Guernsey Press

Building on the Island Games legacy

The Island Games sowed the seeds, now it’s time to invest in our active ambitions, says Laura Fry

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Inspiring the next generation... Young islanders cheer competitors in the men’s individual triathlon at Rocquaine during last month’s Guernsey 2023 NatWest International Island Games. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 32292763)

HOW was your Island Games? A week-long showcase of sport and island talent was a huge success according to the athletes who attended, the volunteers who made it happen, the sponsors who invested, and the community who cheered on. Whether you took part, marshalled or came to spectate, whether you are an athlete with your own ambitions, a parent of an inspired child, or resident who had one of the best seats in the house for those bigger road events like the triathlon or cycling, it feels as though the Island Games captured the hearts and minds of the entire community.

During the week, I had the privilege of being involved with the delivery of the individual triathlon, the first event of the Games held on Sunday 9 July. The event itself was an incredible showcase of the talent within Guernsey Triathlon Club – not just the athletes but the event organisation too. As part of the event, 35 young triathletes and swimmers (aged six to 15) came together to form a ‘cheer squad’. They lined the slipway at Rocquaine Bay, creating a wall of noise and colour, greeting athletes with cow-bells, flags and mild hysteria. By the end of the day, the Cheerers’ dreams of one day standing on the podium collecting a medal were crystallised, and it seemed they couldn’t wait to start training again after the summer break. In the crowds, families with young children looked on in awe as they watched more than 70 athletes of all shapes and sizes push themselves to their limits in swim, bike and run. I know that many of those spectators left Rocquaine feeling inspired to give triathlon a go and have since reached out to the local Junior Triathlon Club to find out more. Has the Island Games inspired young athletes? Without a doubt.

Although on a much smaller scale, the Island Games reminded me of London 2012. At the time, I lived in East London and lived through a noticeable shift in the mood of the city, particularly my neighbourhood, in the run-up to the Olympics. I lived in ex-local authority flats with a transient and diverse mix of cultures, ethnicities, ages and occupations. Like many neighbourhoods in big cities, it was rare to ever mix or utter the most basic of greetings to others outside of my own ‘inner circle’, even if we did happen to share the same postcode. Before the Olympics arrived, I rarely described where I lived as my ‘community’. The people within it lived in their own bubbles and despite it looking like a community, with shops and pubs and run-down parks, there was little in the area that inspired feelings of gratitude, pride or hope. Still suffering in the aftermath of the global recession, these deprived parts of London were characterised by the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. People looked exhausted, the neighbourhood looked neglected, and the idea of hosting an Olympics was seen as being a complete waste of public money at a time when the public really needed money.

But when the Olympics arrived, the city’s mood shifted. And in my little neighbourhood, eye contact seemed to be a thing that people were doing now. Conversation came naturally, even with people who I didn’t share the same language with. Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Jess Ennis-Hill – everyone knew these names in London and everyone could connect over their brilliance.

Beyond bringing people together, the sporting tinge to the air was palpable. It was as though the Olympic gods had descended on our city and spread magic fitness and sport dust everywhere. My local swimming pool was busier, bike lanes fuller, and parks were alive with runners, rowers and generally people just being, well, active. In my borough, Hackney, it felt much cooler to let people know where you lived. Investment was visible – from the regeneration of Hackney Marshes to the Olympic Park itself. London 2012 arrived in the city at the perfect time. The population needed something to hope for, to feel pride in and to inspire energy in each individual to move more, do more, be more.

What Guernsey’s Island Games has in common with the London 2012 Olympic Games is the remarkable ability of sport to bring people together and feel hopeful, positive and proud of our community. The talent, hard work and determination that our Guernsey athletes demonstrated was on par with what you might see on screen, watching bigger, grander, more international sporting events. Our volunteers and organisers within each sport delivered not only high quality events but celebrations of their sport and the uniqueness of our island. All in all, I think Guernsey showed how it punches above its weight as a destination for sport and tourism.

And just like I experienced in London in 2012, I saw the community in Guernsey get a bit more active too. Granted, I don’t have any stats to back this claim up, but how many of us left our cars at home to make getting to venues a bit less stressful? I know I did. Getting out to watch the sports and meet the athletes also inspired me to do a bit more running, a bit more cycling and even feel curious about taking up a new sport. When we see the potential of the human body to achieve physical greatness through hard work and determination, we can’t help but feel inspired to do a bit more activity ourselves.

Inspiring islanders to take up a sport supports the States targets to improve the health and wellbeing of the community, which in turn will help limit the burden of public services, particularly health and social care. The Games have inspired us, but we must capitalise on this high that is sweeping the island and provide continuous opportunities for more people of all ages and abilities to get involved with sport and activity, at any level. This requires greater investment in the facilities – be it the physical structures or the access. As a triathlete, swimmer, triathlon coach and swimming teacher, my biggest challenge to practising and delivering my sport to others continues to be access to facilities. Our island houses some high-quality swimming pools and outdoor sports facilities but with cuts to budgets, the activities I teach to young people are insecure.

I was pleased to see that Deputy Kazantseva-Miller raised questions to Education, Sport & Culture around the investment in youth sport as part of the legacy of the Games and I truly hope that the States can recognise that when we invest in sport, there will be tangible, long-term benefits for the entire community. Investment in sport goes beyond growing the Island Games stars of tomorrow. It will bring long-term benefits to the health and wellbeing of all islanders and lower the burden on our health services. It will grow our economy, create more jobs and attract more investment. It will even create a greener environment for us all to live and work in.

The Island Games legacy can make a huge difference to people’s lives and create real, measurable impact. But we must act now and not let this moment of inspiration pass us by.