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Playin dirty; Ynys MOn finds out tomorrow if it's won the right to host the 2009 Island Games. And while the glamour of London's Olympic triumph may have been lacking from the race, the political cat fighting certainly wasn't.

Byline: By IAN PARRI

THE scenario of Welsh footballers doing battle with foes from chilly Greenland might seem an unlikely one.

However yesterday afternoon they took to the pristine pitch at Harbison Park in the Shetland Islands, as Anglesey flew the flag for Wales in the XIth International Island Games which opened on Saturday.

It's such unexpected opportunities, that would otherwise never materialise, that make these unique 15-sport Games involving 24 islands what they are. While undoubtedly small fry in the international world of sports, they harness immense pride in the competing islands.

Now the Ynys MOn Island Games Association, which has competed in every one since their inception in the Isle of Man in 1985, is out to capture Wales' greatest multi-sport extravaganza since the Empire Games came to Cardiff in 1958.

While London and Paris were battling it out last week for the multi-billion prize of holding the 2012 Olympics, beset by much throwing of toys out of politicians' prams, nerves were just as frayed in Llangefni.

Come tomorrow they'll know whether they've won the right to host the 2009 Games or have lost out to the Finnish archipelago of uland. The winner will be announced after a vote held among representatives of all 24 competing islands at a meeting in Lerwick.

Just as Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac were involved in a verbal bun fight before the English capital pipped its French enemies to the Olympic post, Ynys MOn's joust with uland has not been without a few choice insults being hurled around.

And especially so after the International Island Games Association backed Ynys MOn's bid, urging the 24 member islands to award the Games to Wales' solo representatives.

Brian Partington, Manx-based chairman-elect of the association, says that it's still touch and go who'll get the nod tomorrow' It's very difficult to say. uland's bid is a very strong one - they have tremendous facilities and hosted a very successful Games in 1991,' he said.

'We realise Ynys MOn had some deficiencies which they've sought to address, and are now in a position to host the Games. We believe the benefits of hosting the Games will be much greater for Anglesey than for uland, and that's part of our remit.'

Rob Batiste, head honcho of the Guernsey Athletics Association, however raised Welsh hackles by asking why his athletes should have to compete in an 'unappealing destination' such as Ynys MOn.

'I am sure that the Falklands, too, could benefit from improved sporting facilities, but will the Games ever go to the deep South Atlantic?

Not on your nelly,' he wrote in the Guernsey Press and Star.

'Surely the potential of a warm week in a pretty Scandinavian island at a time when there would be close to 24-hour daylight will attract the best possible athletes to the biennial event? What's the point of an event which is such a turn-off to prospective competitors that islands travel without many of their top performers?'

He erroneously went on to claim that the athletics track at Treborth that Ynys MOn intends to use if it hosts the Games is '30 miles away in mainland Wales', not the 300 metres or so it actually is.

And he added: 'While I would welcome Ynys MOn people getting the chance to enjoy facilities the likes of we, Jersey, Isle of Man and Isle of Wight can offer its population, surely it is up to the Welsh to come up with the goods for the benefit of their people.'

Notwithstanding Batiste's warnings, the Guernsey IGA proceeded to vote 7-5 in favour of backing Ynys MOn in tomorrow's vote. Near neighbours Jersey however are set to do the opposite after 88% of the delegates convened in St Helier to discuss the matter backed uland.

Some sources in uland then weighed in with suggestions that the competition was in danger of flitting around the British Isles every two years rather than evolving into a truly international event. The Games were held in the Isle of Man in 1985 and 2001, Guernsey in 1987 and 2003, the Isle of Wight in 1993, Gibraltar in 1995, Jersey in 1997, and are of course in Shetland this year. Eight out of the 11 Games held thus far have been in venues with distinctly British connections, although the Isle of Wight lost out to Rhodes for the 2007 Games Aled Roberts, Ynys MOn council's head of leisure and a leading light on the bid panel, is robust in his defence of their proposals.

'It's true that our leisure centres have seen better days as have those of most authorities throughout Wales,' he says.

'We hope that this bid will help us get outside aid to help us improve those facilities whether or not we succeed in attracting the Games. There's no definite figure attached to this, although pounds 10m has been bandied around: it could be less or it could be more' The only facility which we haven't got as far as the Games go is a 25m)

derogatory remarks about the Welsh island, pointing out that it was just part of the politics of securing the nomination. 'What largely happened in the past was that you didn't have competing bids for the Games. When Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man won the right to host them, for example, they didn't face any other bids.'

Sports minister Alun Pugh has assured Ynys MOn that the Assembly government is fully behind the bid, and was in Shetland over the weekend pressing the flesh, as was Sports Council for Wales chairman Phillip Carling.

Brian Partington says that interest in the Island Games continues to grow apace, and that they're now facing pressure to ease the 25-member limit that has been an integral part of their constitution down the years.

'Little islands tend to be forgotten and thought of as backwaters, but the Games are a very big concern and growing all the time. Shetland this year is limited by its remoteness and the difficulty in getting accommodation there, but we expect the Games in Rhodes in 2007 to be very large' And we've an application in from our prospective 25th member island: Menorca. They're very keen to join, and they would bring a different flavour to the Games.

'We also have others keen to get on board, but at the moment there's no room because of the limit of 25 in our constitution, which will obviously have to be considered at our meeting this weeksix-lane swimming pool, which we'll have to address if we are successful with our bid.'

He brushes aside Batiste's All about ulanduLAND - pronounced ol-land - is an autonomous, demilitarised, Swedish-speaking region of Finland. Once part of the Russian Empire, it was claimed by Finland as Helsinki declared its independence from Russia in 1917.

uland consists of more than 6,500 islands and skerries, only 65 of them inhabited. The largest island is the main one of uland, which is home to 90% of the population. The population is 26,200, with 40% in the capital Mariehamn.

Its parliament has an autonomy the Welsh Assembly can only dream of. The only policy areas where Finnish law has precedence are foreign affairs, justice, customs and taxation. Only native ulanders, or those who have lived there for at least five years and speak adequate Swedish, are allowed to own property and the Shetlands Competing islands are uland, Alderney, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Faroes, Froya, Gibraltar, Gotland, Greenland, Guernsey, Hitra, Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Jersey, Orkney, Prince Edward Island, Rhodes, Saaremaa, Sark, Shetland, St Helena, Western Isles, Ynys MOn. Competitions include archery, athletics, badminton, bowls, cycling, football, golf, gymnastics, sailboarding, sailing, shooting, squash, swimming and table tennis

CAPTION(S):

Game on... uland (above) goes head-to-head with Ynys MOn tomorrow in the race for the 2009 Island Games. MOn hopes by bidding alone it will get pounds 10m to be spend on improving leisure facilities like this leisure centre (left) in Llangefni
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 11, 2005
Words:1331
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