Is the Caribbean maximizing sporting opportunities?
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
August 11, 2023
Is the Caribbean maximizing sporting opportunities?

In the days before World War II and for a good part of the two and a half decades afterwards, budding sports persons (male and female) in the Caribbean had to make do with primitive facilities (if any existed at all) and lack of access to international sport. In fact, with no television then, it was only radio and an occasional film show. Though producing international talent at an individual level who displayed their talent when given a break, the Caribbean remained largely cut off from international sport.

There was one major exception, the West Indies cricket team. But this was due to the colonial nature of the region, the connections between cricket, the plantocracy and colonial authorities and the then existing British Empire. Yet power and participation levels, in an organized way, depended on those connections and relations.

The result was that save for migration and good luck here and there, thousands of our gifted sports men and women were left, to use the words of the immortal C.L.R.James, “Beyond the Boundary”, yearning for but never given the opportunity to exhibit their innate capabilities. We shared that fate with millions of other non-white people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That discrimination also had a gender basis, women being barred from many international sports. To put it squarely, the sporting world was then a reflection of the world of politics, finance and global power.

With decolonization and independence came many changes at the sporting level as well. With Pele and Brazil leading the way, football became more and more identified with black faces, complementing the rise of the West Indies in cricket and the explosion of black athletes and boxers. The International sporting Federations had to accommodate non-white administrators. And a provision was made for women, from the same “empire” to set up a World Netball championship, beginning in England in 1963. More opportunities were provided for athletes in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games (once British Empire and Commonwealth Games), and a provision was made for women, from the same “empire” to set up a World Netball Championship, beginning in England in 1963.

Room had to be made too at the administrative levels. In former colonies like the Caribbean, Massa’s days as heads of cricket came to an end, the discrimination against persons of lower social rank was abruptly ended as it was proven that when given the chance, persons from those ranks, with exposure, training and education could do even better. Gender discrimination barriers were rapidly broken down though many still remain.

In turn, opportunities from International Federations, brought with it training, not only for athletes, but also for administrators, coaches, trainers etc. Alongside this came assistance in the provision of facilities. We were much better placed to demonstrate our capabilities at all levels.

That was evident in the Olympics where in addition to the outstanding athletes from Cuba, Jamaica, the African continent and Brazil, Anthony Nesty from Suriname shocked the swimming world by winning an Olympic Gold medal in 1988. Non-white persons won election to the leadership of powerful international federations such as FIFA. More support for the provision of modern facilities and training were available. The Caribbean for one seemed on the verge of an even higher take off.

But have we made optimum use of it? In cricket, not only have we lost our champion status, but we also can’t even qualify for the World Cup. In football, save for Jamaica, as it seems for all other sports, we are in recession; and netball where Vincentians were part of the West Indies team at the inaugural World Cup, former champions Trinidad and Tobago seems headed for the bottom of the heap. Football administrators from the region have disgraced us in a massive FIFA scandal. The dreams of a mere decade or two ago are not materializing.

On the national levels there is constant personal rivalry and politicking either within the sport or hobnobbing for political favours. Sport is often used as a vehicle for personal advancement by administrators and for gaining political support by our politicians.

This is by no means meant to be a studied analysis with prescriptions for solutions, but it is clear that somewhere along the line, we have lost our way. Political leaders are planning once again some high-level meeting on cricket. Maybe they should extend it to a critical analysis of sport in the region.

  • Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.