Home / Rio 2016 / Our Olympic athletes did their best, we did not; Griffith: Politicians are to blame

Our Olympic athletes did their best, we did not; Griffith: Politicians are to blame

Former National Security Minister and People’s Partnership Senator, Gary Griffith, blamed his former colleagues for mistreating athletes and the current political rulers for exploiting them in his Letter to the Editor on Trinidad and Tobago’s showing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games:

It has always been our custom that our supporters are very hard to please when it comes to demand for success in sport.

When our athletes  succeed, they are hailed as heroes. But if they do not, they are attacked, blamed and discredited.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Jehue Gordon (second from right) challenges competitors (from left) Keisuke Nozawa (Japan), Jaheel Hyde (Jamaica), Thomas Barr (Ireland) and Sergio Fernandez in the 400 metre hurdle heats at the Rio 2016 Olympics on 15 August 2016. (Copyright Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Jehue Gordon (second from right) challenges competitors (from left) Keisuke Nozawa (Japan), Jaheel Hyde (Jamaica), Thomas Barr (Ireland) and Sergio Fernandez in the 400 metre hurdle heats at the Rio 2016 Olympics on 15 August 2016.
(Copyright Sean Morrison/Wired868)

However, what has been seen and heard during and after the recent Rio 2016 Olympics, by many who have voiced their hurt and disappoint due to the virtually bare cupboard of medals, is indeed unfair. The attacks are pointing in the wrong direction.

Having been involved in national sporting contingents for years—as manager of teams for the Commonwealth, Pan Am and CAC Games—never have I ever seen such criticism and hostility on our own.

The hate campaign started before they even left our shores, over the selection of Marisa Dick in gymnastics. And whilst there are indeed serious matters to be dealt with on that issue, what was alarming were the ridiculous comments by many that “if someone is not born here, then they should not represent us.”

These person obviously are not living in the real world. At the Rio Olympics, almost nine percent of athletes competing in the 10 largest Olympic teams were born in another country, which shows each country knows that finding the talented athlete within the guidelines, regardless of place of birth, is now part of the process.

Several Jamaican athletes defected to represent other countries while a US athlete married a Jamaican one month before the Olympics and acquired a medal for her newly adopted country in Rio.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Marisa Dick goes through her routine on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games on 7 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Marisa Dick goes through her routine on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games on 7 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

In fact, we scraped into the 2006 World Cup finals, thanks to an equalizer at home against Bahrain by Chris Birchall, who never saw our island until weeks before the qualifiers started, while ex-England under-17 captain, John Bostock, will soon be representing our country as well.

So those who make such outdated criticisms indeed need to get with the programme.

More importantly however, is the constant pressure that our athletes have to endure over lack of proper preparation prior to major events, including the Olympics. For too long, our athletes have succeeded on raw talent but this can only go so far.

The nation does not know the trials and tribulations that these athletes go through in representing our country. Despite our vast resources, their preparation and development is limited due to inadequate funding.

But when they succeed, they are met at the airport with fanfare and lots of empty promises from politicians seeking political mileage rather than to help the athlete.

Our sportsmen are fed up of being used and treated like dirt, yet still pressured by a  demanding public.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson (right) tries unsuccessfully to hold off Jamaica legend Usain Bolt in the first round of the 100 metre event at the Rio Olympics on 13 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson (right) tries unsuccessfully to hold off Jamaica legend Usain Bolt in the first round of the 100 metre event at the Rio Olympics on 13 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

These are just a few examples of what they go through:

•Keshorn Walcott was given a javelin prior to London 2012 and, on the assumption that he was not going to do anything of substance, was told by the official “we only lending you this. make sure you bring it back when you return”.

•After his Gold medal success and a long journey to achieve this, he was given an economy class ticket to return home.

•Another  athlete who reached a final in Rio, had to wait months to acquire a measly $5,000 to get a critical MRI scan, which obviously affected her training.

•Certain athletes, just a few months before Rio—instead of focusing on their preparations—were asking me for sponsorship money to assist in their preparation.

•The National Hockey Team had flights booked to travel to Washington for the Pan Am Cup but, up to the night before, were still waiting for Cabinet approval for their trip, as has been the case with several other national teams over the years.

