A.S.H. Smyth

Why Falklanders are the ones to watch at the Commonwealth Games

  • From Spectator Life
[Credit: Falkland Islands National Sports Council]

Stanley, Falkland Islands

I’m not saying the Falklands is a tiny place, but last month, over the course of just a few hours, I had my hair cut by one international athlete and then my passport processed by another. Soon-to-be international athletes, anyway. They’re both part of the Islands’ team for this year’s Commonwealth Games, which is taking place in Birmingham this week.

The Falklands has despatched 16 competitors across four sports: badminton, table tennis, cycling and bowls. For many participants, this is their first Commonwealth Games. For some, thanks largely to Covid, it will be their debut international appearance.

The youngest, 15-year-old Ben Chater, has not only never competed internationally before, but has only ever played badminton in one place: Stanley leisure centre. (I taught him English for a chunk of last year, so shall be making much of this connection if he ‘podiums’.)

For the same proportion of the population to compete, England would need a team of 275,000

Javier Sotomayor (table tennis – and my barber), moved here more than a decade ago, and has been the Islands’ table tennis champion for four years running. It’s fair to say the Falklands whiff-whaff scene is not enormous – he qualified through the ‘Americas’ (!) regional wildcard system – and 36-year-old Javier’s our solitary men’s player (the same number as produced by Jersey, Kenya and Papua New Guinea).

At 46, the head of the Immigration Dept. Jim Horton (time trial and road race) is not merely making his international debut but is the first cyclist ever to race for the Falkland Islands, which given that there’s maybe 40 miles of tarmac road outside of Stanley is not entirely surprising. Jim actually comes from the Black Country, but now his main fear is that he’ll be spotted riding round his former neighbourhood leaning manically into stiff (but totally imaginary) winds.

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