Lay platform for success
It is rather simplistic just to say we want better performances from our athletes without mentioning some of the root causes why we don’t prosper in most international events.
Recently, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made reference to our poor performances and some thought it was something new.
He was merely warming up cold soup while on a tour of the Barbados Olympic Association headquarters at Wildey.
The NATION editorial of Monday, September 16, concurred with the Prime Minister but that too missed the point by a mile. The use of Sir Garfield Sobers as an example of consistent brilliance was a poor one.
The greatest cricketer of all time is an obvious exception to the rule and he would have dominated in any era because of his special talent.
But even if we wanted to follow the Sobers illustration to its logical conclusion the obvious question is: How many more have we or has the world produced like him?
We can’t look at rare talent to classify and characterize our performances right across the board.
If that logic were applied then we would have no need for this discussion because we would be successful at every turn and at will.
Time and events have proven that we have and probably would continue to fall short of our potential gains when we compete against the world.
Realistically, cricket and bodybuilding are the only sports in which we produced global stars consistently back in the day. Truth be told, both have fallen off badly in the contemporary era with cricket, the national flagship, becoming an embarrassment more often than not while bodybuilding has lost its way even at the regional level.
How many overall champions have we had in the individual categories in recent CAC contests?
The simple truth is that we haven’t kept pace with international standards in our structures and training programmes.
Outside of cricket with its vast developmental programmes, we are still sending our athletes to fight sporting wars with big rocks against those armed with sub-machine guns.
The closest we come to changing that scenario is when our athletes win scholarships at universities in the United States and get a taste of what sophisticated training measures are like.
Even so, do we really expect the American system to train our track and field hopefuls to beat their own? Get real.
Again, despite the decades of using that system only a few local athletes have been able to win medals at significant meets in recent history. Andrea Blackett (Commonwealth gold in the 400m hurdles in 1998); Obadele Thompson (bronze medallist in the 100m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000); Ryan Brathwaite, gold medallist at the Berlin World Championships in 2009) and Shakera Reece (bronze in the 100m at the 2011 Pan American Games).
This isn’t to say that others of their vintage didn’t have opportunities but yet again we are only likely to see fleeting performances like these if we don’t do the proper research and apply the necessary analysis to decipher why there aren’t more cut from this same cloth.
For starters, have we considered the size of our population compared to other countries who in some instances have several million to choose from?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if your population is 270 000 juxtaposed to one with 270 million, which country is more likely to produce Olympic and World champions consistently.
What kind of environment do we provide for our sportsmen to train?
Even the Prime Minister alluded to the fact that our sports ambassadors should be given adequate time to prepare by their employers especially those in the private sector.
We all know that some do on a limited basis and we prefer to use diplomacy rather than legislation to get most employers to fall in line.
Have we forgotten that for love of country some sportsmen who allegedly breached their working contract with their employers came back to find themselves on the breadline? Cud dear.
Oh yes and what about the long mooted national sports policy that is/was intended to lay down the guidelines for sports development?
Isn’t it clear that the National Sports Council’s focus must be revamped to encompass more coaching than competitions?
By the way, how much money is allocated in each national budget for the direct benefit of sports development?
Can we really rely on what comes through the lottery to serve the needs of sports when the cake has to be shared with culture?
It helps but cannot be totally effective in either area when there are so many hands reaching out for some of the sweets.
I would only begin to take Government seriously on the question of sports development when they set aside a minimum of $20 million to aid in the development and promotion of sports annually.
We keep hearing from leaders in Government and other high places how much foreign exchange we can earn through sport and culture but then what do they contribute to see a sportsman’s world go round?
We continue to expect too much when we give so little to help strengthen the foundation and in many instances even assist in building the foundation.
Furthermore, we will be forever lost playing catch-up and watching our neighbours excel while we falter, if we haven’t realized that we have to pay the most attention to the development of the peripheral athletes rather than the exceptional ones.
Can’t we see we have become famous for jumping on the bandwagon after victory is captured and we suddenly are proud to be Bajans?
I respectfully disagree with those who believe we can have sustained success via incidental planning as opposed to deliberate and visionary plotting for the glory we crave.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced freelance sports journalist.