We may be in the midst of a world recession and things have not been too rosy financially for Cayman this year but at least the sports scene has remained buoyant, writes Journal journalist Ron Shillingford.
It was another classic year for local sport, which augers well for sports tourism, always an invaluable source of national revenue.
The first phase of football’s Centre of Excellence programme in Prospect was opened in June, part of a $10 million project which will make it one of the Caribbean’s most outstanding football centres when completed.
None other than Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter, the FIFA president, rolled into Cayman in his private jet to open it. Mark Scotland, the just-appointed Minister of Sport, contributed to the speeches, as did Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, the Caribbean’s chief administrator and also a FIFA vice-president.
Blatter’s visit was engineered by Jeffrey Webb, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, who is also a FIFA treasurer.
Blatter rounded off his few days here by attending a gala dinner at The Ritz-Carlton where tens of thousands was raised by auction towards the Centre of Excellence.
Warner joked that he has only pleasant memories of visiting Cayman. The first time he came somebody introduced him to a Mudslide and he has been downing them ever since.
Warner added: “Mark Scotland was CIFA vice–president then, now he is the Minister of Sport.
“I’m a politician in Trinidad, deputy leader of the opposition party. Please tell me what you’re doing so right because I want to be in government too!”
The football club scene was vibrant, with West Bay side Elite almost cleaning up all trophies. The youngsters comfortably won the newly formed Premier League title, Digicel Cup and were beaten finalists against Bodden Town in the FA Cup.
Elite have stuttered so far this season, since its commencement in September, but are now reaching the consistency that made them so dominant last term. Scholars International started the season brilliantly with a long run of unbeaten games and want to emulate what Elite did only this time complete a hat-trick of titles.
CIFA’s coffers were also boosted when Jamaica played a couple of games here in the summer. The Reggae Boyz were on their way to the Gold Cup competition and stayed at the Comfort Suites.
Hungry footballers are welcomed by restaurants – especially in lean times – and places like Welly’s Cool Spot, Captain’s Bakery and Aqua Beach benefitted enormously from their patronage.
It was a quiet year for the cricketers, partly because financier Allen Stanford got locked up. Stanford had ploughed millions into boosting Caribbean cricket and even paid $20 million to the winner-takes-all Stanford Allstars – aka West Indies full-strength side – when they beat England in a 20/20 tournament he organised last year.
But he is now languishing in jail awaiting trial for an alleged $7 billion Ponzi scheme he was operating. At least Cayman benefited from Stanford dispersing money here which helped improve facilities considerably.
The Cayman government deserves praise here too, because the outgoing People’s Progressive Movement ensured that the Jimmy Powell Oval in West Bay finally got completed just before May’s general elections.
Powell is a stalwart in Cayman cricket and all-round nice guy. So committed was he to seeing the game flourish here that the successful businessman underwrote hundreds of thousands of dollars during the cricket administration’s leanest years. The stadium is a fitting reward for his contribution.
Seven Mile Beach is every volleyball player’s heaven so it was surprising that it was only this year that Cayman hosted its first world class tournament.
In March beach volleyball got a big boost with Seven Mile Beach playing host to one of the legs of the 2009 North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Beach Circuit tournament.
All the competitors from across the Caribbean hailed Cayman for every aspect of the tournament with augurs well for next year when they will host another. One player who thoroughly enjoyed herself was Costa Rica’s Betsy Cruz.
“This is my first time in Cayman Islands and it’s beautiful,” she said. “Everybody’s gentle and so nice that you feel like home. The organisation was perfect. Everyone had taken care of every aspect of the event and everyone was treated beautifully. Of course I’m coming back. I’m coming with my family too.”
Cayman’s sea swims are world renowned with the biggest being the Flowers in June. Frank Flowers really pulled out all the stops again this year.
Prizes totally over $100,000 helped attract the event’s biggest crowd ever, over 750. It had the best quality field in its 17-year history too, with current Olympians like the Fraser brothers Shaune and Brett swimming.
American hero Ryan Lochte started the race but didn’t make the one-mile swim because he was in serious training for the world championships soon after. So impressed was Lochte by Cayman’s loveliness that he will be back to actually swim it next year, along with a bunch of pals.
An added bonus to the sea swim calendar is that Andrew Smilley’s fantastic showing in a tough event in San Francisco in September earned him accolades throughout the swimming fraternity and he is short-listed for an award.
The fact that he is a Special Olympics competitor makes the swim all the more remarkable. On top of that, the Special Olympics organisers have decided to hold an event in Cayman in April on the strength of Smilley’s achievements.
Looks like sports tourism is going to flourish in Cayman, recession or not.