Gibraltar 2019 NatWest International Island Games Part 1
“The Island Games has really grown in size and stature, and next to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, it’s the next biggest multi-sport International competition, it’s a great initiative!”
The countdown is well and truly on. In less than four months athletes, coaches, officials and fans from around the globe will descend on the Rock for the 2019 NatWest International Island Games.
It’ll be the first time Gibraltar hosts the event since the 1995 ‘Sunshine’ Games (as it was affectionately known) over two decades ago – it was a very different occasion back then, however…
Rewind even further, to the first-ever Island Games in 1985 held in the Isle of Man – an exciting and ambitious plan to bring together athletes from small islands across the world to take part in a new sporting festival. 700 participants from 15 islands competed.
It was there that then-president of the Gibraltar Amateur Athletics Association (GAAA) Freddie Chappory put forward an argument to the International Island Games Association (IIGA) that Gibraltar be included as a member nation given the fact that at the time it had a closed border with Spain due to political tensions. No one in. No one out.
Effectively, the Rock was an island. After some deliberation his request was granted.
10 years later, and the sixth Island Games were held in Gibraltar.
The terrain and soaring July heat meant this was a first for many of the 17 visiting nations, some of which were from much colder climates further north. In terms of facilities, GASA Swimming Pool was built (still in use today). Lathbury Barracks – previously used as a training camp for the Royal Navy – was furnished with bunk beds to accommodate the one thousand athletes and officials.
The week ran smoothly as Jersey topped the medals table.
Now in 2019, the Island Games has come on leaps and bounds. It’s developed into a “mini Olympics”.
The event has become vital to the islands’ sporting communities. Young athletes dedicate months, even years to their sport for the possibility of being chosen to represent their nation. It’s now bigger than ever and this summer the Rock is expecting an influx of about 3,000 people for the event.
The calm before the sporting storm… Hotels are already fully booked, a local school is to be used as a dining hall and natural traffic flow is going to have to think again for the week.
The Athlete’s Village will be at the southern-most tip of Gibraltar at Europa Point. No fewer than fourteen sports will be contested, and two brand new state-of-the-art facilities are currently being constructed.
The largest at Lathbury will provide an eight-lane running track, a pistol shooting range, Football and Rugby pitches, and a 52m Olympic-size swimming pool.
The aim, according to Sports Minister Steven Linares is that “it will form part of Gibraltar’s legacy post Island Games” – an investment for the future. Casemates Square will be the Games Village, hosting medal ceremonies every evening.
During the day it will be a hub of entertainment and information. The atmosphere will no doubt be electric. The Gibraltar Island Games Association (GIGA) has made it very clear: it wants to get everyone involved and provide a real sense of community around the Rock.
But despite there still being plenty to do, Chairperson Linda Alvarez emphasizes there is plenty to look forward to: “The Island Games has really grown in size and stature, and next to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, it’s the next biggest multisport International competition, it’s a great initiative!”
This summer’s event will have a particular focus on sustainability with the Games going plastic-free.
Aluminium water bottles, cotton backpacks and bamboo cutlery are just some of the ways Gibraltar is pushing for a cleaner environment and looking to set an example to the rest of the world.
There’s also been much debate over what to name the mascot (suggestions welcome). A dolphin symbolising the motto of the occasion: ”clean seas our future”.
Less than 100 days to go until the opening ceremony, and over the next few months I’ll be taking a closer look at the Games – sport by sport – and what Team Gibraltar can expect come July…
Event website: www.gibraltar2019.com