There is no reason to be harsh towards the Trinidad and Tobago athletes who represented us at the Rio Olympics 2016. They tried their best.
However it is clear that a precursor to the negative feelings was the country’s outrage at one of the selection processes and the apparent supervisory impotence or indifference of the fast and fat-talking Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) jefe to the clamour.
Professional responsibilities restrain me from referring any further to that one impugned selection process. Nevertheless our country’s sports administration must come under close scrutiny in light of disappointment at our lack of medals in the Rio Olympics other than Keshorn Walcott’s bronze, although the disappointment is somewhat misguided as a result of emotional media hype and official fat talk.
There is no need for much guidance from commentators on this subject. Our veteran Olympic swimmer, George Bovell—as did Great Britain’s swimming coach—made strong statements about the slackness of the international swimming body.
Here at home, there have been well-informed rumblings about cycling administration, relay preparation, team unity and what is the purpose of a Chef de Mission if duties like presenting protests against disqualification are the exclusive business of the manager or the management team of each discipline.
The Chef de Mission has explained these demarcation lines in a recent interview in the Trinidad Guardian also designed to find out how come he had time to be a commentator for ESPN. I enjoyed his commentary but it suggests that he had plenty time on his hands.
The explanation raises questions about the size of the delegations that accompany the athletes. Let me put this in a context outside of Trinidad and Tobago so that it will be clear that it is not a novel question.
In neighbouring St Kitts and Nevis, their outstanding sprinter, Kim Collins, was expelled from the 2012 London Olympic games for allegedly missing training sessions. Collins said the dispute arose over his spending a night outside the Olympic village in a hotel with his wife and children.
As the dispute raged, Collins was quick to jeer that his country has six athletes but nine officials. The issue was eventually settled and Collins competed in Rio.
In the aftermath of our Rio disappointments the athletics establishments are now passing everything off with “we have talented athletes and we are going to rebuild for Tokyo 2020”. So what qualifying standards will be set, especially for membership of a relay team?
Are we going to re-examine these and our timing technology on which we depend for our national records?
These public relations exercises remind me of the cry of “94 for sure” after we had taken it for granted that we were going to the 1990 World Cup football tournament before the debacle of the 19 November 1989 qualifier against USA.
The one ramajay that is laughable is that we will put a structure in place like Jamaica. In this country we do not like too much structure because it will dilute the contact system.
This pernicious system is lucrative and there is great public concern that it impacts preferential treatment for funding and free trips in all aspects of national life in which State agencies hold the purse strings.
Moreover sudden reference to Jamaica’s athletic structure is laughable because the Jamaican tradition of building athletic capacity through school sports is long-standing. Its renowned premier inter-school championship, known as Jamaica Champs, is a tradition reportedly going back to 1911.
Every biographical reference to a Jamaican athlete includes a reference to what school he or she attended. We must also keep a balanced perspective. Having, once in a generation or two, a Usain Bolt—or a Brian Lara in cricket—is a gift.
The task ahead is how do we convert personal best to a medal place?
As one recent editorial commented there is always “a howling for money.” I join with those who say money cannot buy medals if the resources money can buy are not carefully chosen by reference to dedicated athletic development programmes run by proven coaches.
Bravo, Minister of Sport Darryl Smith for stating that athletics programmes must begin in the primary schools. Make it happen and dilute the “barbarism” about which the Prime Minister recently expressed concern.
Going forward with the task there is urgent need to strip away the masks from the governing bodies as well as from the relationships between those governing bodies and the TTOC. We need to understand their respective powers, duties, roles and governance practices.
We also need full transparency in respect of the flows of funds and the criteria for investing those funds in potential athletic prowess.
Until there is accountability at all levels of sport administration, everything else is wishful thinking of Olympian proportions and a disappointed nation will never know whether our athletic interests are being served unencumbered by personal interests and producing value for money. Robber talk will not do.