One Region
August 21, 2012
A single Caribbean Sports Academy – Part 2

The success of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games in London has created an illusion of the greatness of athleticism throughout the region.{{more}} The brutal truth is that it is athletes from only four countries, principally Jamaica, who were responsible for the Caribbean’s success.

Jamaica won 12 medals (four gold) and was number 18 of the 79 counties that won medals. Trinidad and Tobago, at number 47, was next with five medals (one gold), followed by the Bahamas and Grenada jointly at number 50 with one medal each (gold). Unfortunately, the other 9 participating CARICOM countries won nothing. Therefore, CARICOM countries collectively won 19 out of 302 medals.

The jeopardy of the claim that “Caribbean” athletes did so well is that governments and the private sector might relax into believing that they need do nothing to develop athletes, since their natural talent will guarantee success. That would be a dangerous fallacy.

But, let me praise the CARICOM athletes. Coming from a total population of just over 5 million people and with very little financial support, they were outstanding, and the Caribbean people have every right to be proud of them. Usain Bolt has done more to make the world aware and admiring of Jamaica than anyone since or before Bob Marley. Keshorn Walcott, who won the javelin gold medal, has certainly made Finland and Eastern European countries aware of Trinidad and Tobago. He has claimed a place that they long held and he has simply boggled their minds. Grenada’s young Kirani James was stunning in winning gold in the 400 metres, but he was extraordinary in waiting to congratulate the man who finished the race last – the double-amputee from South Africa Oscar Pistorius. James won gold in the hearts of people all over the world for that single act of human kindness. He was a credit to the Caribbean.

Others competed well in their heats, among them Daniel Bailey of Antigua and Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados. They gave their all, and they deserve praise for their magnificent efforts. They would certainly have done better with more help.

The stamp that the athletes, who won gold medals, have put on competitive sport at a global level has earned their countries global recognition. It is recognition which the tourism authorities, especially in Jamaica, should capitalise on now and invest in for the future.

But, are the 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries ready for a single sports academy, located in Jamaica (as was proposed in my last commentary), to be charged with the specific responsibility of preparing the region’s ‘elite’ athletes for international competition? The proposal for such an academy is not “instead of” national training and coaching starting from primary schools. It is very much “in addition to” such training and coaching. Without it, the Caribbean’s ‘elite’ athletes will compete at the global level and some of them will succeed, but the performance of the London Olympics will not be sustained, and it may well decline. Even the best athletes require financial support, professional coaching and proper training – that’s what turns raw talent into sustained winners. And that is what a single sports academy, supported by governments and the private sector of the region, should be doing.

As an example, the British government is investing US$790 million over the next four years in preparing British athletes for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Could a single sports academy for the Caribbean Community happen? Below is a sampling of the responses that my last commentary received.

From the Bahamas: “The Caribbean excelled at London however at least for the Bahamas if it was not for the numerous Athletic Scholarships to US Colleges and Universities there would not have been the success there has been. Other than Cuba probably Jamaica is the only country that could fiscally develop this with athletes from the smaller countries co-using the facilities of Jamaica, but Jamaica is not going to fund that for fun. There will be a cost. Can the smaller countries afford the costs”?

From Grenada: “As a proud Grenadian, and as Jamaicans like to call us, ‘Small Islander’, I wish that there is no sports integration that includes Jamaica! It is bad enough that Jamaican music dominates the English speaking Caribbean. Worst, yet is that the violence, and poverty that is endemic to Jamaica is slowly seeping to other peaceful islands. Jamaica should be for Jamaicans, and we should be happy for that. Furthermore, why would any other small island want to be lumped and piled with that chaotic trouble spot”.

From Jamaica: “The other Caribbean islands need to send students to GC Foster Collage to be trained as Athletic Instructors/Teachers and then they return to their countries and develop their own athletes. Further investment after the students have shown outstanding talent will have to be done by the private sector and the government of the specific country in that athlete”.

From Barbados: “We have to think Caribbean and put away the insular crap that allows us to consume ourselves rather than consummating ourselves. The expansion of the UWI High Performance Centre into all major sports, seeing a dedicated Athletics program, wherein we identify potential future Olympians from age 15 or 16 and bring them into a high performance development program, with very specific end goals, but as in the USA, catering to their educational requirements. Local qualifying criteria for the Olympics must be more stringent that even the present ones, e.g., sending a 100 m contestant to the Olympics with a 10.2 sec qualifying time will see him just get out of the first round, at best. The Caribbean Governments missed the boat again when they allowed the lotteries to be privately owned. These should have been National lotteries with the net funds (millions of dollars) going specifically into the areas that were designated. We must engage world class coaches and ensure that our own coaches are developed to world class standards. What is required is: Vision, a sense of action and a commitment of appropriate resources”.

Amen to the last comment. But who will lead the action?

(The writer is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat)

Responses and previous commentaries at: