Olympic qualifier heads our way

Qualification for the Olympic Games is a big deal and the Cayman Islands is playing a major part in the process.

Local sports fans are bracing for the North American, Central American and Caribbean volleyball federation Continental Cup on 2-4 December. The beach volleyball competition is the first round of 2012 Olympic qualification.

Tournament organiser Fareed Hosein, a Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation member, states that Cayman was chosen to host the tournament for the first time by the regional governing body.

“I’m really excited for this,” Hosein said. “NORCECA handpicked us for this Olympic qualifier. The whole thing is a benefit to the Island. It’s about giving back. There is a long-term beneficial effect for the Cayman Islands.

“Sports tourism is the goal. The Cayman volleyball federation mandate is not only to promote volleyball, it’s to facilitate a sports tourism product for Cayman. NORCECA was quite pleased with the level of organization with the March tournament and they regard Grand Cayman as a beach volleyball destination.”

Public Beach will host 11 Caribbean countries and a total of 40 teams. The visiting teams are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Curacao, Dominica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. The number of teams is a NORCECA record, eight better than the previous mark. The Olympic qualifier comes after the 2011 edition of the NORCECA beach volleyball tournament back in March saw 40 squads. The first stop on a global circuit, the event saw Canada defeat Puerto Rico in the men’s segment while the US defeated Mexico in the women’s section.

While none of the Cayman teams advanced deep in the competition, it was a boon for the Island in its third year hosting the circuit opener. Cayman attracted 17 teams in its first year hosting the first stage of a annual global circuit in 2009 and 24 sides last year.

The top four teams from the NORCECA Continental Cup advance to the next stage of Olympic qualifying next year, which Cayman could host once again. This time around Cayman will be represented by eight players split up into four male and female teams. Shervin Rankin and Richard Campbell along with Philippe Deslandes and Olney ‘OT’ Thompson make up the men’s side. The ladies boast Jennifer ‘JB’ Bily and Cristin Alexander along with Stefania Gandolfi and Taylor Burrowes.

As an Olympic qualifier, this weekend’s event is under the International Olympic Committee and the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (the worldwide governing body for the sport). Ten sanctioned international volleyball federation officials will oversee and manage this event. One federation member will be a special guest in world famous Sinjin Smith. A distinguished volleyball and University of California, Los Angeles Hall of Famer, Smith along with Randy Stoklos – who was in Cayman assisting with preparing teams for the March games – are celebrated as the greatest team in beach volleyball history. Stoklos has the individual distinction of 11 international and world championships under his belt and hailed as the ‘King of the Beach.’ Smith is a part of the federation’s beach volleyball commission presiding over the sport in 219 member countries including the Olympic and international games. He has served as president of the federation’s beach volleyball council. Smith and Stoklos are credited with calling Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach “the best beach volleyball venue in the world.”

Cayman’s volleyball reputation is rising regionally and internationally since humble beginnings in 1975, under the direction of local volleyball federation president Noel Williams. A vibrant beach programme now exists that features a co-ed programme and junior volleyball league.

The importance of potential of this week’s tournament is not lost on local government. As Minister of Sports Mark Scotland states, Cayman is looking to benefit long-term.

“Cayman is proud to be host to neighbour countries in the NORCECA Continental Cup,” Scotland said. “The ministry can be proud that Cayman is emerging as a jurisdiction of choice to stage international sporting events. “It is healthy for our economy, promising for our athletes and a registration of our ability to think and act outside the box. The Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation are netting much opportunity in their sports tourism initiatives.

“We can look forward to big ticket world champions events in the not too distant future…thanks to our sporting organisations that dream big and work accordingly. These events come to us only after much hard work, cultivated cooperation with sponsorship partners during difficult times, and the strategic alliances that are now bearing fruit. Thanks to our Department of Tourism, our sponsors, our athletes, our warm and sharing Cayman community. We do well together. To the Cayman teams, London 2012 is our goal. I am cheering all the way. While welcome our guests we seek to take the medals.”

The Olympic qualifier sees action on three courts 9am-10pm on Friday and Saturday, 2-3 December, with two courts in play 9am-6pm on Sunday, 4 December. Admission for all three days is free.

A number of public entities are stepping up as sponsors to keep admission free. They include the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture, the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee, Cayman Airways, caycompass.com, CIBC First Caribbean International Bank, Corona, Z99.9FM, Vibe 98.9FM, LIME, Funky Monkey and BDO.

The Cayman volleyball federation is making a special appeal for volunteers. Anyone interested in assisting can e-mail [email protected] or visit civf.ky