On Tuesday 5 November the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) convened for the organisation’s 11th General Assembly in the beautiful island of St Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
The membership of CANOC celebrated the 10th anniversary of the organisation, a feat that at one time few thought achievable.
Rather interesting and excitedly the CANOC emerged from this particular edition of the General Assembly energised and highly expectant of what the future holds for the organisation and the work to which it is committed in this Caribbean of ours.
Caribbean countries formed their own National Olympic Committees (NOC) most of which started becoming members of the International Olympic Movement when they were still colonies in the British Empire and came to prominence when Jamaica’s Arthur Wint captured gold in the 800m at the London Olympics in 1948.
During the period of the ill-fated West Indies Federation (1958 – 1962) the International Olympic Committee recognised one Caribbean Olympic Committee as it had done for the Soviet Union (USSR), which was also made up of several countries, which initially had their own respective NOCs.
Following the collapse of the Federation in 1962 and as Caribbean countries accessed Independence, they established NOCs and became members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The rules of engagement of the IOC has undergone change over the years and today some Caribbean countries still colonies of either Britain of France or Holland are unable to access membership of the IOC.
Interestingly, the existence of a Caribbean Olympic Committee did not allow the leadership of the day to appreciate the opportunity that this afforded them to allow sport to aid in the forging of regionalism. They were victims of their time and of their respective political leader’s nationalist agenda. There was really no appreciation for the tremendous potential that the Olympic Movement could have had on the development of one proud Caribbean nation.
The Caribbean Olympic Committee therefore readily fell apart once the politicians had agreed that one from ten leaves nought, the great yet unfortunate mathematics articulated at the time by a very disappointed Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago. This was in reference to Jamaica’s decision via a national referendum on the West Indies Federation, to withdraw from that institution.
As the individual NOCs moved around the Olympic Movement they started to meet informally to discuss matters of mutual interest. This was perhaps as much in response to lobbyists from other NOCs around the world seeking support for one thing or another, as it was one of the ways that they could lobby for positions for some of the leaders of the NOCs in the region to access leadership positions on regional and international bodies.
It must have struck the Caribbean leaders of NOCs at the time that their counterparts of different regions of the world were caucusing at every opportunity and that this was a mechanism to access leadership positions in the different emerging institutions within the global Olympic Movement.
The informal meetings followed the pattern of Caribbean politics. The leaders of the NOCs of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, of course, led them.
They was no formal structure to support their assumption of leadership but they were the leaders and sat at the front of the meeting facing the other NOCs, an indication of the authority they appeared to have allocated themselves with the concurrence of the others present.
At one of the Caribbean NOCs’ informal meetings in San Juan, Puerto Rico in November 1988, St Vincent and the Grenadines asked about the absence of any structure and lamented the fact that the only reason the meeting was hastily called was the elections for officers for the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO) and the President had asked all regions to meet to decide who they were prepared to put on the Executive.
In response to the comments from the St Vincent and the Grenadines representative, the Chairman at the time, Jamaica’s Michael Fennell, indicated that it is the informal meetings that kept them together and that often when we formalise such things all goes wrong. He suggested that we should be in no haste to formalise anything.
Of course the response was myopic but reflected the thinking at the time – insularity – that left the representatives of the larger Caribbean countries firmly in control.
In 1990s Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia became members of the IOC. St Vincent and the Grenadines NOC, which had been partially instrumental in assisting them in gaining recognition and membership, immediately commenced discussions about the establishment of a governing body for the NOCs of the OECS sub region to further their collective interests in the International Olympic Movement and promote sport development in the sub region.
In 1995 the NOCs of the OECS met and made some decisions as a block to access a position on the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organisation (CACSO). The members of the OECS sub region made it clear to the rest of the Caribbean that they were prepared to act in concert on matters of interest in the Olympic Movement. This undoubtedly spurred the NOCs of the larger Caribbean countries to act more deliberately to formalise their informal meetings into a regional body.
The decision to have the regional body incorporate all the NOCs of Cuba, Dominican Republic Haiti and Puerto Rico – all already members of PASO and CACSO – as well as the French and Dutch-speaking countries in the Caribbean is perhaps yet another reflection of a concern that without these the smaller NOC may have had far too much control over the votes on any issue within the organisation.
In essence therefore it appears that it was the fear of the growing influence of the small NOCs of the OECS and the power of the vote that led to the final decision to forge a formal grouping of Caribbean NOCs.
Getting it together
At the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1998, the NOCs of the Caribbean took their discussions about formalising their relationship to another level.
The meeting of Caribbean NOCs agreed the establishment of a Steering Committee to oversee the process of formalising what has been happening for several years and establish the parameters for the new institution. The agreed mission stated:
- To implement programmes using the financial assistance available through the governments of Canada and Australia and Olympic Solidarity,
- To represent the interests of all the NOC of the region and key stakeholders. There was much support for this initiative from Melbourne; the city was preparing its candidacy for the Commonwealth Games 2006.
As the foregoing suggests, the focus was less on developing its members and empowering them within the global Olympic Movement and more on doing more with what they could access. This limited approach was to change over time.
In February 1999 a formal meeting of what was then called the Caribbean Caucus of National Olympic Committees was held in Barbados. The Australian Institute of Sport supported this initiative. Here again the focus was narrow.
Ministers of Sport of the Caribbean met and were presented with ideas and plans for the establishment of a regional grouping of NOCs, a move with which they felt comfortable.
Also at the same time some individuals began raising the possibility of the creation of a Caribbean Games.
In 2001 the process was taken further with a meeting of the Caucus in Port of Spain where it was firmly agreed that the NOCs of the region were committed to the realisation of a Caribbean body for the Olympic Movement and its activities. At this meeting the NOCs of the OECS indicated in no uncertain terms that just as there is a CARICOM and an OECS looking after the interests of the different groupings so too the OECS could continue on its path of being a sub regional grouping of NOCs. Some were not happy with this stance but it was nonetheless tabled.
The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee, one of the leaders in the push for the establishment of the regional body, acquired the support and endorsement of the government of that country, to house the soon to be created secretariat.
The birth of CANOC
On 31 July 2003 the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) was officially established with approval of its constitution and the election of officers. This took place during the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Steve Stoute of Barbados was the first president of CANOC, a position he still holds.
Significantly CANOC’s Vision had by this time undergone immense change. It reads
Acknowledging the International Olympic Committee as the Supreme Authority of the Olympic Movement, to ensure the observance of the Olympic Charter to contribute to the achievement of the goals set out therein while upholding the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.
To promote, encourage and assist sport, sport development and physical recreation throughout the Caribbean for the benefit of the nations and people of the Caribbean.”
10 years on
Ten years later CANOC has become a major pillar in the global Olympic Movement. Its international image is shining through. The organisation is gradually gaining the recognition it deserves as it fosters a growing awareness of the importance of the Olympic Movement amongst the peoples of the Caribbean.
CANOC is recognised by CARICOM and works with this institution in important areas. It has ownership of the innovative Caribbean Coaches Certification Programme (CCCP) a foundation curse for coaches of all sporting disciplines.
Unfortunately the experience in attempting to host the Inaugural Caribbean Games in Trinidad and Tobago got derailed by force of circumstance but that objective still exists and would one day be realised.
In a few days CANOC will be making a major announcement to the world that stands to position the organisation in the forefront of the Caribbean.
The Caribbean does have people with vision and it certainly has an abundance of talent and expertise in the field of sport.
The future seems particularly bright for CANOC and the Caribbean we hold dear.