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

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.

KFC Munch Pack

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.

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming grew up in East Dry River, Port of Spain and has more than 30 years experience as a Communication Strategist, Political Commentator and Event Planner. She has 15 years experience lecturing Business Communications at UWI and is the co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain. Dennise holds an MBA, a B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and a certificate Mass Communications from UWI.

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  1. Gone are the days of the individual athlete (the likes of Hasely Crawford, Mottley, Skinner etc) who would have done it on their own through sheer will power, talent and lots of hard work. Behind every successful athlete now is a team of highly specialized coaches and the best sports science and technology has to offer. Our athletes are up against highly specialized programs. We caught a glimpse of this with Ato and this was on display to some extent again with Keshorn. Ironically it was a previous Gov’t that played a role in the project that brought along Keshorn and a couple others. While organizers/administrators play an important role (the genuine ones at least) allow the focus to be placed on the athletes by developing the programs to unearth talent and to take that talent to the next level. In T&T the landscape is littered with too many self-serving clowns who are not prepared to stand in the shadows and allow the spotlight to fall on young up and coming talent. Unless these issues are address and sports in general is given the prominence that is necessary this situation will continue to haunt us.

  2. Shame on you, DD. There was a time when you would never hit a man when he is down.

    And let me say loudly here that all those who reserve their criticisms for AFTER the failures are mere bandwagonists who are not part of the solution but part of the problem.

  3. What we have witnessed, in the just concluded Tokyo Olympics,is the sordid state of sports in this country. in every discipline,save and except for those two upcoming young cyclist,and I will also exclude Mr.Cedeno,who has served this country with distinction,over the years,there is also some promise coming from the swimmers and the long jump young lady.
    We have for as for much years as I can remember, always relied on our foreign based athletes based in universities abroad, to supply our needs when Olympics came around. this time around the bottom was bare. these athletes and their parents put out enormous sums of money to have their children reach the heights that they achieve. while I do not know how much government input there is, but from reactions of Mr Bolton Sr and Jr and also Mr.Bovel when they were in the arena, it may not have been sufficient.
    Governments over the years in this country seem to be only interested in building stadiums when the money was good, to gloat and remind every one who could listen, that is we who build that. but stadiums sitting idle can’t win you gold medals and pride in seeing your national flag and the anthem played in front of millions around the world. programs do. but as every thing else in this place, you will find either some old relic of the past standing at the door, or worst some young buck, who wants a piece of the action before anything can happen positive,
    in sport, if we think we will win medals with that winning formula, well by all means let the masquerade continue. but if we are serious I suggest that some serious minded officials get on a plane and go to jamaica and bring back a blue print of how we could start making it happen in this island.

    • Barry, there is a magazine which TTOC published in which you will find a story by Sheldon Waithe. See if you can put your hands on the mag, read that story and see what he had to say BEFORE the Games began.

      You may find that, NOW THAT THE GAMES ARE OVER and we are medalless, you agree.

      And let me add that the games–common g–are not likely to end just because one year’s Olympic team has shown just how bare the cupboards really are.

      You can tell a lot about the vision or the bankruptcy of an administration, and, by extension, a country, by whom it chooses to be its minister of education and its minister of sport.

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