In a recent development that has raised eyebrows across the Cayman Islands, tourism officials have come under fire for their involvement in a contentious sponsorship strategy. The controversy, which has been brewing for 20 months, reached a significant milestone when the Cayman ombudsman ruled against the government’s claim that the requested information was confidential due to commercial sensitivity or trade secrets. The ruling came after persistent efforts by The Cayman Compass, a prominent news organization.
Former Bermuda reporter James Whittaker penned an article shedding light on the Cayman government’s sponsorship of British sports teams, a move that raised questions about the allocation of taxpayer funds to promote tourism from the United Kingdom.
The Cayman Department of Tourism reportedly disbursed more than half a million dollars over a three-year period to sponsor various British sports teams. While some of these teams enjoyed considerable media attention, such as the London Irish Rugby Club, Portsmouth FC, and Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, others were relatively obscure, attracting minimal media coverage and fan support. Notably, the Old Cranleighan Hockey Club falls into the latter category.
Critics have questioned the government’s decision to sponsor a recreational field hockey team with no substantial fanbase, especially due to its ties to Adrian White, Cayman’s senior tourism official in the UK. The controversy came to light when TheCayman Compass submitted an open records request, which was initially filed a year earlier. The Department of Tourism’s response revealed the financial support given to the Old Cranleighan Hockey Club, amounting to £10,000 per year over the three-year period, but withheld crucial details about the contracts, the benefits received in return, and any business justifications or value-for-money analyses.
Adrian White’s connection to the Old Cranleighan Hockey Club, where he has played for the teams and coached in their junior program, has raised serious questions about the selection process for teams benefiting from Cayman Islands sponsorship funds. White’s affiliation with the Surrey-based hockey team has ignited concerns about potential conflicts of interest and the transparency of the decision-making process.
While the records provided in response to TheCayman Compass’s freedom of information request included annual payments made by the Department of Tourism to each club, they lacked comprehensive details regarding what the department and the country gained from these sponsorships.
In response to the growing scrutiny, a spokesperson for the Department of Tourism emphasized their commitment to addressing potential conflicts of interest and stated that they were actively reviewing the matter. The department now has 45 days to decide whether to appeal the ombudsman’s ruling, ensuring that this controversy continues to be a focal point of public interest and accountability in the Cayman Islands.