OFF CENTRE: Mekking sport at Senior Games?
“Alff” Padmore was stunned. “We have to teach the children these things,” he implored.
I said to myself: “Why?”
And right then I took out my notebook and wrote – I en telling no lie – the following: “I say we have to teach the children manners, respect, decency and how to use the things that fit the times – not dragging the out-of-step, the out-of-interest kicking and screaming along.” That’s it – unedited.
The reason for Alff’s consternation and my off-centre response? It was the fact that during the recent National Senior Games at the National Stadium, six or seven children, probably between eight and 12 years old, clearly did not know heads or tails about how to use a stick to manoeuvre a “roller” (bicycle rim) 50 metres along the track.
Fifty metres? Heck, “one centimetre of an inch” – the words of measurement allegedly uttered by one local luminary many moons ago – was giving those little ones gurka (you say “gripe”; older people said “gurka”. I en sure how to spell it).
So I am at the Stadium for the annual seniors meet and observing that the lament that an inconsequential something from the past did not make it into the present is being expressed even as we are slack in bringing what matters from the past into that day.
Respect for the elderly. The Senior Games is not evidencing much more than a mere shadow of what we knew – that virtual reverence, the athletes often seeming mere fodder for the inclinations of others.
I frequently heard Michael Jules “with my own two ears” urging the DJ to throw music into the fray – like if it could match the raw, poured-out humanness of intense applause and giddy cheers and screams and encouragement from present relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues riveted on the seniors.
And Alff himself, he of the regret that today’s children cannot roll “rollers” (which no longer matters in any kind of way), was often failing to do what most surely mattered in his role as an announcer at the Games: be so glued to what was happening on the track and field that the efforts of the seniors were given uncompromised pride of place.
So that the children (all of us, really) can learn about respect, professionalism, appropriateness (“time and place”), focus on task and priorities. So that we can maintain things that still really matter. Values. Not things that should naturally pass without any mourning.
We could talk all we want, but it is what we do that teaches the children and impressionable others. And if we can’t put on Senior Games without frequently turning what the athletes do into a sideshow, we teaching the wrong values while you worrying about the need to teach children how to roll a “roller”.
It so often seems that in Barbados we conceptualise something, and then we parcel out responsibilities to people who have not been firmly instilled with its non-negotiable principles and with a profound sense of accountability for staying on course.
Without the necessary guidance and control, these people do what seemeth right in their own eyes. Like when, some years ago, nobody was sufficiently on top of things – apparently – to know beforehand and therefore stop Edwin Yearwood from singing somebody else’s song dedicated to Muhammad Ali at a ceremony to honour our very own greatest Sir Garry Sobers up there in Christ Church.
At these very Senior Games, in two races, officials made some competitors in a 1 500 metres run 1 900 metres.
And more: imagine treating field events like a fifth wheel to a coach!
Those events seem to be taken as an opportunity for announcers to stretch their legs or run their mouths about other things, while the itchy-fingered DJ sees them as a chance to get spectators to jump to booming music and, possibly, throw waist.
Unfortunately, at the Senior Games there is no overriding zeal about giving the spectators essential information about athletes, about punctual running of events, about athletes’ easy access to times and distances, about timely medal presentations, about indicating that the events for the 40 to 49 are invitational and not seniors events yet. About consummate professionalism that puts an ever-intense focus where it ought to be – on the senior athletes.
They say that Marie Antoinette said – she apparently didn’t – the inopportune “Let them eat cake”. Today in many areas it seems that another inopportune call has gone out, “Let them have fun”. So DJs and announcers at athletics meets have become indulgent panderers.
(Two announcers sought to keep the focus and buck of trend of wayward on-mic performances – what a fight they had on their hands!)
Look, the National Senior Games is not a circus or a carnival. Healthy ageing, which is the mantra, cannot be accomplished through a fun orientation. Those athletes who are likely to age healthily are practising hard all through the year – so the utmost respect is due.
I am not convinced that the organisers have that kind of passion, along with righteous indignation at anything that threatens that goal. It seems that the greatest concern is about the numbers of participants. While that is important, can it be more important than making sure that nothing – nothing! – compromises the necessary respect for the seniors and for the primacy of their contests?
I am not against fun at the Senior Games. But not as a contender against those who are racking their bodies to age healthily.
Alas, worshippers of the fun god are mekking sport at them. Seems like we want to teach the wrong things!
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.