No woman, much cry
When I saw Sarah Attar, of Saudi Arabia, accelerate towards the finishing line in the 800 metres at the London Olympics, and heard the roar of the 80 000-strong crowd acknowledge the first female to compete for her country, a lump rose in my throat.
It did not matter that Attar was way off the pace in the slow time of 2:26, she was “inspiring a generation” – the theme of the London Games, and paving the way for other women in hers and other countries with similar cultural traditions to follow.
Attar’s effort took me back to my own experience in Munich exactly 40 years ago, when I walked into the 80 000-capacity stadium to become the first Barbadian female to compete at the Olympics.
I was joined by four other pioneers – Lorna Forde, Marcia Trotman, Barbara Bishop, and 14-year-old Heather Gooding, our youngest ever Olympian, who ran the 800 metres.
The Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) under then president Austin Sealy decided that females would be on that world stage at Barbados’ second appearance at the Olympics, after Patsy Callender missed the 1968 Mexico Games due to injury.
Sealy arranged for Lorna, Marcia, Barbara and Heather to train in New York for three months prior to the Games under prominent track coach Fred Thompson of the high-profile Atoms Track Club, who was also a lawyer for the Colgate company.
His protégée Cheryl Toussaint was a finalist in the 800 metres and 4×400 metres relay for the United States Olympic team in Munich, and he took our girls under his wing to ensure they would be as ready as they could be in that short preparation period.
Caspar Springer (400 metres) and I were awarded three-month pre-Olympic scholarships by the German government for athletes from Africa and the Caribbean, and we trained at the Malente Sports Complex near Hamburg in Germany.
In 1984, the AAA made arrangements with coach Ken Gibson, of Kentucky State University, to host a pre-Olympic training camp for the Barbados team to the Los Angeles Games when I was manager of the team.
Then in 1996, when I was again the team manager, emerging band krossfyah donated $20 000 to the AAA pre-Olympic Camp held at Tennesse State University from funds which were part of proceeds at Ringbang City, their Crop Over entertainment centre at the Barbados Port Authority Workers’ Compound.
So, from the outset, the AAA and the Barbados Olympic Association recognized that they had a pivotal role to play to ensure that Barbados was fully represented at the Olympic Games, and females have been on every Olympic squad since 1972 – that is, until London 2012.
This responsibility is magnified today when we see the amazing leaps and bounds being made by our Caribbean neighbours, not just the traditional powerhouses of Jamaica, The Bahamas, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, but from smaller nations such as St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Antigua, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Here in London, several Olympians and sports officials have expressed concern when they realized that Barbados has no female representation.
In the eyes of the Olympic movement, the absence of female participation from Barbados is “a big thing”!
When I explained the rationale presented by the AAA, in their eyes, “it does not hold water” – their words, not mine.
They contended that at this historic time in the progress of the Olympic movement, every effort should have been made to have at least one female competitor here.
The absence of females has questioned our judgement on the world stage, and we must ensure that it does not happen again.
Having discussed this issue and noted the repercussions of the AAA’s position, I intend to move forward.
My first recommendation is to change the name of the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) to the Athletic Association of Barbados.
This will bring it in step with the removal of Clause 26 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) statutes governing amateurism in 1981, which effectively ended the era of amateurism at the Olympics.
That name change should go a long way towards redirecting the mindset and focus of the officers elected to serve.
I will lobby for support to submit this as an amendment to the AAA Constitution for the upcoming elections in December.
Secondly, corporate Barbados has been asked time and time again to get on board with the developmental phase of producing Olympic calibre athletes. I pledge on behalf of Barbadian Olympians to use my sports and marketing experience to partner with the BOA to discuss with the business community how we can make this happen. We have several templates from other countries to guide us.
Thirdly, how are we managing the lottery funds?
Those funds were supposed to support sports development in Barbados. The British lottery has provided the millions of pounds required to produce the successful British Olympic team – we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
The revised motto of the World Olympians Association 2012 is Service to Olympians, Service to the Community, and the president Joel Bouzou has urged us to redouble our efforts in our respective countries. I have given him my word.
I urge our female athletes who have been adversely affected for these Olympic Games to draw inspiration from the many stories of triumph over adversity that they have seen and heard from Olympians in London.
Do not allow setbacks to destroy your dreams, but vow to take your performance to a higher level for Rio 2016.
Our rising stars should use the media exposure of the London Olympic Games 2012 as their motivation to aim for the medal rostrum next time around.