Sports tourism can help fill the void

Sports tourism is worth $22 trillion globally and the Cayman Islands have certainly started the year intent on grabbing a slice of that lucrative income. Ron Shillingford reports.
To host a couple of big international sporting tournament a year is a significant fillip during a recession.
Yet the Cayman Islands has already laid on many more than that and the ripple effect means that it’s standing as a worthy sports tourism venue is rising inexorably.
From its humble beginnings 10 years ago, the East End Surf Challenge has gained momentum and is always the first significant sporting event on the calendar, at the end of January.
International recognition is piqued and jet skiing is gaining interest from all quarters.
The NORCECA beach ball competition in early March was the next. This was the second year the tournament was held here and the organisers were even happier than when they took the chance to start the Caribbean’s 14-tournament series at Public Beach.
Word had spread from last year and athletes and officials alike were only too happy to return or come for the first time. It helped that Premier McKeeva Bush attended the finals, giving the tournament the kudos it fully deserved.
Then came the sailing club’s opportunity to steal the limelight by hosting the Olympic Youth Sailing Qualifiers.
Although Cayman did not have a youngster qualify, by hosting the regatta for bytes sailors, it raised local standing around the Caribbean for quality sailing and increased future chances of staging big regattas.
It also boosted the local schools and youth programme which is still in its embryonic stage.
Over the Easter break, the CARIFTA track and field championships were held at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex for the first time since 1995.
With a new track, rebuilt stadium and all the mod cons kicking in, Cayman’s hosting of one of the biggest and most respected track youth tournaments reached millions of new viewers because it was broadcast live on TV in the Caribbean and streamed online, both for the first time.
Local interest was enhanced by Chantelle Morrison grabbing gold in the girls’ 100 metres Under-17 and the fact that the sensational sprinter from Grenada, Kirani James was in awesome form too, taking gold in the 200m and 400m. James, 17, is running as fast as Usain Bolt was at the
same age.
Then came the Cayman Open squash tournament at the South Sound Squash Club and at an imported glass court at Camana Bay.
It attracted eight of the world’s top women players and some of the Caribbean’s top men again in its second annual staging.
Once again, the high standards set in the inaugural event last year by tournament director Dan Kneipp were maintained and everyone went home happy with their diaries already marked for 4-9 April 2011.
Squash is set to soar from now because Rani Jarkas, a former United States No.1 player for four years, generously bought a glass court through his company Cedrus Investments, which will be based on the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton.
No wonder sports minister Mark Scotland is pleased with the fast development of sports tourism here.
“To do these things around the Island when it is traditionally a slow period is a boost,” he said. “Tourism has to be attractive. Advertising sun, sea and sand is not enough anymore.
“Even in these lean times we’ve seen the importance of getting behind the squash tournament. 
“People say that’s an elite sport but the benefit of getting behind sports tourism with the dynamics that the people squash draws and the chance for repeat visitors and so on should
not be ignored.
“So, where possible, whether it is track and field… with our tremendous facilities and assets, we need to encourage sports to go out and reach out for competitions and we’ll support it.
“If we go by the NORCECA people and what they are saying and rely on their support, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to do it.”


The Cayman Open squash tournament was another great success.