The success of the 48th annual CARIFTA Games, hosted 20-22 April at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex, has Cayman’s athletic community hungry for more.
The arrival of more than 500 competitors from 26 other CARIFTA member countries was considered a boon for Cayman from a sports tourism perspective, with fans from across the region filling not only the stands, but the island’s hotels and restaurants as well.
Now, Cayman Islands Athletic Association president Lance Barnes believes the jurisdiction is ready for more. With enough support from government and community partners, he sees Cayman becoming a top destination for sports tourism and a hub for world-class athletics.
Barnes is taking a step forward in achieving that goal, travelling this week to the IAAF World Relays in Yokohama, Japan, with an eye towards bringing the event to Cayman in 2021.
Barnes and Caymanian track star Cydonie Mothersill are participating in the IAAF Observer Programme 10-12 May, where interested hosts gain behind-the-scenes insight into organising one of the world’s largest athletics events.
“Participants will live, learn and feel the event through the eyes of an athlete, a spectator, a broadcaster, a journalist and a sponsor,” states an IAAF Observer Programme press release.
Following the CARIFTA Games, Barnes said he was approached by former British Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe about the relays.
“We haven’t discussed a bid yet, but based on what he saw, he was quite confident that the [Truman Bodden] venue could host the event,” Barnes said.
Coe told a Cayman Compass reporter after the CARIFTA Games that the host nation had done a “remarkably good job”.
Renovations at Truman Bodden Sports Complex have made the facility more appealing to track athletes, Barnes said, pointing out, for example, that the new track surface is easier on the feet of runners.
CIAA members are now feeling confident that Cayman has the facilities and the interest necessary to take on bigger events.
Cayman already has many factors going in its favour, Barnes says, including warm weather year-round and proximity to major US airports, facilitating arrivals by international athletes. The most important element moving forward, however, will be the human factor, and rallying Cayman’s community around its sports product.
Barnes said he has the support of Sports Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, and he is heartened by the support of World Gym this year in training local athletes. He is hoping more partnerships like this will provide the support Cayman’s athletes need to improve their own capabilities.
“What we were able to achieve this year has never happened before. We struck a deal with World Gym,” Barnes said.
“So our athletes trained for approximately four months and that was free of cost from World Gym. I plan to continue this relationship into the build-up for next year in Bermuda.”
Barnes says Cayman will need more community partners like World Gym to push the standard higher for local athletes. His goals are two-tier: attract world-class athletes to compete in world-class events in Cayman; and train local athletes to rise to the challenge.
He pointed to track athletes like Jamal Walton, Rasheem Brown and Kemar Hyman as up-and-coming promises. But Barnes says the resources are lacking locally to push them to their full potential. “We lack competition in Cayman. So we need to travel to the US or the region to compete at other major events, just to get that experience,” he said.
“That’s what we lack. It’s not that we don’t have the talent, because for the past four CARIFTA years, we’ve been bringing home at least five medals.”
Barnes’s vision is for Cayman’s young athletes to reach a globally competitive level, as they have many times in the past with the likes of Mothersill, Alex Pascal and his own daughter, Lacee Barnes. He says the talent is there, but the community must get behind its athletes.
“I want to get buy-in from more stakeholders, not just from government but from private sector. That’s my long-term vision,” he said.
With enough support, Barnes believes Cayman can build a sports academy that gets young athletes on the right track, starting from the primary school level.
“If we can start from the primary school level and harness those talents and have them in an academy and structured programme, which can not only boost training but diets and proper meal plans, the whole sports nutrition philosophy, that is my long-term goal,” Barnes said.
“The long-term vision as a federation is to develop as many athletes as we can. I would like for us to win some Olympic medals.”