Hosting a pre-tour training camp for the British & Irish Lions would showcase to the world what a great place Guernsey is to host international events, writes Guernsey RFC Co-Chair Charles McHugh.
"In the past seven days since the news of Warren Gatland’s well regulated explorative two day location/venue assessment of Guernsey for the British and Irish Lions training camp in mid-June broke, there have been sharply divided reactions.
There have been a number of misunderstandings regarding what a pre-tour training camp and pre-tour bonding are all about and these have not helped. Rugby fans will understand that the Lions’ squad is made up of four home nations sides who have never played together after a ferocious home season but have to very quickly assimilate into one cohesive side to play eight of the most physical possible rugby games in the world, in alien South African territory.
Detractors have portrayed various negative scenarios on social media, e.g. Guernsey being treated to the unedifying sight of Owen Farrell throwing up in the High Street or falsely portraying Warren Gatland’s exemption protocol as breach of quarantine rules. Such negativity and caricatures definitely do not help and do not represent these professional sports men, at the height of their professional careers, who are extremely proud to be to represent the great traditions of the British and Irish Lions.
On the one hand, quite understandably, feelings run deep for those Islanders who in the last twelve months of lockdown have suffered from border restrictions and difficult quarantine impositions. I completely understand those feelings but nobody has sought to slap the Guernsey community in the face, as has been wrongly stated.
On the other hand, what our Government is seeking to do, in very difficult circumstances, is to safely detail a gradual road map, in the next month or so, for us to emerge from isolation and return to a new normal. There are those who advocate this should be done slower and others who want to emerge quicker.
Dr Brink has guided us thus far, without putting a foot wrong and we all should be guided by her. We should applaud her and the CCA for their efforts. We should not abandon Dr Brink’s excellent guidance because of a few disgruntled ex-deputies on social media who have tried to create an ill-founded wave of negativity, for their own political ends.
To properly detail the opportunity potentially provided by a Lion’s camp would require a full cost benefit or Return on Investment analysis with robust evidence and data including qualitative and quantitative surveys both before and after the event. As an individual, I am not resourced to provide that full evidence based data and much of it could not be measured until after the event in any case.
Pictured: Mr McHugh says the island should trust Dr Brink's judgement in allowing Warren Gatland a special exemption to tour local facilities.
For the Island it already has some key principles and objective driven strategic aims that can be assessed before the event.
Locate Guernsey has a Government backed objective to promote and supports relocation to the island by individuals and businesses. Working as a team to provide a friendly face in Government, acting as guide, connector and problem solver.
Visit Guernsey has a Government backed agenda to promote the Island as a tourist destination and to support our airline sector.
Island businesses have an interest in promoting Guernsey as an attractive location to operate from with a good economy, environment and lifestyle outcomes.
The Covid pandemic has interrupted our sustainable growth in the last twelve months and incurred a number of significant financial burdens on our community and we seek to achieve a bounce back recovery. We are looking to return to financial and social stability at a time of very uncertain global events.
A strategic international sporting event, such as a British and Irish Lions training camp, would be aligned with the above Government objectives and key principles. Guernsey has excellent facilities and it has been looking without success to hold a prestigious international sporting event such as this for some time.
The timing of now is very opportune and this chance should be grasped with open arms. As I understand it, there is no big financial cost to the community, most of the costs will be met by simply lending out our existing resources and facilities and the costs are not financial.
Pictured: A lot of the controversy revolves around two media statements by the States of Guernsey. Initially, the States said that Warren Gatland had room service throughout his stay. A second statement admitted that he had been invited to a private dinner at the hotel he was staying at, St Pierre Park.
The significance of a Lion’s visit goes well beyond sport and has a global positive promotional effect for the Island. In a Facebook poll, with several thousand respondents this week, it appears that more than 75% of Islanders back the Lions’ visit.
Unnecessarily, a small but vocal self-interested group of detractors on social media, who are patently not acting in the Island’s best interests, have created negative comments that have been picked up by the international press and have quickly and damagingly reverberated around the world.
The Lion’s brand is a global one where usually some 150 journalists will follow the squad to the southern hemisphere for six weeks during a tour and a following of tens of thousands of travelling supporters as well as millions watching on TV in other countries.
To position Guernsey alongside such a prestigious global brand, demonstrating we are a financially stable, safe and secure place for business and lifestyle, capable of hosting international events would be a marketeers dream.
There are great benefits to be derived, not just to rugby but to our society and the whole community. The financial costs to the community will be low compared to the positive recognition and the future economic benefits that will flow. All those journalists aren’t going to just write about rugby training, they will hopefully be writing positively about why the Lions chose Guernsey and the wider benefits the Island has to offer.
Pictured: "Detractors have portrayed various negative scenarios on social media, e.g. Guernsey being treated to the unedifying sight of Owen Farrell throwing up in the High Street".
As a community we’re in a good position, we’ve come through the difficult last twelve months without putting a foot wrong and we can position ourselves as a location that is the envy of the world for being Covid free and capable of holding international events.
Assuming no third wave or further variants hits us before mid-June, the risk of allowing in a small group of professional sportsmen, who have been operating in a bio-secure bubble, with bi-weekly testing for months, is in my humble view an appropriate thing for us to do as Guernsey starts to open up its borders again.
Let’s embrace this opportunity, as an extension of the success of Guernsey Together, and showcase to the world what a great place Guernsey is to host international events for the benefit of tourism, lifestyle and businesses.
What’s not to like?