The Island Games is a biennial competition that has been in existence since 1985. Originally intended as a one-off event in the Isle of Man, it soon gained popularity amongst the Islands, who had no official competition between itself, and has gone on every two years since then. All the competing nations are Islands (including the Balearic island of Minorca, who joined the association in 2005 – a little known fact even to some Menorquians- and even won a gold medal on girls beach volleyball) except for Gibraltar, who enters despite being a part of the Iberian Peninsula. Possibly this is because except for the Commonwealth Games, Gibraltar has nothing else normally to compete in internationally. There are normally between 12 to 18 competitions in place, with the host nation getting to choose which sports are allowed. Most of the competitors are amateur, although in some cases where some sportsmen have gone on to bigger things, you will get the occasional semi-professional in action.
Football at the Games has been in place since 1989, the 3rd biennial games, and the 11 men’s competitions have collected 7 winners, 6 of whom have British connections. In case you are wondering, the Brazil of the Island Games is Jersey, with 3 wins, the last being in Aland in 2009.
Nearly all of the competitors are islands not affiliated to FIFA or UEFA, although on occasion the Faroe Islands and Bermuda have participated (Bermuda in 2007 actually lost to Ynys Mons and Gibraltar, despite their supposed superior status in world football). From the 25 Island Games Association members, associated with 9 sovereign nations in Europe and North America, participation in the games normally reaches a level of between 16-18 teams; such is the popularity of the sport.
For many of the islands, the Games provides their only means of international competition, so locally garners media attention, although hardly anybody gives a damn in bigger countries such as the United Kingdom.
Fanzone and the Netball World Championships
Media coverage of the event, sadly, is almost non-existent, as many TV stations would probably see the event as being beneath them to cover, choosing instead to show repeats of the Antiques Roadshow, or the “critically acclaimed” Fanzone, a show that should never have been materialised, whilst paper coverage would likely not be seen in a major European newspaper, most of whom wouldn’t be aware of their existence, even if they had a sovereign territory participating. Therefore, don’t expect to see your favourite Island or peninsula on your screens any time soon. Instead, you can look forward to the eagerly awaited Netball World Championships in Singapore, where Malaysia will meet Barbados in an epic clash.
The Island Games has prospered for over 25 years, despite being one of the lesser known intercontinental competitions, despite no real media promotion, something which in all fairness is a shame, as the competition is a good idea, and as long as the demand is there, it should continue for many years to come.
The next Games are this summer, as the Isle of Wight prepares to host the 14th edition of the Games. So far, 18 men’s national teams, and 11 women’s national teams, have confirmed participation, including the debut of the Gibraltarian national women’s football team, despite its league only being two years old.
Football in the Island Games will possibly continue until the Islands gain places in FIFA, which should of course be just a question of how ready they are to soap Joseph Blatter’s pocket.