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CARIFTA in balance

Sherrylyn A. Toppin

CARIFTA in balance

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All is not lost for the 2011 CARIFTA Games.
By the end of the week, athletes and track and field enthusiasts from across the region will know whether the Caribbean’s premier junior athletics meet will be held.
When contacted yesterday, Neville “Teddy” McCook, president of the North American Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC), said negotiations were continuing.
“I can’t say anything at this time,” McCook said in a telephone interview.
“I am waiting to get some confirmation. I am waiting to see what is on the table at this particular time. I have nothing to put forward, but by the end of the week I should be able to make an announcement.”
Speculation has been rife that the Games, which were first held here in Barbados in 1972, would not be held for the first time. This reached fever pitch last weekend when the trackalerts website carried an article stating that The Bahamas had withdrawn from hosting, citing a lack of support from McCook and NACAC.
St Kitts were originally scheduled to host the meet and after they withdrew, Jamaica and The Bahamas were tossed in the mix for the April 23 to 25 event.
Esther Maynard of the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of Barbados said they wouldn’t be able to step in to host as they had done in the past, both from a financial point of view and the state of the track at the National Stadium.
In the same trackalerts article, Trinidad and Tobago athletics president Ephraim Serrette said they couldn’t host the meet with only three months to plan.
Meanwhile, the man who conceptualised the CARIFTA Games is hoping some last-minute intervention is made so that they can go on.
“It would be a disappointment, and I think that they should move heaven and earth not to let it drop.
We’ve had it 39 years,” said Barbados’ International Olympic Committee member Austin Sealy yesterday.
“Obviously, I am very proud of what CARIFTA has done. Every champion athlete that the region has produced in the last 30 years – because this is 40 years of CARIFTA – they have all come through the CARIFTA ranks and had the Austin Sealy Trophy.
“In terms of recent gold medallists at the Olympics, Usain Bolt, [Veronica] Campbell, you name them.”
The Austin Sealy Trophy was donated by former Bahamian Prime Minister [Sir] Lynden Pindling for the most outstanding country. But Sealy said since it was modelled after the Olympic Games, it should be given for the most outstanding individual performances as some countries would always be stronger than others.
Taking a trip down memory lane, Sealy said the meet was to be the showpiece of the AAA’s silver anniversary celebrations, but when the countries in the region met, Jamaica and Trinidad, in particular, said they couldn’t let it die.
“Trinidad said we would take it the next year and Jamaica said we would take it the one after that. By then, we decided we would go east Caribbean one year, west Caribbean the next, but it was not a hard and fast rule.”
When asked whether regional governments should intervene to save the meet as they had done for LIAT and other companies, Sealy said this was an option.
“It is a partnership, government and sport. You are not going to find a national federation owning a stadium, it is government’s,” he said.
“Governments spend their money and expect to have some say and we have to work hand-in-hand with them without it being antagonistic, but at the same time we don’t accept directives.  The relationship with governments and sporting bodies should be harmonious, or we hope it would be harmonious.
If they can help, I would love to see it and the athletes would love to see it.”
However, Sealy, who was back after attending the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, was concerned about the small window left for planning such a massive event.
One source of funding could be the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF).
“It is awkward now to look for a title sponsor. You can’t have last-minute planning, you can’t do it thoroughly. I am not saying you can’t have exceptions to the rule.
If you go into a big commercial entity now looking for sponsorship, you are going to get peanuts. The budget is set 18 months in advance.
“It would have to be IAAF and now we get lots of sympathy from [president] Lamine [Diack] because he said he would never miss another one.”