Today the world would turn its attention to the official opening ceremony of the first edition of the Olympic Games to be held in South America. All of us from the Americas should be very proud that this has eventually come to pass. Of course the Brazilians would now have a very special place in Olympic history, whatever the outcome.
Over the next 16 days the world would share the experiences of the 10,000 athletes in attendance. Vincentians would pay special attention to the performances of our young swimmers, Shne Joachim and Nikolas Sylvester, whose competition comes at the very start of the Games. Then, in the latter half of the Games we would all focus on the fortunes of Kineke Alexander and Brandon Valentine-Parris, the track and field representatives.
Some members of the swim team have had some challenging times due to lengthy delays to their flight to Miami caused by extremely bad weather. We can only hope that this does not hinder their mind-set for the competition.
Brief performance history
This country first competed in the Summer Olympics in 1988 when we had the founder of the NOC, Lennox Adams, then a student at Ouachita Baptist University, U.S.A., competing in the Triple Jump, the country’s first Carifta gold medallist, Orde Ballantyne, who was at the time on a one-year scholarship at the University of Idaho, USA, competing in the Long Jump, Jacqueline Ross, and Eversley Linley, both students at the University of Idaho, junior sprinter based in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Michael Williams and a Vincentian living and competing in Canada, Andre Francois. The reigning OECS Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Hudson Nanton, was the other athlete on the team.
This country’s best showing at the Olympic Games dates back to the centennial Olympics hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, in 1996. That was when Eswort Coombs, a young man from Chateaubelair, at the time a second-year student at Essex Community College, New Jersey, USA, made it through to the semi-finals of the 400m.
Coombs had, in the previous year, won gold at the World University Games in Fukuoka, Japan, gold at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Athletics Championships in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and bronze at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina, feats that established him as the premier Vincentian athlete and most successful track and field individual in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There are those who still regard him as arguably the nation’s best.
Unfortunately, this country has not been able to do better at the Olympic Games since then despite being in attendance at every edition of the Summer Games thereafter.
For the Games in Rio this year, only Kineke Alexander met the established qualifying standards set by the international federation (IF). To her credit, Kineke has been meeting the standards for some time but has not been able to go as far as Coombs in the actual competition.
Natasha Mayers, while competing in the 100m at the Athens Olympics in 2004, qualified for the Games in the 100m, ranked 11th in the world at the time. Unfortunately, she pulled up lame in her Heats and although eligible to move on to the second round of the competition was forced to withdraw.
In the Games of 2000 in Sydney, Australia, the Vincentian team included swimmers, for the very first time. Teran Matthews and Stevenson Wallace made the team, having benefitted from universality places allocated to the sport. Swimmers have been on the team ever since.
Kineke is an experienced campaigner and this should serve her well. For the others we can expect the dynamics of a first time at the Olympics to play a major role in their performance. While we would have psychological support and experienced management, nothing really prepares the young athlete for the electrifying and heavily pressurised atmosphere of the Olympic Games.
Despite our problems with facilities we do expect that our athletes will do well.
We wish our athletes the very best in their respective competitions. We expect that by giving of their best they would inspire successive generations of Vincentian athletes to strive after excellence.
The dark clouds
The Olympic Games have had more than their fair share of ups and downs. All would recall the problems encountered in 1976 when African countries called for a boycott of the festival in Montreal, Canada. Only one Caribbean government joined the boycott. Guyana’s President at the time, Forbes Burnham, insisted on showing solidarity with his African brethren and ruled against the participation by any of his countrymen.
Four years later, 1980, several countries refused to participate in the Games in Moscow. This boycott was far more successful in its impact on the Games than that which took place in Montreal.
The Olympics of 1984 was also affected by a boycott.
Fear of yet another boycott in 1988 forced then International Olympic Committee President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, accompanied by the founder and President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), Mario Vazquez Rana, to travel around the world appealing to NOCs and their respective governments to see sport as separate from politics and reject boycotts of the Games. That occasioned the first visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines by both gentlemen.
The current crisis facing the international sport movement today is driven by the aggressive approach being taken by athletes and their entourages to win at all cost in their respective competitions.
We have all witnessed the international furore that has emerged following the actions by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in the latest saga of the fight for clean athletics.
The IAAF did not target Russia. Instead, it was the preponderance of cases emanating from Russia that threw that country in the doping spotlight.
The IAAF proved to be only the first IF to adopt a firm stance on the matter of cleaning up its sport. Others have since followed the IAAF’s lead and the revelations of the expansive nature of doping amongst Russian athletes has proven totally disheartening.
For the very first time since the reunification of Germany have so many different IF and sporting organisations called for the banning of athletes from one solitary country in the way that we are witnessing in the case of Russia today.
The IOC has found itself caught in the middle of the crisis and has become the object of much criticism for what appeared to many to be vacillation on the organisation’s part.
For the first time in decades, the IFs have taken the lead over the IOC in respect of a definitive stance on cleaning up sports.
For the first time too, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), a creation of the IOC, has found itself seeming at variance with the latter organisation, unclear as to its seeming hesitancy to adopt firm, unambiguous decisions regarding clean sport in the Olympic Games.
The combination of the aforementioned crisis with the explosion of the zika virus, the significant decline of the Brazilian economy and the political turmoil that has been triggered by excessive corruption at the highest level in the country, has served up an unhealthy cocktail that may well have negatively impacted ticket sales in an unprecedented manner for an edition of the Games without a boycott or the threat of boycott.
Whatever happens in Rio over the next 16 days of the Games the image of the IOC would probably be severely bruised.
International federations would emerge from the Rio Olympics significantly emboldened, confident that they are fully in control of their respective sports at the global level, inclusive of the Olympic Games.
The big question therefore is, are the Olympic Games at the crossroad?
Some would suggest that the Olympics are certainly at an important crossroad and this especially when one compares the very confident way in which Olympic Agenda2020 was launched and promoted and the seeming vacillation that took place in the lead up to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The IOC possesses the capacity and experience to come out of this situation with an enhanced reputation but it seems clear that there must be some serious review of the critical factors that impacted and continue to impact the international sporting scene if the IOC is to be seen as the global leader of this great sport movement.