EVEN before the first medals had been presented at this week’s NatWest International Island Games in Guernsey, the event was already a success.
You could see it on the faces of not only the athletes parading along the St Peter Port seafront, but in the smiles of the many people gathered to cheer them on and welcome them to their island.
The Island Games are not known as the ‘friendly games’ for nothing. And every two years (ignoring the blip of the pandemic) chairman of the International Island Games Association, Jorgen Pettersson, works the same message into his opening speech: “You arrive as competitors, and go home as friends.” And he should know, he represented Aland in Volleyball for 10 years.
Marriages have followed relationships struck up at games over the years, children have been born and some have gone on to play in the same games as their parents, friendships have endured as long as the games themselves – 38 years and counting, and more formal links between island members have developed too.
The traditional pin swap where competitors and their support teams swap pin badges with other islands is a clever way of breaking the ice and encouraging interaction.
There are rivalries too, of course. And for the Jersey men and women on Guernsey soil this week it has been felt already, mostly friendly and said with a smile.
But the positivity of the Island Games also extends well beyond just those taking part, and lasts well into the future – just ask anyone who paid attention when Jersey hosted in 2015.
Here in Guernsey the community has really embraced the games. From the young Islanders helping with the medal ceremonies, to the many volunteers and marshals in their bright green t-shirts, the residents who have decked out their homes in the flags of all 24 competing islands, to Guernsey’s Lieutenant Governor (who is, by all accounts, on parking duty for some events), everyone is mucking in. Even prisoners at Guernsey’s prison have got involved by producing colourful wooden signposts mentioning all the participating islands.
And the Island will, if all goes to plan, benefit more broadly too, economically, culturally and socially.
Jersey’s 2015 games was delivered within the £1.8m budget, but brought in an estimated £3.8m to the local economy.
Over 4,000 people visited our island for the games, and Visit Jersey targeted them to attract them back in future years.
Refurbishment of facilities provided opportunities for clients on the Back to Work scheme, and as a result of the work several gained full-time employment.
Over 80 visiting media promoted Jersey and raised its profile to 23 islands with a total population of 1.2 million. This promotion also reached regions beyond the Islands.
Hosting such an event is, of course, a big undertaking. And it has been particularly challenging for Guernsey given the delays caused by the pandemic and subsequent world events, particularly the cost of living crisis, and also a decline in visitor accommodation.
But that does not have appeared to have stopped them pulling it off, if the first couple of days are anything to go by at least.
‘Inspiring Islanders’ is the phrase written on the shirts of the volunteers here this week.
Inspiring Islanders take part in these games, but these games also inspire islanders. Sport is a powerful way to connect people – which is exactly why I pitched for this job when I entered politics.
The future for the Island Games remains as bright as the t-shirts of those volunteers, as does Jersey’s place within it. Over the next few days I plan on writing further about the many dedicated volunteers, stalwarts and characters who help make that so.
But for now, thank you Guernsey for bringing us all together again.
One day, in the not too distant future I hope, Jersey will return the favour.