When it comes to the subject of football, most people will feel as though there isn’t a competition out there that they haven’t heard of. From the big leagues around the world like the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League, through to national tournaments, such as the World Cup and the Copa América, we all know the competitions that are the most exciting to watch throughout the year. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some gems that are worth knowing about, however, with the Island Games being on the list.
Known at the time of writing as the NatWest International Island Games because of sponsorship, the Games first took place in 1985 and happen on a biennial basis. Indeed, they aren’t even exclusively football-based, instead being a multi-sports offering that take in the likes of archery, shooting, tennis and volleyball. When it comes to the football side of proceedings, it is one of the most well-established tournaments that isn’t part of FIFA’s organisational remit, being a regular part of the Games ever since the 1989 edition, though a five-a-side tournament for Under-16s was held at the inaugural Games.
The Island Games Themselves
In their simplest form, the Island Games are multi-sports events that take place between various different island nations. Organised by the International Island Games Association, the teams all represent an island community. The only exception to this is the team from Gibraltar, which is actually a peninsula. At the time of writing, all of the teams that participate in the Games represent non-sovereign territories of European nations. Some of these are based in European waters, whilst others come from further afield in order to take part in the Games each year.
The Island Games first took place in 1985, when it was known as the Inter-Island Games. That was part of the Isle of Man’s International Year of Sport, with the idea being that it would be as one-off celebration of sporting achievement. During that first year, 15 islands sent a total of 600 competitors in order to take part in the Games, which cost around £70,000 to host. It was so relatively primitive that the track and field events took place on an eight-lane grass track. Regardless, it was such a success that it was decided that it would be hosted again two years later.
The Games proved to be so successful that a limit has had to be put in place over how many teams are allowed to enter. That currently stands as 23, whilst between 12 and 14 sports are played during the Games. Sark, a royal fief that makes up part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, has a population of around 500 and yet had won 20 medals by 2015, making it one of the most successful participants at the Games in terms of medal per population member. At present, the hosts of the Games are locked in until 2029, when it will return to the original host island, the Isle of Man, for the first time since 2001.
Sports That Take Place During the Island Games
Before we focus on the football specifically, it is worth having a quick look at the sort of sports that you can watch, or take part in if you’re good enough, during the Island Games. Here is a list of sports that have been played at at least one iteration of the Island Games, though some have only taken place a couple of times:
- Bowls (including indoor, outdoor and ten pin bowling)
- Sailing (including sailboarding)
- Table Tennis
- Volleyball (including beach volleyball)
When an island nation is chosen to host the Games, they then select between 12 and 14 sports from that list that will be played during the Island Games for that year.
The International Island Games Association
As we will discuss in more detail shortly, the football tournament at the Island Games does not come under the jurisdiction of FIFA. Instead, it is controlled by the International Island Games Association, which is the organising body for the Games overall. The Games are made up of friendly competitions in different disciplines, the organisation of which is sorted by IIGA in association when the island that is chosen to host the Games. The IIGA also investigates whether an island wanting to join fits the membership criteria.
Founded in 1985, the International Island Games Association is made up of constituents that either from islands or are associated with islands from seven sovereign states. These are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Norther Ireland. At the time of writing, there are 24 members of the IIGA, which are, along with their sovereign state, as follows:
- Åland (Finland)
- Alderney (United Kingdom)
- Bermuda (United Kingdom)
- Cayman Islands (United Kingdom)
- Falkland Islands (United Kingdom)
- Faroe Islands (Denmark)
- Frøya (Norway)
- Gibraltar (United Kingdom)
- Gotland (Sweden)
- Gozo (Malta)
- Greenland (Denmark)
- Guernsey (United Kingdom)
- Hitra (Norway)
- Isle of Man (United Kingdom)
- Isle of Wight (United Kingdom)
- Jersey (United Kingdom)
- Menorca (Spain)
- Orkney (United Kingdom)
- Saaremaa (Estonia)
- Saint Helena (United Kingdom)
- Sark (United Kingdom)
- Shetland (United Kingdom)
- Western Isles (United Kingdom)
- Ynys Môn (United Kingdom)
The criteria that an island must meet in order to be able to participate in the Island Games is outlined in the constitution of the IIGA. It limits the application to those island territories that have a population of less than 125,000, with a local association of governing bodies of at least two sports that are in the IIGA program that can be competed in to an adequate standard. There is also an upper limit on membership of the IIGA which stands at 25, meaning that there is currently only room for one more island nation to take part in the Island Games.
Football at the Island Games
When it comes to professional football, most events, leagues and tournaments are organised by governing bodies such as UEFA. These confederations rule over their particular area, with UEFA being responsible for Europe, CONMEBOL for South America and CONCACAF North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, for example. Within each confederation there is then individual Football Associations, who take on the organisation of tournaments that are specific to each nation, like the FA Cup in England.
There is one ruling body that takes on the responsibility of organising all of those confederations, which is FIFA. To most, the idea of a football tournament existing outside of the general rule of FIFA and its confederations and linked Football Associations seems like a crazy idea, yet that is exactly the case when it comes to the football tournament that takes place at the Island Games. Other non-FIFA competitions include the likes of football played at the Olympic Games, the Pan-American Games and the Francophone Games, though all are played with the acknowledgement of FIFA.
Despite the fact that the football tournament at the Island Games is organised away from FIFA, most of the teams that take part in it are affiliated with larger national Football Associations.
Football Competition Winners
Since the first full football tournament took place in 1989, the sport has been a mainstay in the Island Games. Here is a look at which country hosted the Island Games each year and the one that won the football tournament:
|1989||Faroe Islands||Faroe Islands|
|1993||Isle of Wight||Jersey|
|1995||Gibraltar||Isle of Wight|
|2001||Isle of Man||Guernsey|
|2011||Isle of Wight||Isle of Wight|
|2017||Gotland||Isle of Man|
As you can see, the host of the Island Games has won the football tournament on six occasions. That means that there is a 37.5% chance that the host nation will end up as the winners when it comes to the football.
Women’s Football at the Island Games
In reality, there are only a few different formats that a football tournament can opt for at any given time. When football was included as a sport at the Island Games for the first time in 1989, it featured a round-robin competition between the participants. Since then, however, it has grown to become a 16-team tournament played in a knockout format. As well as a men’s competition, there is also a women’s football tournament, which has taken part at the Island Games since 2001. Here is a look at the host and the winner of the Women’s Tournament each year:
|2001||Isle of Man||Faroe Islands|
|2011||Isle of Wight||Åland|
Interestingly, despite the men’s tournament and the women’s tournament starting in different years, the first iteration of it was won by the Faroe Islands for both genders. Whilst Guernsey are the only island to have won the men’s tournament three times, that has been achieved by both Åland and the Faroe Islands in the men’s tournament, with both teams winning it three times in succession. As with football at the Olympic Games, medals are awarded to the teams that come first, second and third in the Island Games.
In 2019, Gibraltar was the host nation of the Island Games. Owing to the fact that the island didn’t have enough pitches, there was no football tournament played that year as part of the Island Games. Instead, the Inter Games Football Tournament took place in Anglesey in Wales. Despite the fact that this was the case, the tournament isn’t included in the list of official results of the Island Games as far as the football is concerned. The men’s tournament was won by Ynys Môn, whilst the women’s saw the Isle of Man take the crown.