The roles and responsibilities of the Olympic movement in the ever-changing global environment formed the basis of a two-day General Assembly hosted by the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) in Saint Lucia from November 6-7.

Held under the theme, “Transformative Modernization”, participants – most of whom attended the General Assembly virtually -- highlighted key issues around modernizing the Olympic Committees across the Region and the future of those organizations.

CANOC is a regional non-governmental organization comprising National Olympic Committees, Commonwealth Games Associations and governing bodies of National Sports Organizations (not including governmental or political entities).

Established on July 31, 2003, CANOC has as its principal objectives the celebration and conduct of the Caribbean Games, and the promotion, development and protection of sport, and the Olympic movement in the Caribbean through its member organizations.

President of the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee (SLOC), Fortuna Belrose, who attended the General Assembly at Bay Gardens Hotel, said CANOC has been doing quite a bit of advocacy, training, equipping and building capacity of the leaders throughout the Region over the past year.

“I think they have also been very much involved in the promotion of the Olympic values, which are propagated throughout our Region,” Belrose said. “CANOC has also been leading a lot of discussions on child safeguarding in sports, ensuring that we protect our children as we continue to lead sports in this Region.”

Belrose noted that while there are different strands for funding for programmes within the Region, there’s never ever enough funding, adding that, “I think that for any initiative that an Olympic Committee deems important and significant to its country, there are funding partners that they can reach out to for support.”

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be the major challenge for the SLOC in the last year, Belrose admitted. Nevertheless, she said there was greater focus on educating and creating greater levels of awareness among coaches, administrators and some athletes with respect to their roles.

“COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time and there are some issues that we have to address within our own national sports federations,” she stated. “For example, the issue of vaccination, encouraging and educating, and providing support and reaching as far as the homes to bring that message out on the importance of vaccinating their children as they continue to represent Saint Lucia globally. It’s the nature of the game now.”

Belrose, who will not be seeking re-election for the presidency of the SLOC this month, said encouraging more women to become involved in the movement was among the achievements during her tenure. She said that while women have always been involved in the national sports federations, they didn’t seem keen on joining the SLOC fray previously.

“So we’ve been able to create the awareness and we have a number of women who are offering their services to provide support to the institution to ensure that it continues to thrive,” said Belrose. “We’ve also ensured that there was greater visibility and prominence through the building that we bought in La Clery. We now have our own facility that allows us enough space to extend ourselves as an organization -- not only to the Olympic Committee, but also to members.”

After her tenure as SLOC president ends, Belrose hopes to remain involved in the Olympic movement. Going forward, she said determining the various areas and programming to see where exactly to provide the support that enables the organization to be stronger is a priority.

“Our thrust is to ensure that it continues to grow and evolve and that we have the personnel who understand the value of making that happen,” Belrose said.

Meanwhile, CANOC President, Brian Lewis, who was in Saint Lucia for the General Assembly, said many of the decisions taken at the global level under the guise of the best interest of sports or the Olympic movement often do not redound to the benefit of youths in the Region.

“We are small island developing states. So just how, for example, vaccine inequality has impacted us, and how climate change has a different impact, what a lot of people involved in the Caribbean do not realize is that sports does not exist in a vacuum. All of these things have an impact on sports in the Region – socially and environmentally. And if we as Caribbean sports leaders are not willing to look at the broader picture and understand how it impacts us, we’ll be simply like the frog in boiling water,” Lewis explained.

Lewis cited sports administration courses, for example, noting that the subject matter back then is different to what is now being taught. These days, he said, data and data analytics, marketing, branding, entrepreneurial, risk management, and how to be athlete-centred, are all essential. 

“In the Caribbean, our coaches need to be able to apply sports science in all of these things,” the CANOC president affirmed. “If we can’t do that, we’re behind the curve. The power of sports to make a positive difference in the lives of youths, to generate business, would be lost if we don’t do these things. We have to be able to add our voices as Caribbean sports people to what has changed.”

He added: “A lot of people are hoping to go back to what it was pre-COVID; that is not going to happen…Some things have changed forever, so we have to have a different kind of conversation. If we’re not doing that, we’ll be failing the Olympic movement and sports and young people.” Lewis said sports leaders in the Region also need to take responsibility for the outcomes and not make excuses. He said many sports leaders still treat the US$600 billion global sports industry as leisure because they are still stuck in a traditional conservative mindset.

“A lot of the policymakers and decision-makers at the political level throughout the Region talk taking sports seriously, but they don’t act it. They don’t treat conversations with sports like how they would when they talk about oil and energy, technology, and health and education. That has been historical,” Lewis lamented.

The CANOC president was congratulatory about the Region’s performance at the Tokyo Games last summer, especially the performances by the female Jamaican athletes. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, he said the athletes must be credited for their resilience, fearlessness and courage.

“I think they did well in the circumstances,” Lewis said. “But we have to have big targets, and sports is high performance at the Olympic level. So we have to aim to win gold medals. We have to grow past just wanting to qualify.

Also present at the two-day General Assembly were SLOC Secretary General, Alfred Emmanuel, and other executive members of the SLOC, among others.