A Guide to the Island Games

All information in this blog post is correct as of the publishing date,  05.05.2023

The excitement begins to ramp up for the NatWest International Island Games XIX as Guernsey will be hosting the sporting event from 8-14 July after being postponed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Island Games is a unique, multidisciplinary sporting spectacle that is held every two years and is probably best described as a scaled-down version of the Olympics! In this blog post, we share some details about the history of the Games, the sports which are contested during the week-long celebration, and a few of the famous athletes who cut their teeth at this friendly but fiercely competitive event.


The Island Games were only meant to happen once. Back in 1985, the Isle of Man decided to host a ‘Year of Sport’. The highlight of this ambitious event was the ‘Inter-Island Games’, which involved inviting over a dozen other islands from around the world to send teams of athletes to compete in seven different sports.

This inaugural event proved to be a huge success – so much so that the organisers, and others who had been impressed, decided that it needed to be held again. Guernsey was chosen to hold the second Games, which were even more successful: the second instalment of the event featured three more islands than the first, as well two more sports and over 1,000 athletes (up from 700).

Since these early days, the Games has continued to go from strength to strength, and the present-day tournament is in a better state than ever before. Interest in competing in the Games is now such that membership of the event’s governing body (the International Island Games Association) has had to be limited to 25, whilst hosts can now choose to stage over a dozen sports; and, in terms of the number of competitors, the Games of 2023 in Guernsey are expected to be the biggest yet by some distance – it is estimated that around 2,500 athletes have been chosen to showcase their sporting prowess.

As for the most successful island to ever compete in the Games? Jersey leads the way in terms of both golds and total podium places – they have an impressive 78 more golds and 210 more medals than the Isle of Man, the next highest medal-winners. In terms of the best-performing island compared to the size of their population, however, the clear winner is Sark (which we’re proud to say is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey!), whose 20 successes equate to one in every 30 islanders taking home a medal.


The sports which will be staged at the Games in are:

  • Archery
  • Athletics
  • Badminton
  • Basketball
  • Bowls (indoor)
  • Cycling
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Sailing (& windsurfing)
  • Shooting (clay, pistol, rifle & full bore)
  • Swimming
  • Table tennis
  • Tennis
  • Triathlon

Athletics at the Island Games

To date, only four sports have proved consistently popular enough with participants and spectators to feature at every Games event since 1985: athletics (which includes various races, as well as hurdles, long jump and more), shooting, swimming and volleyball.

By contrast, the sports that have featured least often in the history of the Games  are bowls and, perhaps more surprisingly, squash – just three and four times respectively –. Guernsey has been extremely successful at bowls and has absolutely dominated when this sport has featured.

Guernsey has always punched above its weight at the Games, having won 482 golds and a total of 1,474 medals, placing the island second in the overall rankings. Part of this consistent success is surely down to the excellent quality of Guernsey’s sporting facilities, which are arguably second to none in the Channel Islands and have played a significant role in helping local athletes develop their skills. It is perhaps for this reason that Guernsey has been chosen to become the very first island to host the Games on three separate occasions! The 2023 event follows the memorable Games of 2003 (which, fittingly, saw Guernsey finish top of the medal table) and 1987, which – being only the second time the Games were held – went a long way towards ensuring the spectacle would become a regular highlight for the world’s island residents.

Jersey & Guernsey Island Games Podium

Former athletes

Despite it being relatively unknown compared to, say, the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, there is no doubt that the Island Games is now regarded as an important global sporting event, both in terms of the quality of the performances on show and its amazing ability to unite some of the world’s most isolated communities in a week-long spectacle of competition.

And, of course, the Games often prove to be a fantastic training ground for athletes who will later go on to become leading names in their sports. Several former Games competitors have later represented their parent countries at the Olympic Games, including several Brits who are familiar household names. The Games may be comparatively small, but they are unquestionably an excellent place to see some of the stars of tomorrow.

Some of the most famous individuals who began their international sporting careers at the Games include Mark Cavendish MBE (a cyclist hailing from the Isle of Man who is regarded as the best sprinter to have ever competed in the Tour de France), Kelly Sotherton (an Isle of Wight heptathlete who is one of the only women to have won multiple Olympic medals in her particular sport) and Guernsey’s own Lee Merrien, who was chosen to compete at the London Olympic Games in 2012 after a fan-led Facebook campaign successfully lobbied UK Athletics to include him in the team!

Keep up to date with information about the Guernsey 2023 NatWest International Island Games XIX on their official website.