Getting to Cayman can be a mission when you live far away but for Jorgen Pettersson travelling thousands of miles across the Atlantic with his wife and three sons for a holiday here was part of the fun.
It also gave him a chance to see Cayman’s sporting scene first hand and give him an insight into why Cayman is so successful at the Island Games. That’s because Pettersson is chairman of the Island Games movement.
He was elected in Rhodes, Greece last year, where the Games were held and will hold the office until next year in Aland, near Finland where the next Games will be staged.
‘So far I’ve enjoyed being chairman very much, it’s very exciting work,’ said Petterrson.
‘Although it’s a volunteer post it’s extremely exciting to see these 25 islands all over the world, how they struggle to become better and what they can learn from each other. It’s really good to see that.’
Since he was elected to the executive committee in 1997, Pettersson has visited all but five of the participating islands.
He was here for two weeks until Saturday with his family and, of course, they loved it. They thoroughly immersed themselves in water sports as well as doing all the tourists stuff, particularly enjoying snorkelling.
‘We also went to the Flowers Sea Swim to watch our friend Victor Thompson compete. And we went to the Truman Bodden Complex to watch the football when Cayman played Honduras.
‘Sad to say, they was only a few of us cheering for Cayman. We tried our best!
‘We also went to the turtle farm, Stingray City, Bodden Town and deep sea fishing which was really great.’
Temperatures are not much lower than Cayman at this time of year in Aland. But it’s the total opposite in their winter with temperatures plummeting well below freezing.
In the winter, Aland has only five or six hours of daylight. At the moment they have 18 to 20 hours daylight.
Aland is a self-governed island with 27,000 inhabitants. They belong to Finland but their first language is Swedish due to complicated historical issues. Petterson learnt his excellent English partly from attending Island Games tournaments ‘and watching Dallas a lot!’
He added: ‘That’s more a joke. We do watch a lot of English TV and we read in English from third grade in school. It comes sort of natural.’
Aland has its own organising committee for hosting the games. The Games go to the Isle of Wight in England in 2011 and are likely to be held in Bermuda in 2013 because Prince Edward Island in Canada is not expected to host it even though they originally won the bid.
Pettersson, 51, is a deputy editor on a paper in Aland.
In Aland the Island Games will be 15 sports, including wind surfing.
The Island Games movement is growing strongly. ‘We have a limitation of 25 islands as members. We have a few who want to come in but we have to refuse them. We can host 24 team sports according to our constitution. In Aland there will be no cycling, which is otherwise a very popular sport, nor bowls or squash.’
The Island Games started in 1995 on the Isle of Man in England. There were only 800 competitors, including Pettersson. He’s won six gold medals in various sports since.
The criteria is that an island’s population cannot be more than 200,000 and have to have a form of self-governance and cannot be attached to the mainland by, say a bridge.
‘There are a few exceptions. We have Gibraltar which is a part of Spain geographically but on the other hand they are more of an island than some of the others because they do not have a good relationship with Spain.
‘The overall standard is very high, thanks partly to Cayman when you joined, in 1990 in Gotland (Sweden). That happens when a big island comes into the family. They come in with fresh blood, win a few medals and the other island don’t want to accept that.’
Cayman always dominate the swimming at the Island Games and do well in most other sports too.
Pettersson was impressed that Cayman’s Cydonie Mothersill took time out from her busy schedule to compete at last year’s Island Games even though she inevitably won in a stroll.
‘That showed her commitment and loyalty to Cayman.
‘The Island Games is as least as important to Cayman as Cayman is to the games because what Cayman has brought in is cultural diversity and a lot of very high standards.’
‘I’ve seen Cayman volleyball, for example, develop quite a lot. I’ve seen your sprinters too and noticed that you have four people who have qualified for the Olympics which is extraordinary for such a small island.
‘I don’t think that is only because of participation in the NatWest Island Games but it certainly helps. Because for youngsters trying to get to the Olympics it’s a huge step.
‘But to go to the Island Games is a smaller step and from there it’s a bit easier to go to the Commonwealth Games and Carifta Games and so on and sooner than later you will end up in the Olympics.
‘By taking part in the Island Games you will see that nothing is impossible. Really. And you can see that you can compete against international opponents and beat them.
‘I think that is good for Cayman and any of our other islanders, say when you’re standing at the 100 metres line it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor or whatever. It’s a matter of getting at the end first.’