A message on Sports for CARICOM leaders

anderson_bowledThe interest shown by the CARICOM leaders in West Indies Cricket is commendable.
It is very important that we acknowledge the role of cricket in the liberation of our peoples from myriad forms of exploitation. But it is equally important that our leaders are consistent and offer leadership rather than engage in an array of activities that are as debilitating as the earlier exploitative experiences.

CARICOM’s Mandate
As we understand it CARICOM’s mandate is really to bring the countries of the region together with specific emphasis being placed on economic considerations such that we create a common market.
Idealists have always advocated for CARICOM to be a mechanism that would ultimately facilitate regional integration, the genuine coming together of peoples in their collective best interest.
Attempts at bringing the peoples of the region together date back to more than a century. Every effort has failed.
Renowned intellectual, Douglas Hall, insisted some time ago that the major problem of forging regional integration in the Caribbean is the fact that the movement has always been about the political leaders rather than the peoples of the region.
In essence Douglas’ analysis is significantly accurate. The politicians, considering themselves elected to lead, go ahead and make decisions regarding CARICOM then return to their respective populations with a sort of fait acompli that the latter neither understand nor find interesting enough to take seriously.
For the average man in the street however, CARICOM is really about the political leaders of the Caribbean agreeing to disagree on just how important and realistic is the possibility of regional integration.
CARICOM’s Performance
CARICOM’s performance record through the years has not been particularly good and after several years appears to be simply marking time.
It is difficult to accept that when CARIFTA and later CARICOM, were being established, the European Community was concerned enough to have their experts closely monitor the process to analyse the potential impact these organisations would have on them.
We missed the boat completely.
Dawne Bennett, reporting for CMC, wrote on 26 June 2008,
“Former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Professor Norman Girvan has warned that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is in danger of collapsing if regional leaders do not put mechanisms in place to enforce decisions taken to deepen the regional integration process…the 15-member CARICOM grouping had become stagnant due mainly to a lack of implementing decisions”.
She also noted, “St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves described the integration grouping as a ‘ramshackle political-administrative apparatus’ and predicted that the attitude of some countries would keep ‘CARICOM as a community of sovereign states in which several of its member states jealously guard a vaunted and pristine sovereignty’ “.
Debbie Ransome of the BBC at the time, writing on 2 July 2008 quoted eminent Barbadian literary figure, George Lamming speaking after receiving a CARICOM award. Lamming stated, “Listening to what you call ordinary people guessing about what you are doing here, there is in my view an impermissible social divide between the political classes and the populace…from one end of the Caribbean to (the other) …And that divide has led to a serious crisis in communication …My guess is that about 80 per cent of the population tonight are vaguely aware, if at all aware, of what is happening here tonight.”
Alissa Trotz, writing on 6 July 2009 in the Starbroek News of Guyana stated, described her thoughts at the opening of a meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government thus…”but as we stood at attention while the police band solemnly announced the arrival of Heads of State or delegation, I found myself struggling not to laugh …Looking at the seventeen men on stage, standing before their national flags and the Caricom standard, I found myself amazed and frustrated at the way in which we seem to have so completely internalized the lessons of colonial rule. Franz Fanon warned us about this in The Wretched of the Earth, written nearly half a century ago. Why on earth do we need so many Prime Ministers, Presidents, Premiers, assorted Cabinets, for a region this small and this vulnerable to the global economy? In whose interests is it that the Caribbean is probably, per capita, the most governed space in the entire world at a national level, and so demonstrably reluctant to translate governance into a regional imperative, when it is clear that the only route to meaningful sovereignty (beyond flag independence) and to political, economic and social security and justice for the Caribbean peoples is a regional one?”
Finally, Ricky Singh, writing in the Jamaica Gleaner, 23 September 2012, stated…”Now, 39 years after its inauguration at Chaguaramas, in Trinidad, the bitter truth is that as a community of a dozen independent states comprising some 16 million people (almost half being Haitians), CARICOM has quite a low performance rating in both categories — deepening of trade and economic integration, as well as widening the membership constituency.”
The foregoing excerpts serve to highlight the unfortunate reality of our CARICOM. It is an institution that has essentially failed the peoples of the Caribbean although it continues as a major talk shop for our political leaders.
Sport as a unifying factor in CARICOM
The Caribbean, long been as a scattering of little rocks that pop up to and fro demarcating the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean that perhaps were never intended for human habitation, survived the experience of conquest, colonization, slavery and indentureship that located us in the global society as capable of achieving little on our own.
But it is sport that first announced our capacity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world. While many have been quick to refer to cricket as the sport that brought us to international recognition this is a fallacy.
It was athletics and not cricket that brought us to the attention of the global community.
The Caribbean announced its arrival on the global sports scene when at the 1948 Olympics in London, Jamaica’s Arthur Wint grabbed gold and silver in the 400m and 800m respectively. Another Jamaican, Herb McKenley, who had ignited great interest in the region’s sprinting prowess amongst a global audience, finished second in the 400m, behind Wint.
Four years later at the Helsinki Olympics in Finland, the Caribbean left no doubt as to our athletic prowess when Jamaican, George Rhoden, won gold in the 400m and the Jamaicans dominated the 4 x 400m relay. McKenley finished second in the 100m and 400m respectively with Wint second in the 800m.
Caribbean track and field athletes were world heroes long before the Caribbean cricketers were considered good enough to be acknowledged as leading performers in a sport that had limited reach amongst the global community of nations.
The ascendancy of Usain Bolt of Jamaica in track and field athletics has led the Caribbean to new heights around the world. Jamaica and the entire Caribbean have, since 2008, been the beneficiary of Brand Bolt, a stunning phenomenon that has analysts everywhere researching what it is about the Caribbean that leads to such sprinting prowess.
The performances of Caribbean athletes in track and field athletics have, over the years, drawn considerable attention to the region, not just Jamaica. Evidence of this was the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, in 2008. We need only reflect on the line up in the final of the men’s 100m.
The Olympic Games are the world’s most popular sporting event and the Caribbean has been among the medals in several sports.
The FIFA Football World Cup, the second largest world sports spectacle, has seen Caribbean teams, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, serve as unifying forces for the region.
The world considers the Caribbean a force in several sports, with athletics being the most dominant. Unfortunately, the leaders in the Caribbean all appear to see only cricket, a sport played by only a handful of nations, as somehow requiring their attention at the level of CARICOM.
Our political leaders, in their prejudiced focus on cricket, have completed missed the important role that athletics in particular, and sport in general, have played in bringing the peoples of the Caribbean together.
At the Olympic Games, the peoples of the Caribbean all focus on our athletes, regardless of which country they are representing at the Games. They are seen as representing the aspirations of the peoples of the Caribbean
The fractious West Indies Federation and the early trauma of Independence may well have led many to believe that the divide and rule policy of the colonisers was the legacy with the single most important impact evident in near-tribal insularity amongst Caribbean peoples. Sport has however revealed that as a people we in the Caribbean possess the talent and determination to succeed at a global level (as numerous of our academics have done) yet facilitate the bringing together of our aspirations as a collective that no other institution has been able to achieve.
Sport has immense potential for the development of the human condition and by extension, of human society – physical well being, discipline, pursuit of excellence, respect for others, camaraderie and unity. Sport has the capacity to break down barriers and allow for the best of mankind to shine through. The Caribbean has a strong sporting legacy and is evidence of the significant contribution that sport can make to regionalism.
Perhaps the leaders and members of staff at CARICOM need to engage in a refresher course in Caribbean sporting history. They may just learn a thing or two about the role of sport must play in forging genuine regional integration.