Caribbean unity and sport
There is a belief amongst some that sport facilitates unity. Many analysts in the region who have examined the path of West Indies cricket over the years express this view.
True, our peoples of the Caribbean used cricket to establish themselves; to show the world that as a once colonised people we have no less talent than those who started the game and those who had become its primary adherents.
CLR James emphasised the importance of the game to our people in his highly acclaimed, Beyond A Boundary.
Over the years we have heard that the only institutions that reflect the aspirations of our people towards regional integration are West Indies cricket and the University of the West Indies.
In reality however the region has not been drawn any closer through our sporting endeavours even as we continue to speak of this as a viable option.
West Indies Cricket
The West Indies cricket team has often been held as an example of the possibilities of regional integration. This is the case only when the team is successful and everyone seems keen on identifying with the fortunes of the players. It is a totally different thing when the team is selected.
Throughout the region the selection of players from the different countries is almost always a matter of controversy. It is at this time that we observe the chronic insularity that almost defies logic. The people of each of the participating countries often lay claim to the inefficiency of the selectors and in some instances decry the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) for not being truly regional in its approach.
Some countries seem to think that they alone can be considered the repository of the best players and if given the chance players from their respective countries alone would constitute the West Indies team for any given series.
The partisanship is also often displayed during any series in which the West Indies are engaged. Patrons seem to determine their attendance at matches based on the percentage of the West Indies team that comes from their respective countries. It is not uncommon to hear talk of boycotting matches because of this particular reasoning.
The West Indies Cricket Board itself has long since lost sight of the historical stance that it is a unifying force in the region embodying the aspirations of our peoples. They do not seem to care of the sport’s history. The current leadership seems more concerned about wresting control of the sport from the players who have been determining the pace of the game’s development in many respects since the Kerry Packer series.
In many respects therefore West Indies cricket is not in any way a force for Caribbean unity.
Cricket World Cup 2007
When the WICB got the right to host the Cricket World Cup 2007 (CWC2007) it was somehow expected that once more an attempt would have been made to have sp/ort as a vehicle for regional unity.
The governments of the region agreed the signing into law the Sunset Legislation that virtually rejected the cricket entertainment culture that had been crafted by our peoples of the Caribbean over several decades.
Our peoples have long since grown accustomed to taking along their beverages and meals and still access the offerings of the many vendors at the various venues. Yet the governments of the region readily ignored this in favour of the dictates of the CWC2007 organisers.
The region’s leaders also agreed the free movement of peoples across the region during the period of the CWC2007. This was rather amazing in that the very governments that have been finding immense difficulty in crafting appropriate legislation for decades that would have facilitated the free movement of our own peoples between islands eagerly capitulated to this particular requirement but for the period of the World Cup. Additionally, once the World Cup was over the Caribbean people had to revert to the hassles of travelling across borders in this region. They saw no contradiction in this action.
World Cup Football
In 1989 when Trinidad and Tobago appeared on the verge of qualifying for the Football World Cup the entire region seemed to have come together in support of the team. Everywhere in the Caribbean people were engaged in activities designed to show their support for the twin-island Republic. Women in Grenada and Jamaica were painting their nails in the colours of the national flag of Trinidad and Tobago. Elsewhere people were wearing some thing that depicted their identification with the team.
There was a mood sweeping the Caribbean that suggested a sense of regional unity. This did not however extend beyond the game between USA and Trinidad and Tobago that saw the USA move forward to the 1990 World Cup Finals.
Several years later when Jamaica became the first English-speaking Caribbean country to reach the Football World Cup Finals, the Caribbean’s response was in no way near that which we all witnessed in 1989. While there was obvious interest around the region in Jamaica’s achievement there was no regional euphoria. The explanation may well have been consistent with the region’s response to Jamaica’s lack of interest in the West Indian Federation in the 1950s.
When Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup Finals the Caribbean’s response was again lukewarm. The interest was there but no euphoria.
Beijing 2008 and beyond
Jamaica was particularly outstanding at the Olympic Games held in Beijing, China, in 2008. Usain Bolt led the charge in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m all of which saw new Olympic and world records established. The Jamaican team at the Games won 11 gold medals.
The peoples of the Caribbean saw and applauded the success of the Jamaicans as well as Trinidad and Tobago and the Netherlands Antilles. However, the region remained as divided as ever in spite of the successes in Beijing.
At no time did the athletes from the region identify their successes with the Caribbean as a region. Regionalism seemed alien to them, their coaches, managers and importantly, their respective national associations and National Olympic Committees (NOC).
When the Jamaican government and media sought to heap praises on their athletes’ achievements in Beijing they too seemed oblivious to the fact that they came from a Caribbean region badly in need of unification and a common sense of purpose.
In 1994, Eswort Coombs spent just over one month in Jamaica following an arrangement made between the leadership of what is now Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) and a Jamaican athletics official. Coombs did benefit from the high-intensity training provided in Jamaica and the access to the synthetic surface on a regular basis.
Once Coombs attained some measure of success however it was stated in several quarters that they were the results of his Jamaica training. It was as though, in the opinion of the Jamaicans who held this view that he had no background in the sport until he spent that one month in Jamaica.
Earlier this year Jamaica played host to the annual Carifta Games and it was quite obvious that the announcers found distinct pleasure in advising the spectators and the listening public which athletes from non-Jamaican countries were the beneficiaries of training in Jamaica.
There is a sense in which the idea being promulgate dis that within the region Jamaica is the home of athletics but there is at the same time no identification of that country and its athletes with the rest of the Caribbean.
This is perhaps the reason why Caribbean people remain surprised that Bolt’s success has not extended beyond the shores of Jamaica in this region of ours. In much the same way that the Jamaica seems to find immense difficulty identifying with the Caribbean so too the reverse seems true.
Role of sport
The founding fathers of the modern Olympic Movement were keen to speak of the positive values attendant to participation in sport. They felt strongly that sport aids in the development of the individual. They also saw the Olympic Games as a mechanism for fostering unity amongst the peoples of the world. More than a century after the establishment of the International Olympic Committee and the Modern Olympic Games the world is still waiting for the realisation of the lofty ideals of the founding fathers.
In many respects sport has become an avenue for showcasing the growth and development of nations in a highly competitive world.
There is little evidence of sport as a unifying force within and between nations. This is not to say that we should throw the ideal out the window. We must nonetheless be realistic.
Coaches here in St Vincent and the Grenadines are involved in intense rivalry for athletes who are not their own children. They behave in a most vicious manner claiming any athlete that achieves some measure of success as their handiwork. This is all very unfortunate and is much worse at the international level.
In the old days of the Cold War era sport was the avenue for the Left to show that theirs was the better system of governance. In the end the revelations about rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in an orchestrated manner left little doubt that the concept of ‘win at all cost’ was more important than that of participation.
Here in the Caribbean and indeed in our own St Vincent and the Grenadines it would require a significant change of understanding and attitude by those involved in sport at every level if we are to realise the full potential that sport possesses for humanity.