•As a Government Minister, I  was forced to visit the National Men’s Football team in the hotel the night before they departed for the 2014 Caribbean Cup finals in Jamaica and assure them that their massive outstanding fees would be forthcoming soon, so they would board the aircraft the following day.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Radanfah Abu Bakr (centre) walks away while Haiti players celebrate their 1-0 win in the 2016 Copa America play off contest at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium, Panama City on 8 January 2016. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago defender Radanfah Abu Bakr (centre) walks away while Haiti players celebrate their 1-0 win in the 2016 Copa America play off contest at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium, Panama City on 8 January 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

•The night before their final game in that same tournament, I had to again call to give them some assurance, as they were demotivated and felt they were being tricked.

•Several of our talented athletes are employed in two jobs, to make ends meet, and skate in to training totally burnt out and with improper diets, which affects their training and development.

•Our Women’s Hockey Team, for which I am team manager, had such inadequate funding that seven persons had to sleep in a two-person room during World Cup qualifiers while there were no funds for meals or transport. But, when they qualified for the World Cup finals, all the pomp, fanfare and promises were thrown at them on their return.

The list is long. This is what must end. Our athletes need the support prior to international tournaments and not cosmetic rewards after.

The fiasco on Keshorn Walcott’s  return was as ridiculous as one could get, and sums up how our athletes are treated, used and abused.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted gold medalist Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted gold medalist Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.

After a gruelling two weeks in London and a nine hour flight, he was thrown on to a truck and spent several hours from the airport to Toco surrounded by politicians who gave out cups to supporters. Not of Keshorn, but with pictures of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on them.

It is clear that these charades are designed to use athletes, solely to glorify politicians.

Over the last week, similar excursions around the country were conducted—so packed with Government officials that you could not see the athletes—which was followed by the usual nonsensical promises of naming planes and schools after them, so the politicians can cut ribbons and get more mileage.

And when that hype dies, the same athletes are forgotten.

I had several meetings with Mr Walcott’s coach and Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) officials after the London Olympics when we tried to deal with what was really needed to support him, as the Elite Athlete funding just not cutting it.

What was proposed was a four-year program to prepare us for Rio and ensure that our possible Olympic athletes would have all the administrative, logistic and financial support required. Additionally, they were to be given a salary and, in return, when the athletes were not on competitive duty or training, they were to contribute to national development by training and lecturing in schools and at youth club teams.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago shot put champion Cleopatra Borel ponders her next throw at the 2016 NAAA National Championships. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CAI Images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago shot put champion Cleopatra Borel ponders her next throw at the 2016 NAAA National Championships.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CAI Images/Wired868)

Hence we would be using our best sportsmen in each field to develop our youths.

It is this type of system that was missing, which included provision of proper international exposure, counselling, psychologists, nutritionists, massage therapists, etc, along with a proper medical plan so their focus would be—not on the administrative details but—on simply preparation and training.

This was submitted to then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who initially voiced support and promised to establish it under the Office of the Prime Minister. But it was then shifted to the Ministry of Sport, transformed into Life Sport with more than five times the initial budget and ended up benefiting criminal elements rather than our national athletes who should have used that money to prepare for Rio.

It is also quite disappointing that 40 years after our first Gold medal, we are still asking our athletes what they want after they medal.

What is required, as is done in many other countries, is a set policy known beforehand for rewards in five specific ranges, starting from qualification to the Olympics and World Championships, to reaching the final and acquiring bronze, silver or gold.

The journey to Tokyo must begin now, and it must be done with a proper structure, which must also include horses for courses.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Cedenio gestures before competing in the Men’s 400m Semifinal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 13 August 2016. (Copyright Johannes Eisele/AFP 2016)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Cedenio gestures before competing in the Men’s 400m Semifinal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 13 August 2016.
(Copyright Johannes Eisele/AFP 2016)

We are so behind the eight ball that we do not understand the critical role of a Chef de Mission, who can be the catalyst for success or the cause for failure.

A Chef de Mission is the virtual Manager of all the Managers, and must be at the Games Village more than any other. So it is absurd to have allowed the head of our contingent to moonlight and spend most of his time on ESPN, speaking about other teams and how great and talented they are, without expecting that this would affect our team.

It is these minor things that can affect concentration and morale—and are often overlooked—which could cost us a medal.

We need to start supporting our athletes and not giving them lip service. TTOC president Brian Lewis’ goal of 10 gold medals by 2024 is indeed still attainable.

Our results in Rio showed that we are failing our athletes and not the other way around.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago cyclist Njisane Phillip gathers his thoughts during action at the Rio 2016 Olympics on 12 August. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago cyclist Njisane Phillip gathers his thoughts during action at the Rio 2016 Olympics on 12 August.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

About Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor
Want to share your thoughts with Wired868? Email us at editor@wired868.com. Please keep your blog between 300 to 800 words and be sure to read it over first for typos and punctuation.

