By Clayanne Knott
As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics concluded, many stories and humanitarians have triumphed their way into our hearts. Revolutionary medals have been won and shared, names have been etched into history and records have been broken. Unfortunately, our twin island have suffered a great deal of ‘FOMO’ as we walked away from the seasonal games without a single medal for the first time in 29 years. That in itself is a great feat for our size but we have been spoiled with stellar performances by Trinbagonian athletes for so long that a lack of silverware feels foreign. So, many have decided to point fingers to decipher the root of the issue. This hand of cards we have been dealt is due to a myriad of ills that have been plaguing sport in Trinidad and Tobago for many years due to actions of various stakeholders that decide the fate we have in sports.
Notably, Trinbagonian athletes have qualified for the Olympics which can be dubbed the ‘mecca’ for sports as it showcases the talent of the best athletes from all over the world. As such most athletes dream of qualifying for the Olympics, so despite our inability to medal our athletes can boast about making it to the ‘mecca’, and this is something that we ought to be proud of. Especially since they have faced extreme adversity with the onset of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the average citizen doesn’t understand the work and commitment required to qualify for the international event. Therefore, with this ignorance we usually respond harshly (evidenced by posts on social media) to our athletes when their athletic superiority isn’t validated by a medal.
Our attitude as a nation towards our sports men and women takes me to my first point. Believe it or not a major stakeholder in sport is you and I. Therefore, our support can undoubtedly affect our national sporting performance. Since our attention will force the decision makers and gatekeepers to act in the best interest of the country and the athletes. It also fuels the athletes to know they have the support of the citizens and it signals to corporate T&T that sport is where they should direct investment. Thus, we cannot simply tune into the performance of our athletes at the defining moment, but pay no attention to the process and processes that would’ve impacted their ability to compete and then finally the quality of their performance. So though there is room for us to criticize as a major stakeholder we must also hold ourselves accountable for the position we play in our local sporting landscape.
Now, let’s take a look at the decision makers who uphold outdated methods to manage various sports. One recent example brings managers, another major stakeholder, to the forefront. Recently, our National Under 21 Hockey team left our shores on the 19th of August, 2021 for Chile to participate in the Pan American Hockey U-21 tournament which was scheduled to begin on the 21st of August, 2021. Hence, they were scheduled to leave 2 days before the event, which I’m certain with the new travel regulations and the need to acclimatize is not ample time to ensure optimal performance. It’s the little decisions like this that matters. This lack of urgency within our system and in basic management hampers our progress.
When it comes to the Ministry of Tourism, The Ministry of Sport and Community Development and The Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) they have both projected their commitment to financially support national sport as they see the potential economic and social benefits. A laudable stance that has resulted in policies, yet still, they have come under continuous fire especially over the past six years with athletes publicly claiming vindictiveness as funding was not readily available to them. In response the entities continue to mandate that the systems are in place to facilitate our representatives while publicizing the funds spent annually. Earlier this year it was reported that the MSCD spent $794,936 in funding for 13 athletes and sporting organizations. So,the records show that the funds are being spent, yet athletes feel disadvantaged financially. This highlights that new, easier processes with fundamental communication channels and transparency need to be structured between the Ministries and middle agents so that athletes understand the scope of support provided .
The ‘concrete’ examples of corruption and mismanagement of financial and human resources has placed doubt and has set us back. The Lifesport fiasco has become a household name that speaks to the corruption of funds allocated to sports. Additionally, In 2020, Trey Hart spoke out on the matter of discrimination and nepotism when he was allegedly wrongfully reassigned while employed as a Trainer by the TTFA. Mr. Hart is well qualified with a Bsc. in Sports Science and other certifications under his belt but was replaced by a gentleman who allegedly has less qualifications but vast experience in the field. In many other spaces within our local sporting industry, nepotism rears its ugly head wrongfully displacing persons from spaces they yearn to contribute to.
Another major stakeholder is the private sector. History shows that most of our athletes and the NGBs that represent them are reliant on Government funding which does not cover a vast majority of the expenses needed to pursue a career as an elite athlete. Especially since not all athletes belong to the pool of ‘Elite Athlete Program’. In Trinidad and Tobago substantial sponsorship from the private sector comes at a time where our athletes may have already triumphed. As large corporate entities then cleverly piggyback on the popularity of the young stars to market their products or services.
It is no secret that funding is an important component to an athlete’s success and noone should expect the Government or the private sector to fund it all. In the UK there is a National Lottery system solely for sport funding, which gives the average citizen the ability to be a financial contributor in sports. This National Lottery system was set up for elite sport in 1997, and since then British athletes have won 863 Olympic and Paralympic medals. The income from the lottery game aids in the upkeep of world class facilities, employment opportunities and it motivates a larger group of citizens to strive towards sporting elitism. Perhaps, corporate Trinidad and Tobago and the Government may see it beneficial to commit to the foundation of a lottery.
Nothing mentioned in the above is new, yet as a nation, we refuse to face the truth of our missteps. There are many other factors that can be highlighted for each stakeholder mentioned, which all belong to the cluster of problems that strain our advancement in sport. It is not too late for Trinidad and Tobago because we have endless talent that needs to be valued, harnessed and nurtured. I implore all of us, young and old. to reflect on the issues that plague our local sporting scene. There are 1.5 million stakeholders who ought to be held responsible for our progress. So, are we ready to wholeheartedly support our athletes?