With 33 gold metals, the Channel Island of Jersey had its nose ahead at the XVIII “NatWest International Island Games”, held across 14 very different types of sport on the Gibraltar peninsula in 2019. The surface for the athletics competitions was prepared by Polytan, with the manufacturer installing a blue tartan track in the Lathbury Sports Centre.
However, this wasn’t the only major contract this year on the little peninsula with its famous rock and Barbary apes – Polytan also installed a synthetic turf field in the Victoria Stadium as well as a combined cricket and rugby pitch in the Europe Sports Complex at Europa Point. Not only were all three sites just a few kilometres apart, but all three projects had to be completed in ultra-quick time.
It’s worth noting that the British overseas territory of Gibraltar has had its own football team since as far back as 1895. Numbering some 34,500 inhabitants, the little country has been a full member of UEFA since 2013, and of FIFA since 2016. That means Gibraltar’s national team can take part in official EUFA and FIFA competitions such as European Championships and World Cups.
There was initial resistance from the Spanish side, since the big neighbour claims the territory on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula for itself. The problem was solved – at least as far as football is concerned – by ensuring that the national teams of Spain and Gibraltar cannot meet each other in the group stages of international tournaments.
The venue for all international matches of the Gibraltar national team is the Victoria Stadium, a football ground for 5,000 spectators with synthetic turf and a tartan track that is located in the northern part of the island, in the immediate vicinity of the airport and the Spanish mainland.
In summer 2019, however, the existing football turf had to be replaced because a major event lasting a number of weeks had caused too much damage. And if the surface had not been renovated, the upcoming qualifying matches for the 2020 European Championships would have had to be relocated to the Portuguese city of Faro instead – but this was only a plan B, which was avoided thanks to the rapid installation of a new synthetic turf system from Polytan.
The choice for the new playing surface fell on the LigaTurf RS+ synthetic turf from Polytan, which has FIFA Quality Pro certification. One of the challenges for the Polytan staff was the tight timescale for the project: the new playing surface had to be installed within just ten days.
This was due to the surprising success of Gibraltar’s national team, which had to play additional matches in the UEFA Europa League. That left just 10 days between two fixtures in which to install the new synthetic football turf.
Almost as little time, just three days more, was available to the Polytan staff for the installation of a new tartan track in the Lathbury Sports Centre – the second major construction site on the Gibraltar peninsula in summer 2019.
Featuring around 2,000 athletes, the Island Games were held in Gibraltar between 6 and 12 July 2019. The sports festival is hosted on a rotating basis and takes place every two years. It is open to athletes from autonomous islands and island groups ranging from Greenland, the largest island, to Alderney, one of the smallest.
Gibraltar is an exception, given that it is “just” a peninsula with direct access to the mainland. Given its isolated location, however, the British crown colony is allowed to participate anyway. The tournament comprises 12 to 14 types of sport, which are determined by the particular organiser. The range of sports extends from swimming, cycling and archery through sailing, motorsport and golf to triathlon, gymnastics and tennis.
In Gibraltar, the athletes competed for gold, silver and bronze in the Lathbury Sports Centre in summer 2019. The venue is located in the south of the island, above a multi-storey car park built into the rock, and was given a new tartan track from Polytan specifically for the Island Games. Or, to be more precise, a 13 mm thick Rekortan M synthetic surface in sky blue.
Following the Island Games, at which Gibraltar carried off 8 gold medals, 12 silver medals and 9 bronze medals, the old turf from the Victoria Stadium was laid on the playing field in the centre of the new running track. This means the sports venue now offers not only a professional athletics facility, but also a football pitch.
Last but not least, the third major construction site in summer 2019 was a new synthetic turf pitch in the Europe Sports Complex. This, too, had to be completed in ultra-quick time, since this was where the celebrations organised as part of the Island Games were held.
Gibraltar has been under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom since the Spanish War of Succession in 1704. Nine years later Spain ceded the peninsula to Great Britain entirely in the 1713 “Peace of Utrecht”.
This British influence of more than 200 years is also noticeable in sport: the typically English sports of rugby and cricket have managed to establish themselves firmly in Gibraltar.
In advance of the Island Games, for instance, a new combination pitch for cricket and rugby was installed on the southern tongue of Gibraltar, where the island projects into the Strait of Gibraltar. The most suitable surface for this requirement was the LigaTurf RS+ WCE (World Cup Edition) synthetic turf system, which has World Rugby certification.
Athletics, football, rugby and cricket – Gibraltar is ideally equipped for future sporting events. For the Polytan teams, the challenge in summer 2019 consisted in delivering three major building projects in a matter of weeks.
The results can be seen for themselves: international football matches are now held on the new synthetic turf in Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium, while the same goes for rugby and cricket in the Europe Sports Centre at Europa Point. For athletics, the Lathbury Sports Centre has been equipped with a professional tartan surface that delights athletes across the world with its outstanding acceleration and tread elasticity.