Under the slogan ‘clean seas are our future’, all local venues for the NatWest International Island Games sporting events will feature a freshwater fountain where athletes and officials will be able to refill their purposely-issued aluminium containers to help curb use of single-use plastic on campus, organiser Linda Alvarez tells of one of the jewels in the crown of this year’s edition, proudly hosted by Gibraltar.
After all, participants are islanders who live out of the oceans and strive to keep them clean from manmade pollution. The Island Games, with twenty-four islands taking part, are not just about sports and competition, Linda points out, but also about friendship and culture, and New Casinos games.
“Every island in attendance will bring water from their shores and pour it in the ceremonial fountain. All waters blended in one will circulate in it until the closing ceremony, when a sample will be handed to Guernsey, the 2021 host,” Linda says. “Our fountain will feature as a centrepiece the statue of our mascot: a dolphin, made with recycled plastic and material.”
More culture surrounding the Games is scheduled for early July, with a special edition of Calentita night on the 5th, the eve of the Games’ official opening, followed by an exhibition of memorabilia, medals and newspaper snippets about Gibraltar’s participation in the Games. All wrapped up by a week-long art residency, encouraging islander artists to work together at cutting-edge multidisciplinary projects spanning from performing to fine arts and literature.
“Minister Dr John Cortes is hosting a seminar for the Islands’ politicians before the games to discuss environmental issues,” Linda reveals. Furthermore, commemorative stamps and coins are being minted, as a collectable souvenir, and to circulate well after the Games are over.
“Casemates Square is our hub for the duration of the event, with a stage where medal-awarding ceremonies will take place nightly, followed by Summer Nights’ style entertainment for locals and guests.”
Spectators’ admission to all matches and races is free. “Come and watch sports that you might have never seen before,” Linda invites Gibraltarians to go cheer their teams. “Or help out; it is our idea that the whole of Gibraltar is engaged one way or another.”
In this social media savvy era, nothing really happens if it isn’t posted on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, so the committee has already set up accounts which will stream some events live. GBC’s coverage throughout has been secured. Linda expects extensive international media interest too: “This is a good opportunity to put Gibraltar in the spotlight and be proud to prove to the world and ourselves that we are indeed capable of organising such a major event, despite our small size, as in fact we are one of the smallest ‘islands’ to ever do so.”
A retired teacher, Linda has been involved in the Island Games since 1987, and the Commonwealth Games since 2016. She first participated as part of the Gibraltar’s badminton team in Guernsey 1987 for the Island Games.
I moved to Gibraltar in 1985, and being a keen sportsperson, I joined the badminton team, and later the pool team,’ she says. I played netball, tennis and badminton at university, while my interest in pool was sparked by a competitive boyfriend of mine, who wouldn’t be content with playing just for fun, so he bought me short pool cues, and being a very competitive person myself, I was prompted to pursue pool until a few years ago. She spent many years as president of both the pool and badminton associations.
She describes herself as a ‘born organiser’. “My whole life, besides teaching, has been dedicated to sports, and now that I am retired, being on the Island and Commonwealth Games committees keeps me focused and active and makes me feel valued. Having no children or grandchildren to look after, these games are my babies.”
Last year, she took the youth team to the Bahamas for the Commonwealth Games, and later she flew half way around the world with the Senior Team to Brisbane. “Travelling has made me forge long-lasting friendships.”
In 1993, Linda was appointed Island Games secretary and later chairperson, and she has been organising or taking Gibraltar teams to the hosting islands since. “When the Minister for Sport Steven Linares first approached me with the notion that Gibraltar was bidding to host the Games on the Rock in 2019, I first pictured it would be the end of me, but after a good deal of sleepless nights, everything fell into place and took shape beautifully, thanks to the Government support, building new facilities, and of course thanks to private sponsorship and an amazing team of volunteers working with me.”
Longing for these facilities to be ready in time to apply the finishing touches, such as furnishings and wi-fi connection, to the ‘Games Village’ at Europa Point, Linda is adamant about the legacy this mammoth project will bestow on Gibraltar, as a destination for sporty tourism, for athletes to train in a cosy and warm environment, which is partly happening already, but could expand in the near future.
1,800 athletes and 300 officials will ‘invade’ Gibraltar from 6th to 12th July, mostly from the British Isles (Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Shetland Isles, Orkney, Western Isles, Alderney, Sark, Ynys Mon) but also from St. Helena’s, Bermuda, Cayman, Falklands, Rhodes, Menorca, Greenland, Faroe, Hitra, Åland, Gotland and Saaremaa.
“Some teams travel far and wide to reach the Games’ venue. Those from the Falklands travel by military plane to Ascension Island, where they then fly to the UK and continue to Gibraltar. Before a new airport was built in St. Helena’s, they had to reach South Africa by ship to catch a plane there,” Linda explains. “All athletes must sustain expenses from their pockets or through sponsorship and governmental grants, as all participants are strictly amateur. Some will fly chartered, especially the shooters, as carrying sports guns on a regular airline can prove difficult in some countries.”
Brexit remains a dark horse in this race, as the Scandinavian teams will access Gibraltar via Malaga and they have been alerted about possible delays at the border. Once in Gibraltar, athletes will be accommodated at local hotels, Europa Village and other premises, the closest possible to their competition venues.
The Games are featuring a variety of sports: judo, sailing, badminton, tennis, table tennis, basketball, pistol, rifle and clay shooting, cycling, athletics, triathlon, beach volleyball, ten-pin bowling, squash and swimming.
“Cycling, marathon and triathlon happen outside any sporting venue, on the open road and at the beach, so we have to provide for safety and security for both the athletes and the public. We have already carried out a test triathlon and will later in the year put on cycling test events,” Linda explains.
On what she calls the ‘Super Sunday’ (7th July), the eastern side and Europa Point will be cordoned off to regular traffic to allow for the competitions to take place, starting from triathlon at Eastern Beach in the early morning, and culminating with a cycling road race in the afternoon – extra stamina required.
Two hundred local athletes are participating in the Games, and the committee has recruited a small army of volunteers to help with practicalities arising, “We are still calling for attachés, available all week long to work with a particular island and deal with their needs and requests,” Linda calls for all hands-on deck. “We expect university students, back for the summer holidays, to be working with us also.”
Volunteers can express an interest through their website: gibraltar2019.com.