Games of the Day: Gotland 2017, the Natwest Island Games

With the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, many athletes will turn their attention to Tokyo, some will focus on Gotland.

Situated in the Baltic Sea, Gotland; the largest island in Sweden will play host to the 2017 NatWest Island Games from June 24 to 30.

A promotional video for Gotland 2017

Since the first event on the Isle of Man in 1985, up to 25 islands from the South Atlantic, Caribbean and around the periphery of Europe have competed in this bi-annual competition.

Those participating include Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, who were at Rio and the Isle of Man, the island that Mark Cavendish, silver medalist in the Men’s Omnium cycling at Rio, won gold for at the Guernsey 2003 Island Games.

These Games are designed for islands and islanders for whom the fate of geography means access to regular competition with other communities is inhibited.

“In these games we get a chance to compete on equal terms, which is important,” said Bob Kerr, secretary of the Shetland Island Games Association after visiting Gotland for a venue inspection in June.

“It is the biggest sporting event for us who live on the islands of Orkney, the Western Islands and Shetland. Yes, there are athletes who represent Scotland, but for the majority of our athletes NatWest Island Games is their main event,” added Kerr.

Flags of the competing island at the Jersey 2015 Island Games

Even for Bermuda, who have the Olympics and Commonwealth Games on their calendar, this has become an important part of their sporting scene since they joined the games of the International Island Games Association in 2003.

“The opportunities to compete with the flag of Bermuda on the jersey are rare. The NatWest Island Games provide young athletes in Bermuda with a goal to aim for,” said Juanita Blee, Bermuda Island Games Association secretary to the event’s website.

“We got a big boost when we hosted the Games in 2013. Then the islanders saw what the Games really represent. Once people understood how big this is the public, athletes, sponsors and the business world, got much more interested. Now they love the Games,” she added.

“We do not win very many medals … but a few. Meeting other people active in different sports around the world is important … you learn a lot from it,” said Blee.

Other participants such as Åland; an autonomous, de-militarised, Swedish speaking isle of Finland, have a cultural as well as geographic distinction from their mainland.

At the Natwest Island Games Åland flies its own flag, one that is only distinct from the Swedish standard by the addition of a red Scandinavian cross inside the yellow.

“This is the only time we can compete under our own flag. It’s great, especially for the young athletes, says Susanne Guildford, secretary of Åland’s games association.

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