Guernsey Touch plans for World Cup reboot

Nov. 10, 2020 @ 0:00 UTC

Guernsey Touch is emerging from the pandemic with plans to compete at a FIT World Cup for the first time since 2011.

The arrival of the pandemic sent Guernsey into lockdown and stopped sporting activity, according to Ollie Ward, Chair and Coaching Director of Guernsey Touch in a recent conversation with Adam Collins from the Federation of International Touch (FIT), for an episode of ‘Set of Six’.

However, the measures put in place by government authorities were so successful that most restrictions were lifted in June.

The islands of Guernsey, located in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, with a population of 67,000 have only had 279 positive cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths. This outcome has been largely due to the requirement for anyone arriving in Guernsey to quarantine for 14 days. According to Ollie Ward Touch play resumed shortly after the lockdown restrictions were lifted on June 20 and the season went ahead with 15 Mixed teams.

Keeping talent in the Bailiwick is a challenge

The Touch player base is modest in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The term bailiwick refers to the fact that Guernsey, which is part of the Channel Islands archipelago, is a territory administered by a Bailiff, who is the island’s civil head.

According to Ollie Ward, a regular season would involve competitions with, “18 Mixed teams, four or five Women and eight or nine Men's teams.” Having a ‘revolving door’ of players is one of the real challenges for Guernsey Touch, said Ollie. The fact that the island doesn’t have a university means that after finishing school people must undertake tertiary studies elsewhere, which leads to a loss of Touch players. Similarly, people coming to work in Guernsey, who begin to play Touch, might stay for a few years but then leave.

Spoilt for sporting choice

Another recruitment challenge is competition from other sports. Watersports, such as sailing, are popular in the Channel Islands along with football and rugby. According to Ollie, although rugby players recognize the crossover benefits of Touch for rugby, such as ball skills and fitness, the 15-aside code competes for participants with Touch. “The start of the Touch season often conflicts with the tail end of the rugby season. Then towards the end of the Touch season, you start losing players who are gearing up for the pre-seasons of those sports.”  

Touch School

The continuing success of any sport is reliant on growing the participation of young people in the sport. Guernsey Touch recognize this and as Ollie Ward says, “We recently appointed a Development Officer to get in with the schools a little bit more.” Guernsey Touch is also targeting continued involvement in the European Junior Touch Championships (JTC) “We are striving to get one, or more, teams away to that in the not too distant future”, said Ollie. 

FIT support for whistleblowers

The opportunity to play competition Touch relies on having referees to officiate the game. Guernsey Touch is well placed in this regard, according to Ollie Ward, with 30-40 level one referees, a level three referee and a level five referee. The pandemic has also seen a great leap forward in the provision of online refereeing courses provided by FIT. This will be available to assist all member nations, including Guernsey, going forward. 

Engaging with commercial sponsors

Guernsey Touch has done a great job in attracting sponsorship from multinational professional services company KPMG for the last six years. This sponsorship has provided funding to assist in sending teams to the JTC and European Championships. Guernsey Touch also has access to newly renovated fields and facilities at King George V playing fields (KGV) just a few kilometres from the capital city Saint Peter Port.

Allez Guernsey Touch

Touch in Guernsey is going well. Play recommenced months ago and Guernsey Touch has a renewed focus on youth development, good referee numbers, ongoing sponsorship and access to new facilities. The 2023 World Cup will see the return of teams from Guernsey, as Ollie Ward says, “The 2011 World Cup in Scotland was the last one we attended but we certainly have plans to attend the next one.”