differences in our cultures.”
The ‘Inter-Island Games’, as they were first known, began as a small event in the Isle of Man in 1985 with a visionary goal of bringing together athletes from small islands around the world to take part in a new festival of sport. The Island Games now take place every two years, bringing together thousands of athletes from across the world, allowing different island nations to become hosts, presenting a great opportunity for their communities to support, celebrate and become part of the event.
Island-based athletes are aware that growing up in a small island community can have implications for their sporting progression and future success. Accessing adequate facilities, training opportunities and competitions can be difficult, time consuming and costly, but on the flip side, islanders bring a unique drive, determination and perspective to competitions that stems from a pride in their island’s heritage. As the Island Games have grown over the last few decades, the event has become increasingly important to our islands’ sporting communities, with the opportunity to represent their island being a huge motivator for young athletes to stay dedicated to their training and aim for gold medals, higher rankings and recognition in their sport.
Some of the world’s greatest sportspeople began their career as Island Games competitors, including cyclist Mark Cavendish MBE (Isle of Man) and retired heptathlete Kelly Sotherton MBE (Isle of Wight). Team Jersey competitor Olivia Allbut said: “I’m so excited to represent Jersey and the team. We’ve all worked so hard this year so the Games present a great opportunity to showcase the talent on the island. I’m so looking forward to seeing what time I can produce in the 400m hurdles and to challenge the longstanding Island Games record!”
As CEO of Jersey Sport, I’m delighted that we have 12 Jersey Sport team members taking part in this year’s event, some as competitors and others as coaches and team managers, and I’m looking forward to heading to Guernsey to play my part as an advocate for sport and proud supporter of Team Jersey.
Jersey’s athletes have always performed well at the Island Games, bringing home lots of medals and consistently ranking in the top three teams. I asked Steve Jacobs what makes Jersey athletes such stand out competitors. He said: “Our strength and depth in all the sports on offer. Some islands don’t send competitors in every event but we have consistently fielded a full team. Training in Jersey is of the highest quality and this has triggered higher calibre competitors in other islands wanting to come to the games.”
For the host nation, the Island Games are hugely important. In 2015, when Jersey proudly hosted the Games, an estimated 4000 visitors came to the island bringing £3.8m into the local economy and creating jobs and volunteering roles for local people. Steve Jacobs said: “The 2015 games in Jersey is one of my favourite event memories. We were top of the medals table but the organisation was extremely good and public support for the event was fantastic. All the other islands commented on the quality of the event and I am sure it will be the benchmark for future games.”
This year’s Games are especially poignant given the cancellation of the 2021 Games due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Steve points out, “The time delay means we will see a lot of new competitors. I’m sure there will be a lot of PBs and medals which will keep us near the top of the tables.”
Welcoming islands and athletes back together after four years will make it a celebration to remember and I personally can’t wait to be amongst the cheering crowds, immersing myself in the energy and proudly supporting Team Jersey.
This article was originally published in the Jersey Evening Post on 6 July 2023.