Sports tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the Cayman Islands and it is getting another boost this week with a three-day football seminar attended by iconic figures in world politics as well as Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the president of FIFA, the governing body of world football and Portia Simpson Miller, prime minister of Jamaica.
Around 400 delegates are staying at mainly the Ritz-Carlton and the Westin for an average of three days each. This follows Cayman hosting the Under-15 CONCACAF 22-team tournament in August.
Tuesday’s conference will focus on forging partnerships between sports and governments,
Mr. Blatter, speaking during a news conference at the Ritz-Carlton on Monday, said football had a power and influence that went far beyond the sports field.
He said FIFA was injecting large sums of money into the economies of Caribbean nations, including the Cayman Islands, and insisted governments should assist with infrastructure development.
He praised the leadership of Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb for helping to restore confidence in the integrity of CONCACAF and the world governing body in general and pointed to Cayman’s increased standing internationally.
“I’m very happy to be here for the CONCACAF Transformation through Partnership summit,” Mr. Blatter said. “For a small island like the Cayman Islands, with only 54,000 people, and the president is still head of this organization, at the end of the day, that is a result which is very positive.”
The landmark Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football summit kicked off with an address by South African freedom fighter and football supporter Tokyo Sexwale at a dinner at the Ritz-Carlton on Monday hosted by Webb, who is CONCACAF president.
Mr. Sexwale was a political prisoner in an isolation cell on Robben Island, where he was held along with Nelson Mandela and other leading figures in the struggle against the country’s apartheid regime.
Mr. Sexwale and other prisoners kept their spirits up by playing football and formed their own football association, known as the Makana FA (and since given honorary membership of FIFA), with Mr. Sexwale as secretary. He was later a leading figure in bringing the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa. The CONCACAF sports summit aims to encourage governments and football federations to develop the game in the region and spur sports tourism, as well as social and economic development.
The event is another major step by CONCACAF to reform through Mr. Webb’s initiatives. He wants all his federations to have opportunities to grow the game in their countries – from grassroots upward.
A mark of the speed of Mr. Webb’s reforms and the support they are receiving is shown in the quality of the speaker lineup from world football attracted to Grand Cayman.
Besides Blatter and Simpson Miller, speakers at the summit include new South African FA president Danny Jordaan, Nic Coward, general secretary of the English Premier League, Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer and former Trinidad and Tobago World Cup captain Dwight Yorke and his teammate Shaka Hislop.
Bruce Blake, Cayman Islands Football Association’s first vice president, said, “So many big names from football and politics coming here not only raises the profile of Cayman football but also our profile internationally because when you have so many sports ambassadors coming at the same time plus president Blatter and president Webb the focus of the world’s media is on the Cayman Islands.
“This is the kind of publicity that the Cayman Islands could never pay for. It is for us to take advantage of and show that we’re capable of hosting an event of this magnitude and also show that we are now the Caribbean’s center of sports tourism.”
Mr. Blake is pleased that Cayman’s reputation as host of big sporting events is already established in volleyball, rugby, squash, cricket, marathons and sea swims. He now wants to host more football events. There are plans for the Beach Soccer World and possibly U-17 tournaments to be staged here.
“This seminar is a big opportunity for us and also for all the stakeholders in football to come together and discuss all the various topics,” Mr. Blake said.
“I think we will gain tremendously from the sports tourism standpoint and all the information shared. This is a great opportunity for us to show Cayman hospitality. It is important to make them feel welcome and make them come back.”