Island Games: Potent advert for sporting good manners: The friendly Island Games continue to prosper by eschewing the worst excesses of professionalism. Paul Hayward reports from the Isle of Wight

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The Independent Online
PITY there was no swearing or spitting or sledging. It was the only thing that stopped the fifth Island Games on the Isle of Wight this week being a truly modern, international event.

The 2,000 competitors and officials from 18 islands clearly knew nothing of contemporary sporting practices. Instead of insulting each other's mothers at critical moments of the game, they swapped telephone numbers and promised to visit each other's craggy outposts. Fancy a trip to Sark, where all motor traffic is forbidden, except for tractors? Or Alderney, where there are more puffins and guillemots than people?

They call them the Island Olympics, the friendly Games. Though the former description may be stretching it a bit, the latter most certainly is not. There are few other places where a competitor from the Faroes, found wandering across the island at 2am, and speaking little English, would be picked up by a mini-bus driver returning from a hen party and given a bed for the night.

Niceness is a religion at this odd gathering of disparate sporting communities like Aland, Froya and the Falklands. It started in 1985 on the Isle of Man and was intended to bring together islands with historical, mostly Viking, connections. Eight years later you need a jumbo atlas of the world to trace all the flight paths taken to the Isle of Wight.

When you are stuck for something to talk about with a clay pigeon shooter from Gotland, climactic differences always come in useful. Up at the Isle of Wight gun club near Godshill, they will tell you of the blazing afternoon when the Icelandic team took off their shirts and nearly caused interference to passing air traffic, such was the glare from their sun- starved torsos. 'See that polystyrene cup? Well, they were whiter than that,' a member of the Isle Of Wight squad said.

Surely here, in the earthy world of shooting, there would be tales of late- night drinking, raucousness and missed practice sessions to place alongside the accounts of uproariousness in professional sport? Sadly not. Even the socialising stays within bounds polite society would approve, though that has more to do with the demands of shooting than respect for the work ethic.

'There's not been much drinking going on,' Colin Caws, of the Isle of Wight team, said. 'If you come up here and fire a gun with a hangover, the top of your head comes off. It's not pleasant. I remember once when I'd had a late night trying to load a packet of polos into the barrel instead of a cartridge. Luckily I realised what I was doing in time.'

Karl Marx had a point when he called the Isle of Wight 'a little paradise', but trying to find some of the events down country lanes devoid of signposts would have tested the research skills even of the great scourge of capitalism.

There was not a paid official or organiser in sight at the Island Games, which is another source of justifiable pride. Even the guard who stood watch outside the gun store at Godshill all night (50 rifles worth pounds 100,000) did so voluntarily.

In the press office this week there was particular delight at a tabloid story about the Princess Royal losing a treasured brooch at the opening ceremony (somebody found it at the swimming pool and, in time- honoured tradition, put it on top of a heater). All publicity is good publicity when the pounds 500,000 needed to stage the games has to be raised through donations and sponsorship.

Only in the football tournament were the less appetising aspects of modern sport apparent. Not violence or intimidation, but the debasing of a wonderful pastime through the obsession with power and brawn.

It was high on a plain overlooking Cowes harbour that the Shetlands were playing Gibraltar, which, with the British habit of bending uncomfortable historical truths, is classified as an island. Gibraltar tried to construct passing movements. The Shetlands thundered along Route One with long balls and great bull-like charges down field. One of their midfielders had such muscle-bound legs that he could hardly run.

Not that the malaise in British football could overshadow the rest of the games, which seemed to place the formation of fraternal bonds far ahead of the doling out of medals. Certainly, there were no marketing men from Nike hovering round the winner of the archery competition.

There will be cars on Sark before sport gets a better advertisement.

(Photographs omitted)

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