Why Island Games deserve more respect
THROUGH either arrogance or ignorance, certain sporting bodies and, to some extent, the public have argued that the Island Games can't benefit our athletes.
It's a perception which, in some quarters, might still exist.
Yet facts and figures don't support their case.
At the last Games in Aaland, which featured 25 small islands, Bermuda finished seventh in the overall medal table, underneath the host country and a very long way behind Faroe Islands who garnered 34 golds, 23 silver and 24 bronze compared to Bermuda's 14 gold, six silver and 12 bronze.
Our competitors hardly dominated and wouldn't have even if we'd sent our very best.
Those who believe the biennial Games are beneath us have been proved horribly wrong.
And what they don't seem to understand is that the event is so much more than winning and losing.
It's about being exposed to different cultures from different countries, many of which our athletes and officials had never heard of and if they had, they
had no idea as to where to find them on a map.
Aaland itself, and Saaremaa, which happened to have collected 25 medals at the last Games, will most likely have been two.
It's about building lifelong friendships and social interaction.
And it's about competing on a level playing field with athletes of a similar standard.
While it's been a tremendous and well deserved privilege for Bermudians to compete in the world's major sporting festivals such as the Olympic, Pan-Am and Commonwealth Games, the fact remains that many of our elite athletes have found themselves completely out of their depth.
Boxer Clarence Hill (Montreal, 1976) remains our only Olympic medal winner and less than a dozen have enjoyed medal success at the other two.
Even at the less prestigious CAC Games, Bermuda has rarely featured on the final medal table.
Most sporting organisations here have been thoroughly convinced of the Island Games' worth since Bermuda first entered the fray in Guernsey in 2003 when some 120 athletes represented the island.
Of those, the majority were Bermudian and that's been the case ever since, dispelling the notion that the event caters, in the main, to ex-pats.
Indeed, most of the medals won by Bermuda over the years have been awarded to those born here.
Bermuda Bicycle Association announced just this week that their team would include ex-pats only if their team couldn't be filled with Bermudians.
And in the past cycling has enjoyed considerable success as has gymnastics, squash and tennis.
Swimming has been represented by Kiera Aitken and Roy-Allen Burch, considered the best of our current crop of competitors.
Our national sport, football, in contrast has never got past the bronze medal round.
When coach Kenny Thompson took an Under-23 team to the Games, he was impressed by the standard and believed it to be the perfect arena to develop our players.
Development might be a key word.
So called minority sports such as archery, shooting, badminton and volleyball have all seen their programmes enhanced by taking part in the Games.
Our basketball players have consistently won gold and silver, and those in the association remain convinced their participation has played an important part in their progress.
They look forward to the event with relish. Winning at any international level is nothing to be sneared at.
If anyone still has doubts about the expansion of the Games, they might consider when they were first held in the Isle of Man in 1985. Seven hundred athletes from 15 islands competed.
In Aaland, 2,286 athletes from 25 islands filled almost every hotel and guest house room available.
And that raises a worrying point of concern as Bermuda prepares to host the Games for the first time in 2013.
Whether we can provide the necessary accommodation at a reasonable price remains to be seen.
Given the slump in tourism, which has shown few signs of abating, it would be foolish if we didn't make every effort possible to become the perfect hosts for such a huge invasion of competitors
That might mean all sectors of the community, in particular Government and the hotel industry, pooling their resources.
Chairman of the Island Games Association, Jorgen Pettersson, declared just recently that the cost of accommodation here could prove to be a major stumbling block in attempts to attract as many teams as those who will compete in the Isle of Wight this summer.
That in itself would be a smear on Bermuda's reputation as a much vaunted destination.
Turning away hundreds of athletes, all contributing to the local economy, wouldn't be a smart move.
The Island Games have been firmly established as a unique sporting festival.
Despite what some may still think, it's here to stay and it would be highly embarrassing if Bermuda were to be found guilty of stunting its continued growth.