Liam Morgan

On the scenic drive from Lynden Pindling international airport across this quite stunning island, evidence that The Bahamas was hosting the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games was everywhere.

Banners and promotional billboards were scattered along the short route, while we were driven in buses emblazoned with the bright Bahamas 2017 logo.

Drivers have continually spoken of how proud they were to welcome the athletes, parents and officials to their country of over 390,000 people, each different one you meet giving you a Bahamian welcome.

Such is the fervour, excitement and genuine enthusiasm for the event that you would have thought they were hosting the Commonwealth Games themselves rather than the youth equivalent.

Treating it like a mega-event has meant for considerable local press coverage, with a decent-sized press corps complimented by Flow Sports, owned by principal Games sponsor Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), broadcasting action live.

This, of course, is all well and good. But the local Organising Committee have perhaps gone too far in the wrong direction in terms of the scale of the spectacle they have attempted to put on.

"It is not a big Games and we don't want it to be that way," Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) President Louise Martin, the brains behind this event having launched the inaugural edition in Edinburgh in 2000, said in the opening press conference. 

"We want to keep it small so that small countries of the Commonwealth can host these Games successfully without bankrupting themselves."

Scotland's Erin Wallace produced one of the moments of the Commonwealth Youth Games in The Bahamas with a stunning 1500m victory that marked her out as one to watch ©Getty Images
Scotland's Erin Wallace produced one of the moments of the Commonwealth Youth Games in The Bahamas with a stunning 1500m victory that marked her out as one to watch ©Getty Images

Finances do not appear to have been a problem for the Organising Committee, boosted on the eve of the event by a generous investment of $250,000 (£192,000/€214,000) from BTC. 

With that in mind, why charge ticket prices?

Sparse crowds are not uncommon at youth events but it would not be a stretch to say they would have been significantly more substantial had all of the events on the programme been free to attend.

This was even the case at the Beach Soccer World Cup, staged here in April and May. The sport has made its debut on the programme this week, leading to a quite frankly extraordinary scenario where people were not charged to see beach soccer at the format’s flagship global tournament but had to pay for a Youth Games competition featuring six Caribbean nations.

Bahamas 2017 also unnecessarily chose to implement a four-tiered ticketing system, with the best seats in the house in the "gold" category costing $35 (£27/€30), not far off the price of an English Premier League ticket at Manchester United. 

To charge such a fee in a country where wages are not especially high simply does not make sense and has not gone down well with the CGF.

As a result, some superb performances and memorable moments, such as a world-class 1500 metres run from Scotland’s Erin Wallace, have not been met with the crowd it deserved, although this is partially offset by the fact this year’s event is likely to be the most covered of all the sixth editions of the Youth Games as her display was available on global streaming platform

From an organisational point of view, credit must be given to The Bahamas, who stepped in as hosts barely 18 months ago after Saint Lucia withdrew due to financial concerns. 

They have also had a change in Government as recently as May, so to get to this point merits praise.

The venues, described by Martin as "second to none", and compact nature of the Games have been the jewels in the Bahamas 2017 crown, with the Thomas A.Robinson Stadium, graced by the likes of Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt in recent years, a more than fitting stage for the potential stars of the future.

The venues in Nassau for the sixth Commonwealth Youth Games have been outstanding ©Getty Images
The venues in Nassau for the sixth Commonwealth Youth Games have been outstanding ©Getty Images

Having six of the nine sports so close together has meant for a vibrant, energetic atmosphere in the main hub, with music and festivities underwritten by a set of friendly and accommodating locals. There was also more than a sprinkling of the "razzle-dazzle" they promised when the Caribbean country was awarded the event in January 2016.

The Games have been packed full of the usual quirky stories, of tales of mammoth journeys undertaken by youngsters from far parts of the Pacific to compete at what for most of them is their first multi-sport event.

Athletes have ventured here from countries such as the Norfolk Islands, Niue and Tuvalu, where it has taken more than 30 hours to travel from. Some of the more established nations, such as Australia, even struggled to arrive here on time for the Games after a delayed flight in Brisbane caused a scattering of the team to as many as seven different airports across the United States before they eventually caught connections to Nassau.

For the athletes, unquestionably at the heart of these Games, it will have been more than worth it.

A familiar sight in the first few days was of CGF staff frantically scurrying around the venues in an attempt to resolve issues that had arisen but as the event got into full flow, these gradually became lost in the sport and of the stories of triumph, such as historic gold medals for Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda and a bronze medal for a Rwandan volleyball team who had only started playing the beach format last month.

The CGF appear to be between a rock and a hard place with the Commonwealth Youth Games. Do they follow the trend of expansion, seen in both the Olympic programme and in terms of the numbers of competing nations in football’s World Cup, to seek a more prominent global profile for the event?

This appears unlikely, with Martin remaining firmly of the belief that the Games should remain a small-scale celebration of sport rather than an expensive and overly lavish event and should they choose to follow that path they risk losing part of its quaint charm.

CGF President Louise Martin has pledged that the Commonwealth Youth Games will remain a small-scale event ©Getty Images
CGF President Louise Martin has pledged that the Commonwealth Youth Games will remain a small-scale event ©Getty Images

Reducing costs is a priority for the CGF, not just in terms of bidding for their flagship Commonwealth Games but also for the youth version, if it is to be an attractive proposition for countries who may be interested in bringing the event to their own nation in years to come.

The event has been through its fair share of hosting difficulties in recent years, although this is of no fault of the CGF, as Saint Lucia’s withdrawing from staging the 2017 Games has been exacerbated by concerns as to whether Northern Ireland will be able to host the 2021 edition.

Belfast 2021 has been a key talking point among the Commonwealth Games Associations this week, along with the developing race for the 2022 Games, stripped from Durban in March after the South African city failed to meet a series of financial deadlines.

Governmental deadlock in Northern Ireland has meant the Executive to release the necessary funding has not yet been signed off. It would be a real shame if a political impasse was to strike a fatal blow to their chances.

After all, the country has suffered a well-documented turbulent past and hosting the Youth Games will bring a smile to the faces of a nation which has been through so much. Let’s hope Northern Ireland does not go the same way as Saint Lucia and Durban but, until a deal is struck and a Government is formed in Northern Ireland, the more likely that troubling prospect becomes.

It has given the likes of Martin and CGF chief executive David Grevemberg plenty to ponder as they prepare to make their journeys home, back past all of the reminders of the week gone by.