Housing for elite athletes agenda must be pursued

The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee proposal for expedited housing for elite athletes has been rejected. But TTOC president Brian Lewis says he will pursue the proposal despite this setback while Minister of Sport Brent Sancho says he is fighting hard to make it a reality.

In a March 25 correspondence to the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Minister of Housing and Urban Planning Dr Roodal Moonilal and Minister of Sport Brent Sancho, the TTOC president made a request for expedited access to HDC housing for athletes, attaching a policy proposal for housing assistance for athletes.

The proposal was a two-page document under two headings--one giving first the policy statement and then the second explaining rationale behind the proposal. The TTOC also invited further discussion if more details were required.

But on May 12, the Housing Development Corporation managing director Earlean John, in acknowledging receipt of the TTOC March 25-dated letter, declared that the HDC “takes its directives relative to the allocation and distribution of housing from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.”

It continued: “Consequently, we thank you for your proposal but any implementation of an ‘Elite Housing Assistance Programme’ by the HDC will have to be mandated by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Development.”

Contacted yesterday, TTOC president Brian Lewis praised Minister of Sport Sancho for making representation to his cabinet colleagues. But he said a response coming from the HDC, which he never wrote, seems to be “paper-pushing”.

“The letter didn’t go to the HDC. Considering that the correspondence was sent to the Prime Minister and copied to the Ministers of Housing and Sport, the reasonable expectation would have been to be given the opportunity to discuss the rationale for the proposal,” Lewis said.

Lewis added that T&T elite level athletes make huge sacrifices to represent the country sometimes at personal and financial costs to themselves. “Why must our athletes always have to consider packing up or migrating. The disrespect for what our athletes go through must stop. “We will not achieve 10 or more Olympic gold medals by 2024 if the plight of our athletes continue to be dismissed,” Lewis said.

But Minister of Sport Sancho said the Government is receptive to the idea but since this is the first time a government would be undertaking a venture like this, the issue had to be examined thoroughly.

“We are putting together a holistic plan and last week I had a meeting with TTOC and some other governing bodies as it relates to a 2016 push for Rio. Separate and apart from elite athlete funding we are looking at ways at how we can now generate this machinery, for lack of a better word, that could prepare our athletes holistically and not just throwing funds into their pockets, but also the possibility of housing, preparation and the training that will accumulate into us being very prepared, as my good colleague from the TTOC coined the phrase to be podium ready,” said Sancho, adding that he plans to reveal that plan in another week or two.

On the elite athlete housing assistance issue, Sancho said while he understood Lewis’ frustration and that the culture of the country doesn’t place enough emphasis on sport, he is confident because all the parties involved are receptive to the idea.

“The receptive mess by all parties to make it a reality, as sport minister I am trying hard and want it done – the TTOC president wants it and a prime minister that is receptive to the idea speaks well for us moving forward,” Sancho said.

Sancho added that one of the other projects he is working on is a pilot project of a sports academy at the primary and secondary school level.

But Lewis is adamant the housing issue must come to the fore sooner rather than later.

“The aspirations of 10 or more Olympic Gold Medals by the year 2024 is a powerful motivating impetus,” Lewis said, “The TTOC is of the resolute view that the athletes of Trinidad and Tobago especially those who are giving their all in service of their country require support in a manner such as proposed. That the TTOC did not get the opportunity to present its case does not diminish in the view of the TTOC the merit of its efforts to get acceptance for the proposal.”