T&T’s Olympic athletes are suffering from govt’s haphazard approach to sport

Originally published on wired868.com on Monday 9 August 2021

I dedicated 30 months of my life to planning Trinidad and Tobago’s staging of the inaugural Caribbean Games 2009 (CG09) only to have it canceled because of the  H1N1 virus.

Despite the pleadings of the organising committee, the Games were cancelled just six weeks before the opening ceremony—dashing the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of Caribbean athletes who hoped to perform before Caribbean audiences as part of their Olympic preparations. 

Photo: Jereem Richards, acknowledges his divine help, after copping the the 200m title at the Commonwealth Games on 12 April 2018.
Richards did not medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
(Copyright Alan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The Tokyo Olympics suffered a different fate and was staged under emotionally ‘cold’ circumstances which ended with Trinidad and Tobago not appearing on the list of 86 countries that medalled.

Postings on social media and other in-person conversations lament the poor performance of our athletes, particularly when compared with the phenomenal successes of our Jamaican brothers and sisters. We forget that Jamaica has a system, a process, and a structure for selection and nurturing.  

What we need is a clear understanding of the root causes of our poor performance.

A major factor is the absence of a contiguous master plan aimed at discovering, building, and nurturing potential athletes from throughout the country despite whichever administration is in control. Over the years, several different plans have been developed for sport but with each new administration comes the abandonment of the previous plan.  

We seem to have forgotten that in a population of just over one million the talent pool is small, so it is not wise to try to reinvent the wheel simply because the face of the minister of sport has changed.

Photo: (From second to left to right) Concacaf president Victor Montagliani, then TTFA president David John-Williams, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Sport Minister Shamfa Cudjoe and deputy House Speaker Esmond Forde cut the ribbon to formally open the TTFA Home of Football in Couva on 18 November 2019.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

Nothing has happened in the past few years to give me the confidence that sport is seriously on the government’s radar. Sustained good performance will continue to elude us until we engage in serious planning to make sport the weapon of choice of our youth.  

The haphazard approach of creating a league here and competition there will neither unearth nor develop the talent needed to compete on an international stage. We continue to think that concrete structures will make a difference forgetting that, without a plan which focuses on the individuals, we will have nothing.

We continue to do well, particularly in track and field, because of the single-handed dedication of a handful of volunteers and almost-volunteers (barely paid individuals) who seem to thrive on the psychic rewards they enjoy from giving. These men and women continue to earn my total respect.

With the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Ministry of Sport has an opportunity to set new goals and put a plan in place for the next Olympic Games. The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) has an opportunity to purge itself of its ineffective leadership and provide a space for a cadre of competent, selfless leaders who would make positive change.

Photo: Tyra Gittens competes in the qualification rounds of the women’s long jump at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
(Copyright AP)

If you have hung around sports for long enough, you will know the story of the late Lystra Lewis (OBE) who has the enviable record for being the coach of the 1979 Trinidad and Tobago Netball team. In addition to winning the World Netball Championships, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country to host and win the championships.  

Her repetitive advice when I worked with her was to focus on the children and provide the structure for their performance. The advice is still golden, especially now that our performance in Tokyo has shown that talent is not absent, but without the appropriate vision supported by system and structures the next Olympics, like so many other facets of our nation’s endeavours, will stimulate the same empty conversations.

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