Check Also

T&T fall 3-1 to Ecuador amid general apathy; local tv stations snub game

Trinidad and Tobago were well beaten but not disgraced in Guayaquil tonight as the Soca …

47 comments

  1. Let’s just clear up the misconception one more time – it has nothing to do with where Dick was born. It has everything to do with the manner in which the selection was administrated. Agree with the article as a whole however.

  2. You are correct Dennis Allen. Gary played hockey for Notre Dame and QP Hockey club. He still plays veteran Hockey with QP.

  3. Gary said a lot of what had already been vented. He did have nice things to say as to how athletes were supposed to spend their time preparing for the next Olympics. ..getting a salary, the right coaches and all the resources required to excel at elite level. However reading this just makes me more angry about the Lifesport debacle that basically robbed deserving athletes of funding that was siphoned into the pockets of hardened criminals like Ali and softened criminals like Anil. As the minister of national security Gary should have been in a position to stop this. Yes he was a part of the reason the public found out but it would have been nice to take a stand BEFORE we lost those hundreds of millions. All those people who were part of that bloodsucking cabinet trying to reinvent themselves to gain public sympathy. Too little too late.

  4. Oh and tell him to mind he cyat cause when he was dey it was the same thing. Politicians who complain when they no longer in office just boring now

  5. Lasana Liburd please inform Gary of the real reason Dick got hate… we eh have no issues with somebody who was not born here representing we – I mean who wouldn’t want to be a Trini?

  6. Paula Paulene… You’re not going to be happy. Let me apologise in advance!

  7. Always Blame somebody else. Games are wars of the mind. If you don’t see it that way you would always be huffed.

  8. Earl Best

    Spoken/written/put together like a true politician. One isn’t quite sure whether to laugh or cry in response.

    Let us now wait for his second letter on the birdsong eviction.

    And look forward to his third on the 2017 Budget.

  9. She was next to Keshorn handing them out and there were persons with the entourage handing them out.

  10. I didn’t see it Joan, I heard she was handing out mugs

  11. The face of KPB was on one side and the coat of arms on the other side.

  12. Nice. Like someone else said…He, an ex-politician himself realizes this now *insert sarcasm here*

  13. When your mandate (and your boss) changes every five years, what do you expect?

  14. This letter is years late. A more timely letter would be the one criticising the security consultants for the fiasco that is entry into the stadium every time there is a national men’s senior team match.
    On another note, if Gary was busy being “forced” to meet with footballers and having meetings with Olympic coaches, when was he tending to national security business?

  15. oh really, u now know that, we ordinary citizens knows that along time. thanks for waking from your slumber.

  16. GG should take them to dinner at Trotters!!!

  17. He made some very valid points, but the horse has bolted. I want to see Minutes of those Cabinet meetings where he voiced his displeasure at their actions

  18. Wait. I see what you mean Savitri Maharaj! Thanks

  19. Yes they were. I saw pictures of people dumping them in the garbage after….

  20. I know that happened when Keshorn came back from London.

  21. The man had a view to contribute to Wired868. I thought it was worth publishing since he was close enough to the action and actually does have a background in sport.

  22. Nice… we are slowly getting down to the nitty gritty. The behind the scenes shenanigans. The broken promises. The used of the athletes successes for political gain. I also lay blame on TTOC & NAAA leadership for failure to nip the political BS in the butt. The Ministry of Sport needs to be visionary, have a National mission and setup expectations for every sporting organization on T&T.

  23. Nice… we are slowly getting down to the nitty gritty. The behind the scenes shenanigans. The broken promises. The use of the athletes successes for political gain. I also lay blame on TTOC & NAAA leadership for failure to nip the political BS in the butt. The Ministry of Sport needs to be visionary, have a National mission and setup expectations for every sporting organization on T&T.

  24. Sigh….. How is he any different from the People He Criticizing??
    Can’t remember Gary Opposing Life Sport at No Time??
    Apart from that, everything is always easier in hindsight…

    He did raise some Valid Points though, Albeit Hypocritically.

  25. ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it’
    I see what you did Mr. Lasana

  26. Coachman is anybody jumping in the the ring ,it’s a brawl folks get in as much jabs as possible

  27. . Trini should be a live stream on the Comedy Channel..

  28. Hahahahahahahahahahah oh hahahahahahahahahahah this is paradise

  29. He speaks on National (In)Security and Sports now? Oh wait, he used to teach another PM’s daughter tennis so I guess he’s a sport expert too.