A THORNY ISSUE – Sports have done us proud
WE?ARE?166 square miles of pride, industry, ingenuity, high standards and achievers.
We are known in many spheres as people who punch way above our weight.
We have never allowed size to determine the measure of how much we can attain or which mountain we would attempt to conquer next.
The Barbados I grew up in was always one of possibilities. Nothing was thought to be impossible.
As a child whose roots were nurtured in the freshness and excitement of an independent Barbados, I was taught to believe that our benchmark for excellence shouldn’t only begin with the parochial but should extend to the universal.
Sports was part of that mantra.
In fact, I remember when as part of our celebrations of nationhood the Barbados cricket team challenged the Rest of the World in a game at Kensington Oval.
It was worth the effort for, after all, we had as many as nine players on the West Indies side, including legends like Sir Garry Sobers, the late Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse, Reverend Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith.
We lost that encounter. At the time I could only see the cricket side of that assignment but in later years as I learned to put matters in their correct perspective, it dawned on me that the symbolism of the Barbados challenge to the Rest of the World was much more significant than the outcome of the match.
We had dared to announce to the world that despite our size we weren’t afraid to aim for the highest peak.
We didn’t have an inferiority complex. Give us a chance on an even playing field and we would compete fiercely and fearlessly against you.
In fact, in a lot of cases the playing field did not always have to be even for us to make our mark and demand respect from all comers.
In several instances, as we still do, we were up against countries with much larger populations and much bigger purses that allowed for superior infrastructure and better training facilities that would inevitably give them a decisive edge in most circumstances.
But that didn’t stop us from aiming high. That was a natural part of our psyche.
The other significant sporting moments during that era that remain with me included the weightlifting achievements of legends like “Thrasher” Cox and Anthony “Mango” Philips and others.
We managed to produce world yachting champions in the form of Jackie Hoad and Bill Tempro.
Moving to the ’70s, Barbados’ greatest football moment was achieved when, under the guidance of the phenomenal Victor “Gas” Clarke, we beat Haiti who had just qualified for the 1974 World Cup in Germany.
Two years later, bodybuilder Darcy Beckles won the Mr World title in his weight division.
How could I forget that under the leadership of Steve Stoute, we were able to see the best cyclists in the world for many a year on the velodrome at the National Stadium.
Daniel Morelon, Neil Fredborg, Leslie King, John Michael Nicholson were just a few of the stars who came to compete against some of our giants of the day like Kensley Reece, Hector Edwards, Whitstanley Smith and Vasco Welch.
Athletes with great potential like Lorna Forde, Freida Nicholls, Marcia Trotman, Heather Gooding, Barbara Bishop, Orlando Greene, Casper Springer and Rawle Clarke had emerged and perhaps would have achieved more only if they had received the required support during their heyday.
Let me not forget Marva Harris (now Sealy) who was a world-class netballer rankingd close to the Trinidadian icon of the day, Jean Pierre.
With the passage of time and as the clock ticked on, there would be the emergence of more world-class sportsmen besides cricketers and bodybuilders who had carried our flag extremely well over the years.
The men’s 4×400-metre team that reached the semi-finals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles inspired the nation.
They and the generation before them laid the foundation for future icons like Andrea Blackett, who conquered the Commonwealth in the 400m hurdles and performed respectably
for a decade at other levels; Obadele Thompson, who won bronze in the prestigious 100 metres at the Sydney Olympics in 2000; Shane Brathwaite, who was the World Junior octathalon champion in 2007, and Ryan Brathwaite, who became World champion in the men’s 110m hurdles in 2009.
Swimming produced an Olympic 50-metre finalist in Leah Martindale at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and we can’t forget the incomparable Ronald “Suki” King who has ruled Go-As-You-Please draughts since 1991.
Patrick Husbands has been awesome for close to a decade at the Woodbine racetrack in Canada. Cameron King was also a world champion in karate, and Randall Valdez rowed across the Atlantic in 2003.
Boxers like Junior Greenidge, Shawn Terry Cox, Anderson Emmanuel and Christopher “Shaka” Henry have made their marks too.
Perhaps if my memory was better I would be able to recall other names and instances where we have excelled in sport during the era I have noted. Indeed, apologies would be in order for those I may have omitted.
The point I am making, though, is that we have the capability to achieve a lot more and we are at the point where some of us have to look beyond the village and place the world on our radar once more. And yes, we can.
One of the first things we have to do is try very hard to change our psyche and attitude to sports, which usually resigns itself to branding it as mainly recreational.
We have to start considering more seriously the professional opportunities that are now available to our sportsmen that weren’t there back in the day, except in cricket and horse racing.
The way forward in this direction is to strengthen our administrative bases where in some cases, especially with the mass-based sports, we have to strive for full-time personnel to run our secretariats.
A full and focused charge needs to be put in place to capitalize on the numerous opportunities that are available for possible employment and general upliftment of our athletes.
The powers that be must lead by example, as successive governments have only talked about it but have failed to put a long overdue National Sports Policy in place.
I believe that if the political directorate plays its part, other entities would be encouraged to lend a hand.
Forty-five years on as an independent country, I think we have the same capabilities and desire to achieve as in the days of yore, but we must be properly equipped to deal with the changes and challenges which are constant but are not beyond our ability to conquer.
I have drawn several sporting examples which prove that we can.
Andi Thornhill is an experienced and award-winning freelance journalist.