By Zaira Starnai
This year’s Community Games at the Athlone Institute of Technology carried on a near 50-year tradition of passion for sport in welcoming more than 7,000 youngsters over four days of competitions this past August.
Founded in 1967 to encourage healthy activities among young people in Ireland, the Community Games is as ever run by an independent voluntary body, with the support of the HSE, and caters for both individual disciplines, such as cycling, gymnastics, swimming, judo and athletics, and team sports like basketball, Gaelic games, soccer and even activities like choir and debating.
This variety has been one of the core strengths of the Community Games throughout the years, as it shows children that there’s more to getting active than kicking a ball around – and they might find their passion in a less popular activity.
Of course soccer is still one of Ireland’s most popular sports, and the first two days of this year’s Community Games were dedicated mainly to ‘the beautiful game’.
Despite being dwarfed by the full-size pitch, and somewhat hindered by the lack of changing rooms, Gurranabraher from Cork beat Sligo’s St Mary’s 2-1 to win the under-12 soccer final on Saturday 16 August. They were among the many across the four days to receive Uefa ‘Respect’ flags and captain armbands from Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari) officials, who were in Athlone as guests of the games organisers.
The following weekend, which scheduled mostly track and field events, attracted even bigger crowds in spite of the rain and cold weather. Ethnic diversity was also very evident among the children taking part in running heats, many of them not members of their local athletics clubs – perhaps a question that needs to be answered.
As for the Community Games themselves, participants and spectators alike identified some areas of improvement for next year, such as more stewards to manage crowds and more variety in food options – more healthy meals and less of the fast food snacks. Another significant proposal many agreed with is the potential inclusion of children from the nearby direct provision centre.
Sari will also participate in next year’s games by sending volunteers to help the set-up and organisation.
All the results from this year’s Community Games can be viewed online at www.communitygames.ie.