Sports is the thing that can make or break countries. Of course, there are other things such as oil and manufacturing. For example, the countries that make cars, good cars, are known.
Germany is rated as one of the better car manufacturers, but there are the South Koreans and the Japanese. The Italians are known for their high end vehicles, but the people who know these things are those who are into cars.
A country that is big into sports is, however, the country that tends to be the most popular. People go to them because of their sports stars. Jamaica is a classic case.
I remember the year 1975. That country had already been known for producing people with world class athletic prowess. There was Don Quarrie, for example, who held world records in the 100M and 200M events.
Now that country is known all over the world. A friend who was in Beijing said that just about every Chinese knows who Usain Bolt is. That was because of his overpowering presence on the athletic track.
Even the Americans who once dominated the sprints bowed to the Jamaicans because of their stars in both the men and women categories.
Way back when, I learnt of Wendell Motley, a Trinidadian who won an Olympic silver medal. The Trinidad and Tobago team from then to now has won relay medals. That country also produced Ato Boldon.
Barbados had its Obadele Thompson, who many made known was of Guyanese descent. But the Olympic bronze medal he won in 2000 belonged to Barbados.
I was watching some of the performances at the recent Pan American Games. Indeed the Jamaicans, with a less than top class team, were dominant. Everybody knew the Jamaicans. One could hear the reverence in the voices of the commentators.
Guyana was also at the Games, but no one knew Guyana, to the point that the commentators merely acknowledged their presence in the same way someone would acknowledge a child in the presence of adults.
The performance of the Guyanese helped fuel the brushing aside by the commentators. I saw a male swimmer in a qualifying event. It was a four-man affair. When the race ended, the Guyanese was swimming to complete the penultimate lap.
In the sprints it was more of the same. Our top female sprinter finished almost last in the 100-metre finals. The other female did no better. There I was glued to the television to see my representative way behind the other runners.
Another woman appeared to hold her own in the pool until the final leg. She finished almost three seconds behind the winner in the heats.
I make this point because we do not spend money on sports. Our athletes train with coaches who have little or nothing to work with. The athletes who are home-based must go to work and at the end of the day, put in what passes for practice.
Every other country has athletes who train five or six hours per day. They are paid to train. They attract sponsors who furnish their needs. They get to demonstrate their skills at the various sponsored meets.
In cricket I watched our facilities crumble because the young players do not have enough time to use them. They do not even have the financial support, except from their parents, most of whom are hard pressed to make ends meet.
The result is clear. They find great difficulty in making the West Indies team. The Berbicians are much better, because the structure is so much better. The few who are selected from Demerara come from the Demerara Cricket Club, which has a structured programme. This club insists on discipline.
I remember the days of Forbes Burnham. He paid attention to sports. He secured Chinese trainers for the table tennis players who did well at the regional championships.
Boxing really got his attention. There were always Cuban trainers, to the extent that no boxer from the region could beat the Guyanese. Indeed, Burnham ensured that employers give the players the time they needed to train.
Guyana did not have the money, just like today. But there was the devotion by the politicians.
It is not that there are not enough people to put money into sports. Many businesses have the money and they get the necessary tax deductions, so they really do not lose anything. Yet they hesitate to support sports. I don’t know of anybody sponsoring an athlete.
There was the time when Government agencies provided the sponsorship. The Police, the Army, the state corporations all funded the athletes, and the results were obvious. James Wren Gilkes, June Griffith, Elton Jefford, Moses Dwarka, Harry Prowell, George De Peana and Guyana’s only Olympic medalist, Michael Anthony Parris, all came out of that arrangement, and made Guyana proud on the international stage.
I remember when we had world class boxers—Lennox Blackmore, Patrick Forde and his brother Reginald, and his nephew Glen. There were others like Andrew Lewis, Terrence ‘Alli’ Halley and Andrew Murray, but that was so long ago.
Today, we must depend on those who reside overseas, and who actually benefit from the training facilities and whatever else is on offer in their adopted country.
I watched the national football team. The composition was almost all foreign-based. And this goes for both the men and women’s teams. The track and field athletes are all foreign-based.
Just to prove myself wrong, I pass by our major sports facilities and I see them vastly under used. The aquatic centre is almost always empty. So too is the track at Leonora. I would have expected the clubs to be making maximum use of these things. Not so.
It may be a case of a lack of interest on the part of the athletes, who really do not have the time. They have to think about food, so sports take a back seat.
Can we have a sports college? Can we have people who identify young talent and try to promote them? The bottom line is that unless we put money into sports we would remain in the doldrums. Whatever money we get from oil will be there to make some people happy, but only those who actually invest.
Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada, the Bahamas, St Vincent and the Grenadines and of course Jamaica, are all ahead of Guyana. Grenada and Barbados debunk the view that we have a small population.
I suppose I cannot expect anything from the private sector, so once more it would have to be the government.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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