The local sports tourism industry got another boost from the staging of the SteppingStones North America and Caribbean Rugby Association sevens over the weekend.
So significant was it that premier Alden McLaughlin and the Governor Helen Kilpatrick attended the finals at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex on Sunday, the second day of the tournament.
Cayman men came sixth overall and the inexperienced women came fourth. The championship was won in both genders by Canada’s Maple Leafs teams.
McLaughlin said: “It was a marvellous tournament, well organized and I’m very pleased that Cayman has done so well. It was very exciting stuff and the fans really got behind Cayman, it was just magical.”
The hope is for Cayman to stage this tournament every year, but that is dependant on sponsors and backing from the government. There were over 600 players, coaches, officials, medics and supporters here, on average spending $2,000 each, which equates to at least a $1.2 million boost to the restaurant, hotel, taxi, car rental and retail shopping industries.
Many visitors were pleasantly surprised by Cayman’s marvellous infrastructure.
“It is really not for government to say, but they will have government support if they go ahead with it,” McLaughlin, a former sports minister, said.
“I think what’s happening with sports in Cayman is really good. We’re showing that the investment we’ve made in sporting facilities and in programs and in building the programs through our local associations is paying off.”
Carlin Isles, world rugby’s fastest player, loved it here, as did his USA team-mates. Isles showed flashes of his speed throughout but did not get a chance in the final against Canada who wisely cut off any supply to the speedster who was only a fraction too slow to make the US Olympic sprint team before taking up rugby.
Now it’s the women’s Under-20 CONCACAF tournament here in January.
“Sports tourism is a major focus of our administration,” added McLaughlin. “Based on all the feedback we’ve got we’ve impressed on everyone who’s come here and I see us only going from strength to strength.”
A keen cyclist himself, he loves to unwind and get away from work pressures through riding around Grand Cayman.
“I enjoy sports and believe that exercise is very important for a nation. Cycling has saved my life in many ways otherwise the stresses and strains of what I’ve done for the past 13 years would have worn me down.
“But I think sports tourism is an excellent policy for the country and the government not just from a dollars perspective but because it makes a nation feel good. It’s very good to get people in the frame of mind to make them want to pursue exercise.”
Cayman men’s team hoped to finish third behind Canada and the USA and qualify for the Commonwealth Games next year in Glasgow.
It was not to be but at least they showed themselves as an emerging team and likely to dominate the Caribbean teams when the side’s nucleus of youngsters mature in a few years.
Sports minister Osbourne Bodden was there on Saturday. He witnessed some superb play, especially by the Cayman teams. For the men, Garrett Connolly, Morgan Hayward and Alex Harvey were outstanding and in the women’s team Shenel Gall, Tracey Seymour, Liz Austin, Lisa Kehoe and Jo Ziegler made some noteworthy contributions.
Richard “Grizz” Adams is Cayman rugby’s chief executive officer. He was especially pleased with the way Cayman thrashed Bermuda who had given the Caribbean champs, Trinidad and Tobago, a stern test.
“We’re getting there,” Grizz said. “We’ve only got about 30 guys in the whole country and look at us.
“We’re playing a team sport here but we’re competing on world terms and the worst we’ve competed is losing by 20 points, which is only four tries.
“In the World Sevens Series the best beat teams by nine, 10 or 12 tries. We’re really close. We’re not quite there and maybe not as close as I thought but we’re closing the gap.
“We”re a brand new team. We lost Mikey Wilson to an ACL injury which was massive to us. He is one of our major playmakers. We laid off some of the older guys because it’s about younger guys and the future and that’s what we’re all about.”
Maybe bringing in players who are studying overseas was a mistake but Grizz does not agree because although they changed the dynamic he feels they were better than what was here domestically.
“I’m not going to retract any of the selections. We played some fantastic rugby on Sunday, possibly the best rugby seen in the tournament. But we didn’t do it enough to win the tournament. It was a fabulous tournament. Everyone enjoyed it, we had the backing of the government and staying in the hotels on Seven Mile Beach was great for them.
“Where else in the world can you get a fantastic setting like that? This is the place to be for sevens rugby and we’d like to make it into an international tournament every year.
“The women’s program is coming on too. They are superb athletes who are loving the game. All we need is more girls to come in and get involved.”
Team captain Jon Murphy was pleased with the effort made by the squad.
“For the past four or five months Cayman was working towards a goal,” he said. “We missed the goal we wanted but there were some great positives to take out of the tournament.
“The guys’ fitness and commitment to the game. We had a very slow start on day one. Unfortunately, Trinidad and Tobago was a must-win game and if we had we would have had a much easier second day.”
Murphy, 31, works for a private trust company. He admits that in losing to the Trinidadians they missed too many one-on-one tackles and mishandled too often.
“It showed great spirit of the guys to bounce back on day two. There were a lot of heads down but we won our third game and it gave us a chance. We played Canada and gave it our all. I’m really proud of them.
“It’s not an old man’s sport and the younger guys are off island getting their education. It’s only on special occasions like this we get to see them back here on the island.
“Sevens is becoming an increasingly popular sport. We get to compete in the CASCO Games in Mexico next year. I have to give a huge shoutout to Grizz, Dave Clancy (strength and fitness coach) and Morgan Williams (sevens specialist coach) for providing a structure for us to get to our goal. We’re really grateful.
“We’re not professional players. We have day jobs but still have to four gym sessions and four training sessions a week. I felt the pressure from my wife!”
Murphy was unhappy with some questionable refereeing decisions. “All credit to the guys who stepped up. The thing we struggled with was consistency from the referees.
“But we shouldn’t have been in the position where the referees made a difference. I can’t fully blame the referees but certainly some of their decisions didn’t help us.”