The impact of the Games

Swimming in the Cayman Islands is the most successful and popular sport and that is evident by the size of the annual Flowers Sea Swim. In fact, it has become so popular that it is now restricted to 800 entrants. Ron Shillingford reports.
Cayman played host to the CARIFTA Games over the Easter long weekend. Yet apart from being a boon to local track and field fans, the event has certainly left its mark in many other ways.
With in excess of 500 athletes taking part, there was a significant influx of visitors to Grand Cayman during the event. Add in the family members and other supporters who followed the athletes to Cayman and it becomes clear that the event was bound to have a significant impact on the economy.
Apart from teams and supporters travelling to Cayman on regularly scheduled flights, there were also charter flights put on to bring in some of the bigger teams.
An entire junkanoo band came from the Bahamas, adding greatly to the atmosphere in the stadium.
The official athletes’ village was Comfort Suites, which saw a massive influx of guests during the event.
“It was a terrific honour for Comfort Suites to host the CARIFTA event. We were proud to be able to look after such a talented group of athletes. The hotel was full for the duration of the games,” said Kaye White, director of sales for Comfort Suites Cayman Islands.
Visiting VIPs were put up in the Westin Casuarina Resort, which played host to, among others, the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations Lamine Diack.
However, athletes and supporters also stayed at a number of other properties on Island, including Sunshine Suites, Grand Caymanian Beach Resort and Treasure Island.
The event certainly had an impact in terms of money injected into the local economy through spending on accommodation, travel and food. However, there are also long term effects of hosting the games.
The event was televised live throughout the region, generating very good exposure for the Cayman Islands as a destination, whether for sports tourism or more general tourism.
All of this served as excellent regional promotion, even though regional tourism does not play a very large role in Cayman’s tourism product.
However, the long term impact of an event like CARIFTA may extend much further.
According to Diack, track and field allows small countries to perform every bit as well as larger countries, if not outperform them. This creates the opportunity for increased international awareness of smaller nations.
“When Kim Collins won the 100 [world championship] in Paris everyone was running asking ‘where is St. Kitts?’, ‘How many population does it have?’ and so on,” recalled Diack.
Diack admitted that he did not know that much about Cayman either before arriving for the CARIFTA Games.
“I came here and I discovered a fantastic island, this part of the world is a paradise,” said Mr. Diack.
The exposure generated by elite athletes competing on the world stage can do a lot to raise awareness of countries.
Although youth athletes may not stimulate such publicity, youth track and field competitions like CARIFTA stimulate the development of world-class athletes who could generate such exposure in the future.
Among the spectators at the CARIFTA Games were a number of college scouts from the USA looking for athlete scholars to attract to their schools through bursaries. This has the potential to have a big impact not only on the lives of the athletes receiving the scholarships, but also on their communities as they will be able to use the knowledge gained during study to benefit their country upon their return.