Sports tourism in the Cayman Islands is getting a welcome boost right now at a time when it does not normally stage big sporting events.
The CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship kicks off Thursday at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex, where all matches will be played, with seven visiting teams competing, as well as Cayman.
The Canadians are the hosts of the World Cup and automatically qualify, but this Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football tournament is designed to allow three other teams a passage to the finals.
Cayman Islands is making its first appearance in the qualifying process. The two other Caribbean nations involved are Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
Thursday’s matches are between Guatemala and Jamaica, kick-off is at 5 p.m., and then the United States, the defending champions, face Costa Rica later.
Honduras faces the Trinidadians at 5 p.m. Friday before the Cayman team plays its opening match, against Mexico, with kick-off 7.30 p.m. All matches are free entry.
More than 300 players, coaches, officials, administrators, supporters and CONCACAF staff will be taking part, so extra revenue will run to millions of dollars to the local economy because many arrived on Jan. 2 and will not leave until after the final match on Jan. 20.
The three main hotels hosting the visitors are the Marriott, Holiday Inn and Comfort Suites. Restaurants, car rentals, retail shops and sports bars also will be getting business from the visitors.
Last summer, Cayman hosted the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 tournament, involving 22 teams. That, too, boosted local business coffers and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
“The U-15 tournament gave a high quality delivery of key elements to make it successful,” said CONCACAF press officer Jason Harper. “The U-15 set a high bar and the feedback was generous to Cayman’s delivery of world class sports tournaments.
“The local organizing committee didn’t rest on its laurels after August. A comprehensive review of systems, processes and resources was undertaken to improve every area for the tournament.”
For Cayman, this is a special chance to establish women’s football locally, which has lagged far behind the men’s game. Thanks to an innovative women’s program introduced a decade ago, there has been significant improvement, and this tournament is expected to inspire more females to get involved.
Martha Godet is the director of the women’s national football program and chair of the local organizing committee. “This tournament is a good opportunity for the country and most of all our players to be streamed live all over the world,” she said.
“It will raise their chances to gain scholarships and openings for professional careers, not just for Cayman players but for members of other teams.” She hopes Cayman can qualify for the World Cup finals by finishing in the top three. “The USA are strong and Mexico are playing really well. Cayman has trained really hard and they are all very focused,” she said.
Mrs. Godet is pleased that local businesses are getting another injection of welcome revenue from a football tournament, awarded here by local businessman Jeffrey Webb, CONCACAF president.
“It is good for the economy, they will benefit in that aspect,” she said. “I urge the local community to come out and support all the games, especially our Cayman team.” They have been dealt a competitive draw in Group B alongside Mexico, Honduras and Trinidad. Head coach Joe Supe strongly believes his Cayman side can go all the way.
“If we have a good showing against Mexico and then dominate Honduras and Trinidad, then we will be in a prime position to go into the semifinals and then potentially get into the World Cup,” he said.
“Technically, we have players who can make a difference. In leadership, players like Brianna Hydes (captain) and Jetena Bodden can push the ladies forward into believing that something is doable and achieving our goals.”