The Island Games Association’s decision to take their biennial multi-sports tournaments out of Europe for the first time this year means that just four teams will compete in the football event. The only confirmed entrants are the hosts Bermuda, the Falkland Islands, Greenland and a side from the Norwegian isle of Froya.
IGA regulations state that to host a team sport there must be at least six entrants, but an exception is being made in 2013. Island Games spokesman Jon Beard says: “We have left the door open and are working on at least more team [but] we don’t need this extra team for the tournament to go ahead.”
The Cayman Islands had reportedly been intending to send a team and seem the most likely late entrant out of the IGA’s 24 members.
The 2007 winners Gibraltar are staying at home as they prepare for their long-running application to join UEFA goes to a vote at the European governing body’s annual congress in London on May 24.
For the other swathe of teams that stayed at home, the travel costs of getting to the British Atlantic territory provided just too much.
The holders and last hosts the Isle of Wight (pictured above playing Gibraltar at East Cowes in 2011) will not be travelling. Jersey – the only team to win the tournament on three separate occasions, in 1993, 1997 and 2009 – are staying at home. Guernsey won the tournament twice in 2001 and 2003 but are competing in the English Combined Counties Premier Division.
After being disqualified for poor on-field behavior in 2011, Rhodes were not expected to even be invited but a tournament that in recent years had regularly featured a field of 16 has been decimated.
Even the participation of the Falkland Islands had been in doubt at one point. To send a football side from the isolated south Atlantic outpost costs around £3,000 per player and the territory’s government is understood to have stepped in with £40,000 contribution towards travel costs for the Falkland party.
Ian Betts, who has replaced 2011 coach Richard Franks as manager of the Falkland football squad, also had a more prosaic problem: first choice goalkeeper Ben Hoyles (pictured below in action in 2011 against Gotland) initially said he would not be going to Hamilton.
That would be a blow to a side that has been unbeaten so far in their preparations for Bermuda in a series of warm-up matches against sides from the armed forces on the islands. Hoyles, the first choice Falkland keeper two years ago in the Isle of Wight - is understood to have had a change of mind, but Adam Glanville – the St Helenian who has been one of his side’s outstanding defender in recent Island Games tournaments – is not expected to travel.
Patrick Watts, former chairman of the Falkland Islands Football League, says: “The games have been against Military teams at the Base so nothing too spectacular. It is difficult to find a competitive match these days as there are not as many Army men here as there was previously and the RAF personnel do not seem to be as keen as the Army and Navy in terms of playing football.”
When the Island Games comes back to Europe in 2015, a revival is likely in terms of entrants but this year should at least produce some new medalists. The Falkland Islands, Greenland and Froya have never been close to a medal at the Island Games. That will change this year.