St Vincent and the Grenadines is currently in the midst of preparations to join 2004 other National Olympic Committees, NOC, across the world at the summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, in 2008. The preparatory exercise is a most challenging one in many respects, not the least of which is the matter of the many stories now emanating globally about conditions in China.
The NOC of St Vincent and the Grenadines does have a mandate from the International Olympic Committee, IOC, to participate in the Games and to do so to the best of its ability.
In this week’s Column we explore some of those challenges confronting the NOC as it prepares for the Games in Beijing.
The IOC has long since established the 28 sports that will feature on its Programme for the Summer Olympics. The organisation has a policy and system in place to change the sports on the Programme periodically. There are several criteria normally considered in determining what sports should remain and those that should be removed.
Given the current selection of sports on the Summer Olympics Programme, St Vincent and the Grenadines is eligible to compete in the following: athletics, aquatics (which now captures all of the water sports), basketball, boxing, cycling, football, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis and volleyball.
Of the aforementioned sports, St Vincent and the Grenadines has already lost out on some of them, rendering the national representative team that much smaller, consistent with our participation in the Olympics since we first attended in 1988.
Tennis did not qualify for the Beijing Olympics when its players did not do well at the Central American and Caribbean Games, CAC, in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2006 and the Central American competitions held to facilitate the selection of the top players. In any event the International Tennis Federation, ITF, selects only the top 72 players for the Olympics. This is the main reason why none of the athletes nominated from tennis for Olympic scholarships found favour with Olympic Solidarity. The selected athletes were Corey Huggins and Kirk DaSilva. They were juniors at the time and according to the rules of Olympic Solidarity, the International Federation, IF, would have had to certify that with two years high level training they would have made the required standard to qualify for the Games.
Basketball participated in the CARICOM Basketball Tournament courtesy a grant from Olympic Solidarity under the IOC’s Team Support Grant. Unfortunately the team faltered badly and did not make it to the next qualifying round, Centrobasket. Had the team succeeded at the first and second levels then they would have had to participate in the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the period 13–29 July 2007.
Basketball therefore missed out on its opportunity to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
Football also missed out on the Beijing Olympics having failed to get by the first round of the Olympic qualifiers.
Cycling also has a problem with qualifying for Beijing. According to the rules of the International Cycling Union, UCI, the cyclists for the short events would have had to be among the top 20 in the world. For the road race events they would have had to qualify while participating in the CAC Games. This did not happen. No Vincentian cyclist has qualified for the Beijing Olympics.
The International Amateur Boxing Federation, AIBA, held one of its Olympic qualifying Tournaments in the USA a few weeks ago. The St Vincent and the Grenadines Amateur Boxing Association, SVGABA, opted not to participate. This effectively means that unless there is another such Tournament before the Olympics the local boxers would have exited the Games long before it started.
Taekwondo will hold its Olympic qualifiers in Colombia this week. St Vincent and the Grenadines is being represented. The results will determine whether or not this sport will have Vincentian representation at the Olympic Games next year.
Athletics and aquatics are the only two Ifs that have been able to insist that whatever the level of competition each of its affiliates has the right to send one male and one female participant, regardless of the established standards. This also means that each of their affiliates would have the right to one male and one female accompanying official.
In the absence of an Olympic size swimming pool, there seems little chance of any swimmer making the established standard for any of the events on the Beijing Programme. However, given that the organisation still has the option of two athletes and two officials the NOC would have to discuss the situation before a final decision is arrived at.
In the case of athletics, one athlete has thus far made the required standard. Kineke Alexander has already made the B Standard for the 400m at the Beijing Olympics. Adonson Shallow is close to the standard as also is the case of Clayton Latham (long jump) who resides in Canada, and Casnel Bushay (100m) who is at the High Performance Training Centre, HPTC, in Kingston, Jamaica. There is also some measure in confidence at the level of TASVG that Natasha Mayers, once healthy, can make the standard for the 100m.
