In a country where excellence in sport is often not appreciated, it comes as no surprise that Trinidad and Tobago’s successful showing at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China has been met with muted response.
Silver in the men’s 4x400 metres relay and bronze in the women’s 4x100 are two very good reasons to celebrate. Those two items of precious metal earned T&T joint-22nd spot on the Beijing 2015 medal table. With more than 200 countries represented at the Championships, the top-25 finish is highly commendable.
The more significant statistic, however, is T&T’s joint-15th finish on the placing table. While very little attention is paid to this table, it reflects a team’s strength in depth.
The list of countries we finished ahead of on the placing table tells a story of excellence that ought to be celebrated. Australia, Brazil, Japan, Spain, Italy, Greece are among the nations that trailed T&T. These are countries that have either hosted the Olympic Games or, in the case of Brazil, will host the biggest sporting event on the planet.
As Olympic hosts, Australia, Brazil, have made huge investments in sport. It must also be noted that they are much larger than T&T, and therefore have talent pools we cannot match. Yet, T&T competed against and beat them all at Beijing 2015.
On August 30, Renny Quow, Lalonde Gordon, Deon Lendore and 19-year-old Machel Cedenio combined for men’s 4x4 silver in a national record time of three minutes, 58.20 seconds. One day earlier, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Michelle-Lee Ahye, Reyare Thomas and Semoy Hackett had teamed up for women’s 4x1 bronze in 42.03 seconds—also a new T&T standard.
In the past, Governments have been quick to celebrate global sporting success. Why not this time? Why wasn’t there an appropriate official function to mark the achievements of these eight athletes, as well as relay alternates Jarrin Solomon and 17-year-old Khalifa St Fort? Timing, I suppose, is everything. These superb performances came shortly before the general election, and perhaps those in power were more concerned with saving their own jobs.
As we are all aware, Brent Sancho and his People’s Partnership cohorts failed to hold on to the reins of power.
Darryl Smith, the Member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central, was the man who replaced Sancho as Minister of Sport. The first utterances from Minister Smith are cause for great optimism at the start of this five-year term of office for the People’s National Movement (PNM). He has promised an “athletes first” approach to tackling his job.
The athletes are excited and hopeful. Please Mr Smith, do not disappoint them. Administrators, whether within the framework of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, the Sports Company (SPORTT), the Olympic Committee (TTOC) or the governing bodies for each sport, are facilitators and servants.
A quality administrator is a great servant of his sport who establishes the infrastructure to facilitate the widest possible participation and, ultimately, success of his athletes. Administrators who compete with the athletes for newspaper headlines are unlikely to be effective. And we’ve certainly had our share of those headline-grabbers.
It is the athletes who ought to be in the news—Rodney Wilkes, Wendell Mottley, Edwin Roberts, Roger Gibbon, Hasely Crawford, Jean Pierre, Gene Samuel, Debra O’Connor, Ian Morris, Brian Lara, Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, Ato Boldon, Candice Scott, Darrel Brown, Dexter St Louis, Cleopatra Borel, George Bovell, Josanne Lucas, Richard Thompson, Keshorn Walcott, Rheann Chung, Roger Daniel, Cheryl Ann Sankar, Kwandwane Browne, Marc Burns, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Jehue Gordon, Renny Quow, Lalonde Gordon, Rhonda Watkins, Machel Cedenio, Njisane Phillip…and the list goes on.
Kudos to Thompson for taking the lead and offering himself as a voice for the athletes. On the heels of the successful Gatorade Richard Thompson Sprinting Camp, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field in Port of Spain, last Saturday, the triple Olympic silver medallist, in a Facebook post, called on the Sports Company and Minister Smith to address the sorry state of the warm-up track.
“I’m not sure what the explanation is for allowing the track to reach this state but its condition is unacceptable. Many national athletes use this track to train and ALL of our athletes vying for a position on any national team warm up on this track before competing.
“Minister Smith, I understand that you are newly appointed and your plate is full but my humble request is that you make this a priority on your to-do list. I’m calling on you because I believe that you have a genuine interest in progressing the youth of T&T. Please address this matter with SPORTT to ensure that we show some form of national pride in what belongs to us.”
At last count, Monday’s post had attracted 127 “Likes”, many of them from present and past national athletes.
This is a golden opportunity for Minister Smith to put taxpayers’ money where his mouth is. A quick response to Thompson’s plea for a proper warm-up track at the Crawford Stadium would show that “athletes first” is not merely good PR from the new man in charge.
That new track would be of far greater value than any celebration that could be planned for the successful Beijing 2015 squad.
The relay teams, women’s 100m finalists Baptiste and Ahye and men’s 400m finalist Cedenio earned T&T a total of 22 points at the global meet. Only the Berlin 2009 team had accumulated more points—32 for a best-ever 13th on the placing table.
Our national athletes have needs. Many of them are not met. Yet, they are among the best in the world. Change the script, Mr Smith, and establish a legacy of unprecedented sporting success.