CARIFTA Games and the future of athletics in the Caribbean

The 39th edition of the annual Carifta Games Track and Field Championships came to an end on Monday 5 April at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. As always the event was a great display of Caribbean talent with an amazing number of records broken as athletes from 25 countries rose to the occasion offered f=them by the gracious and excited hosts. At the conclusion of this year’s Carifta Games there was unanimous agreement among all present that the event is one of the greatest spectacles in the world and certainly the most remarkable track and field event for junior athletes anywhere.
The 39th edition of the Carifta Games saw some new features brought to the event that certainly aided its popularity and would impact its future.
Perhaps the most significant new feature of the Carifta Games was the massive infusion of funds by LIME, one of the region’s major communications organisation.
Organisers of the Carifta Games have long been courting LIME, formerly Cable and Wireless. Their first involvement came when in 2008 the Carifta Games were held in St Kitts and Nevis. At that time there was a commitment to providing support in cash and kind.
In the Cayman Islands this time around, LIME came forward with what must be some $250,000 USD in cash and kind.
LIME also provided assistance to the governing body for athletics in most of the countries across the Caribbean region where it operates. This was a means of facilitating participation by these countries and an easing of the financial burden involved in their getting to the Cayman Islands.
LIME’s sponsorship made a significant contribution to the capacity of the host, CIAA to realise the Games. The Cayman Islands is one of the region’s more expensive destinations not just in terms of accommodation but also in terms of the overall cost of living.
Hosting the Games would have necessitated access to a huge amount of financial resources.
1n 2004 the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Association of the IAAF (NACAC), signed its first sponsorship agreements for the Carifta games. The historic occasion took place at The Atrium of the Guardian Holdings headquarters in Trinidad and Tobago. The Games were being held in Hamilton, Bermuda, in that year, the costs were particularly high and funding was in great demand. The leadership of NACAC had long been seeking some sort of sponsorship but to no avail. Discussions involving then NACAC Vice President, Keith Joseph, of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Douglas Camacho, General Manager of Guardian Holdings Limited (GHL) and Hasely Crawford of the National Gas Company (NGC), both from Trinidad and Tobago, resulted in the first long term sponsorship of the Carifta Games. The contracts were for three years in the first instance with the option of renewal. The renewal came in the latter part of 2007 and the value of the sponsorship increased.
The two Trinidad and Tobago companies have remained with the Carifta Games, retaining their commitment even when the Games are being hosted in countries where neither has any sort of presence. Their commitment is to the development of the sporting talent among the Caribbean’s youth.
The CIAA was also able to attract a number of local sponsors all of whom made important contributions to the realisation of the annual event.
The government of the Cayman Islands, however, was the single largest contributor to the realisation of this year’s Carifta Games. There was an urgent need for infrastructural development and refurbishment and the government undertook this, as is usually the case whenever a major sporting event is hosted in a country, regardless of which the hemisphere in which the country is located.
Over the 38 years of the existence of the annual Carifta Games, there has never been regional coverage of any significance. Despite the remarkable achievements of the athletes of the Caribbean at the world’s premier track and field spectacle, none of the media appears to have considered the activity sufficiently attractive to undertake independent investment in covering it and marketing it to the world.
This year, while the media still balked at independent investment, other sources of investment for coverage were nonetheless pursued.
While much of the sponsorship from LIME went in cash contributions to the host Cayman Islands Athletics Association (CIAA), a significant proportion went into facilitating the first ever live coverage of the Games throughout the Caribbean where members of the Caribbean Media Corporation exist. This meant that for the very first time people around the region were able to tune into the competition on television.
But there were other aspects to this year’s contribution from LIME. The organisation ensured that the Games were streamed live around the world on its own website and on Facebook and Twitter. The CIAA’s own website also streamed the event and received more than 2.5m hits in the three days of competition. These hits came from all across the world. Perhaps it should be stated here that the CIAA’s website crashed for a period of time on the final day of competition and was later repaired. There would easily have been a larger number of hits had this not transpired.
The coverage was certainly very extensive and track and field buffs across the world took very keen interest in what was happening on the field of play in the Cayman Islands over the three days of competition.
During the Games there were countless texts being received from enthusiastic connoisseurs of track and field athletics to people who they knew were there or to others who were not but who they thought should be interested in getting information about the performances.
Each day of the 39th edition of the Carifta Games saw records tumble. On the very first day there were four new records established, setting the tone for the rest of the competition.
The Austin Sealey Award, the symbol of the single most outstanding achievements at the Games was won by Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago, the young athlete who shocked the world at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany, last year when at 17 he placed fourth in the final of the 400m Hurdles. At the Carifta Games in Cayman, Gordon won both the 400m Hurdles and the 110m Hurdles, establishing new Carifta records on each occasion.
There were outstanding performances by Grenada’s Kirani James who won both the 400m and the 200m, establishing a new Games record in the former.
Jamaica’s Kempy Campbell won the 1500m and 5000m yet again while Natoya Ghoul, his compatriot, completed the double in the 1500m and 3000m.
The Cayman’s Chantelle Morrison set the stadium alight when she won the 100m Girls Under 17 event.
Every athlete at the Carifta Games understood the reason for being there and contributed in no small measure to the success of the event.
Sport Tourism
The sport tourism impact on the Cayman Islands’ economy was huge.
The Bahamas continued to dominate the influx of overseas visitors during any edition of the Carifta Games. They brought 126 supporters to the Cayman Islands. This meant hotel occupancy across the board since the contingent also included government officials. While most of the countries bringing large contingents would each charter a single flight that brings the team and the extra seats occupied by supporters, the Bahamas brings two distinct charters to the Carifta games each year. One involves athletes and officials while one is exclusive to supporters. This year the Bahamas brought a full compliment of supporters involved in the festive Junkanoo celebrations at home. They have renamed themselves, The Carifta Congos.
There were supporters from Jamaica, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.
In the 39 years of the Carifta Games, this year’s edition was perhaps the most successfully branded and marketed. The CIAA accessed the services of an individual who designed the logo of the Games of 2010 and marketed the brand in a variety of ways, all of which proved immensely successful. Patrons from Cayman as well as across the Caribbean who were in the host nation for the Games were able to purchase a very wide range of Carifta Games memorabilia. Even the leadership of participating teams found that the final results, usually provided at the end of the event in a comprehensive booklet, received branded thumb drives with all of the details of this year’s competition.
Festive atmosphere
The annual Carifta Game sin track and field athletics is easily the single most festive such competition anywhere in the world. From the start of the first competition of the Games the festivities begin. There is singing and chanting for the duration of the event.
The Bahamas have established the setting with a band of accomplished and enthusiastic lovers of sport. They bring their drums and several other instruments to make the event truly celebrative.
The Jamaicans have warmed to the idea of having drums and other instruments as well.
Increasingly host countries have found it necessary to bring their own bands in order to avoid being drowned out by the visitors.
The athletes love the fun-filled atmosphere created by an interesting mix of the bands, the eagerly chanting crowds and the announcers. Together they create The Carifta Experience.
There is little doubt that the Carifta Games are here to stay and that the competition will become better as each edition improves on the previous ones.
Next year’s edition in St Kitts and Nevis has already begun to attract planning from the people of the Cayman Islands to mount their first charter to the annual event.
Given the reach of the Carifta Games 2010 we can expect scores of visitors from outside the Caribbean anxious to get their first real taste of the Carifta experience.