The selection of the national representative team for the Beijing Olympics next year is not as difficult as one would have expected.
Athletics seems to be capable of earning the right to participate by virtue of having athletes who could attain the qualifying standards.
This seems something of a bother since when it comes to Olympics, the athletics fraternity often seems to have the best of everything. This is not always an easy thing for the rest of the sports on the Olympic Programme to accept. Unfortunately this is as a direct result of the struggle of the member federations of the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF, to insist on the one male and one female representation at all levels of its competitions. Of course it should be stated here that Jamaica, one of our Caribbean neighbours, objected to this in the first instance and continues to do so to this day. The Jamaican argument is that its athletes worked too hard to attain the right to stand among the best in the world for others to have an easy passage. It is the same rationale that caused the Jamaicans to object to the one country, one vote, at the IAAF in 1989, contrary to an initiative from the Caribbean that revolutionised the mode of operation at the IAAF Congresses. To this day it remains one of the unpardonable offences in sport that the Jamaicans balk at the fact that the small islands of the Caribbean have equal status at the highest level of decision-making in the IAAF; so much for Caribbean unity and yet so reflective of the problems that sniffed out any possibility of a Caribbean Federation between 1958 and 1962.
Several of the potential Vincentian track and field athletes who are likely to meet the standards for Beijing are already abroad, training at a much higher level than that which is offered here at home and with access to quality competitions akin to what would be expected in Beijing.
Some athletes are currently striving to attain the IAAF standards for the World Indoor Championships scheduled for Madrid, Spain, early next year. Bushay and Latham appear on track to make the standards. Alexander may well opt out of the Indoor campaign in order to better prepare herself for the Olympics.
For Beijing therefore the selection of the national team for St Vincent and the Grenadines will be determined by just how many track and field athletes make the established standards and whether the NOC decides that it would permit aquatic
s to be represented, given the severe limitations imposed upon the participants by lack of facilities here at home.
The preparation of the national representative team to the Beijing Olympics involves a series of high level training opportunities as well as competitions.
Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, TASVG, has already scheduled some intensive training programmes for the athletes who may well be selected and those who are on the threshold.
The World Outdoor Championships is one option. There is a training option in Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico and the USA. There is also an option of going to Hong Kong before the Olympics in Beijing.
Selected athletes as well as those on the threshold of selection must be afforded every opportunity to benefit from training and competition that can place them in a situation that can be considered appropriate to what is required of them at the Games.
We have to be tired of our people, lovers of sport, bemoaning the poor performance of our athletes at high level competition regionally and internationally. The time has come for us to do better and that means greater exposure to high-level training and competition.
Of course the preparation exercise requires adequate finance. The National Olympic Committee has been on the hunt for independent sources of financing over the past several years. The NOC cannot boast of consistent support from the Government in respect of participation at the Olympic Games. The Government contributions have been few and very, very far between. This is very unfortunate.
Perhaps it is best for the NOC and the Olympic Movement that it has been independent of Government for the most part since it has been unencumbered, politically.
In winning the bid to host the Olympics next year the Beijing Organising Committee offered each NOC to pay for all legitimate participants. This does not however mean that the NOC will not have expenses to meet.
The NOC is responsible for meeting the costs associated with the preparation of the team in all respects. However, since it is not always able to do so because of the associated expenses, it often asks its affiliates to assist as much as possible.
Team members must be appropriately presented at the Games. For the Beijing Olympics this inevitably involves organising sessions in communication skills, interpersonal relations, social and sports etiquette.
The NOC is responsible for the team uniforms – formal, casual and competition. It also has to secure commemorative memorabilia as well as ensure the acquisition of appropriate gifts for the Mayor of the Games Village, and several other critical personnel associated with the hosting of the team in Beijing.
The NOC has to work more deliberately at raising funds through sponsorship of one sort or another if it is to meet its commitments. There is much more work to be done to make the NOC’s national representative teams more prepared for Games participation.
The challenges are many and the NOC must prepare itself to meet them.