Minister of sports dreams big after Island Games gold rush

Volleyball Cayman 2013

Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden watched Cayman Islands’ athletes haul in a record medal total at the Island Games in Bermuda and then targeted an ambitious bid to host the games here.

The Cayman team finished fourth in the medal table at the event – a mini Olympics for 22 small island nations. 

Hosting the one-week sports event here would likely provide a multi-million dollar boost to the economy. But it would take major infrastructure improvements to make it happen.

The lack of a 50-metre swimming pool and the logistics of organising transportation for more than 1,000 athletes are the biggest stumbling blocks to a Cayman bid.

But Minister Bodden believes, with the right investment, the territory could be in position to host the biennial event within the next few years. 

“It is not impossible that Cayman can host these games within the next six years as we have most of the facilities in place. A 50-metre pool would be the most lacking right now.  This is something that the island has needed for some time now and would be a good private/public venture going forward.”

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has highlighted sports tourism as a growth area for the Cayman Islands and said part of the reason for his trip to Bermuda last week was to learn more about the logistics of hosting a large-scale event like the Island Games.

Cayman finished with 46 medals including 20 golds, 19 silver and seven bronze. They wrapped up by winning the 4x100m relay on Friday night and breaking the competition record.

The medal total is double the haul from 2011, when they took 23.

Cayman’s swimmers led the gold rush in Bermuda taking 21 medals in total. The Fraser brothers, Brett and Shaune, broke a host of competition records and were responsible, either individually or as part of relay teams, for 12 of those medals.

Another set of brothers, Carl and Carlos Morgan, locked down gold and silver in the long-jump and gold and bronze in the triple-jump, while javelin prospect Alex Pascal took gold and set a new games record. Beach volleyball was another bright spot with Cayman’s athletes picking up silver in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

Carl Brown, assistant general manager for the Cayman team, said the games was a great “rite of passage” for athletes who would go on to bigger and better things. 

He said the mix of elite stars and up-and-coming youngsters created a great mentoring environment in the camp, that had helped yield a record medal total. And he predicted that some of the gold medallists, including 18-year-old Pascal, would go on to make their mark at the Olympics.

Minister Bodden added, “We have seen quite a spectacle and showcase of the talent our athletes possess. 

“This is an excellent barometer to measure oneself against similar competition standards, as well in some cases even better. A lot of Olympians from the European islands attend.”

Minister Kirkconnell, speaking before the trip, said sports tourism could be an avenue to help bring more visitors to the Cayman Islands during the off-season.

He believes the CONCACAF U-15 tournament, which will see teams from 24 countries arrive on these shores next month, will be a money-spinner for the islands.

He said sports events brought direct income to the islands, as well as potential repeat visitors.

Mr. Kirkconnell accepted Cayman had a lot of work to do in terms of infrastructure before it could host the Island Games, but insisted that if Bermuda could do it, there was no reason Cayman should not have the same ambition.

“Bermuda is a small island nation comparable to ourselves. It is a good example for us to look and see how we can follow it or improve on it,” he added.

Jon Beard, a schoolteacher who has led the Bermuda Island Games organising committee, said putting on the event had presented serious logistical challenges at the outset.

But he expects it will yield around $7 million for the island’s economy in terms of tourism, merchandising and marketing spin-off.

Hosting more than 1,000 athletes from 24 different countries was one of the biggest challenges for the 22-square-mile island, which used high schools and an army base to put up some of the visiting teams.

At one stage, organisers considered hiring a cruise ship to house the athletes as a lower-expense option than hotels.

Mr. Beard added: “Transport is major ticket item and logistical headache; thankfully, our transport chairman has been superb.

“Our national sports centre has been the centre of activity and has been a real asset to the games and Bermuda. Our new 50-metre pool has been our showpiece and has really anchored the games.”

Island Games Volleyball

Cayman’s beach volleyballers excelled in Bermuda, taking silver in both the men’s and women’s events.