They rushed to watch the Games
It was 1525 on a Friday afternoon and a handful of people had gathered at Mid Town Coach park, all asking the same question, ‘is it from here’ as they pointed to a sign saying Islands games special service. They were all looking for the bus shuttle service that would take them to Lathbury Sports Complex.
Two young boys spoke to a mother and her daughter, the conversation was about attending sports events during the week. A senior citizen was looking at his phone’s clock constantly, having already indicated he wished to be at Lathbury for 1545. A few rows behind a family spoke with another about the races and basketball. As the bus came to a stop by Garrison Gymn they all stepped out and started to jog their way to Lathbury. They were not the only ones making the long trek up the hill on a stuffy overcast summer’s day. Few if any were walking, they were either walking fast, jogging or even running. Approaching Lathbury Sports Complex they were met by a Complex that was already packed. These were not just the visitors, these were local people who were rushing to watch the final athletics event of the Gibraltar 2019 Natwest International Island Games.
They were to enjoy a couple of hours of athletics. Some intense moments, some success, some disappointment and some drama. The blue track at Lathbury Sports Complex was a brighter more vibrant venue than the Victoria Stadium. More so it had become the home of athletics for the past six days. There was no sharing of venues with other sports making it even more special for the users on the day. There were no football lines, no goalposts, just an eight lane track and the field zone.
One young athlete had excelled with his two gold medals. Jessy Franco had thrilled, and just the same as Gibraltar lived the excitement of his two medals they lived the disappointment of missing out on a medal in the 4x 100m relays when they lost by 1/100th of a second.
The week of Island Games had brought a new feel for the sport. just like it had done for all the other sports. It had also given young athletes much needed exposure.
Quite aptly swimming shared the neighborhood with its 52m swimming pool. Another of the race venues, this time of the aquatic type seemed closer to the sports community through its presence next to the athletics track. It had also provided the same excitement and exhilaration throughout the week. Along with the thrills, spills and records. Swimming had excelled with countless records. It also brought some sadness with the news that Colin Bensadon was retiring from competing in the Island Games in the future. He had, however, been able to participate in what was probably the last Island Games Gibraltar will host for some time. With its experiencing the crowds that feverently followed swimmers through the games. Thirteen national records were broken.
The same type feverence which had followed basketball players on their way to picking up the bronze. The same of feverent support which tennis players had experienced.
The presence of young children was among one of the many things officials were to indicate were the most astonishingly pleasing. Children had lined the front rows of the squash court stands, children had travelled from early morning on buses to reach the athletes village and meet visitors. Children had asked to go and watch sports events rather than head to the beaches on many instances. The examples were evident to see. At 830 on a Wednesday morning two young lads, no more than 12 years of age travelled on a bus looking for the sports venues. When asked where they were going they indicated they wanted to watch the sports. A broad smile across their face as they were shown to both squash and badminton. They hadn’t watched it before they admitted. Later they would be talking about how exciting it had all been and how they wanted to play both sports. They were not the only two children to indicate the same. Parents related how they had taken their children to watch some of the sports and it had inspired them to want to try it out.
The successes of local athletes had inspired. Also the venues had inspired.
Importantly Gibraltar had shown what it could host and at what level.
Half completed venues had hosted a full island games successfully. Many venues still bore the heavily semblance of construction sites covered up, such as Lathbury Sports Complex. Locations such as Europa Sports Complex had many a wall And passage way temporarily boarded up with plywood boards and painted over. Yet even then the sports arenas had been hailed as ‘far superior to that offered by other islands.’
‘’In one Island Games the wall in the basketball court was just half a meter from the touchline if you jumped for the ball you crashed against the wall,’ recalled a local sportsperson. Yet Gibraltar had not just offered one sports hall for basketball which was to transform itself from a two court arena to a centre court spectacular its also offered a magnificent large hall which allowed for six badminton mats to be laid out with ample space between each mat leaving many in awe.
A false reality existed however. The stands were still incomplete, the walls were boarded up and unfinished, and behind those walls were huge vaults and areas still under construction. If anything, like all the venues what was on offer was only part of the package yet to come. Yet Gibraltar had hosted successfully an full Island Games with 16 sports to twenty two member islands involving over 200 competitors.
Even concerns over security had been put to one side. Especially after Gibraltar had seen the unfortunate coincidence of having to stage two Europa league matches locally whilst the games were on. Both against some of Europe’s top sides involved in first round Europa league matches. The Royal Gibraltar Police, though essentially a small police force stepped up to the fore and ensured not just secure sites, even when two major events were taking place just next door to each other, but also a trouble free environment. In both occasions no arrests required, no tensions between fans, and few to little delays.
The island games also brought with them the disruptions of hosting road events, yet once again the tolerance of the public, which was tested five times during the Games provided further proof that Gibraltar was willing to sacrifice some comforts of their own sometimes if only for a short while if there was some benefit.
The end of the Island Games was also the start of a new era for local sports. It had learnt many a lesson. It was now a time to reflect on what was possible. ‘I think we have shown we can organize things even if it at times it looks disorganized it’s organised chaos and we make it happen,” claimed one official. Gibraltar would now see a period in which the work sites would return to many venues such as Lathbury and Europa.
For sports like rugby they would have to wait until 29th September when they host their next international, but one thing the Island Games was leaving behind was a legacy. Not just a memory, but a physical legacy, and many hoped also the inspiration to sportsmen and women that they cou,d achieve the highest of standard if they put their hearts in to it.