Insularity blinds the very best of us
The government of Trinidad and Tobago has finally completed the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, south Trinidad.
The facility is in fact much more than a traditional stadium. It is really a sports academy and more particularly, a cricket academy.
The facility has already been the subject of a massive inquiry given the problems associated with the selection of the site, excessive wastage in the early construction phase, accusations of extensive corruption and lengthy delays.
At one point, it was said that Brian Lara got rather upset at having his name associated with the several aforementioned problems that he wanted his name to be withdrawn.
Finally, the new government completed the project and the gala opening on Saturday 13 May 2017 featured an international match befitting of the tremendous respect and admiration that Lara has earned from around the sporting world.
The Sachin Tendulkar Stand
But the opening of the facility has not been without controversy, one that points to the insularity of our peoples in the midst of a rapidly changing world.
In the lead up to the official opening of the Brian Lara Stadium the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) announced that the north west stand at the Tarouba facility would be named after Indian cricketing genius, Sachin Tendulkar.
No sooner had the announcement been made that it created a furore in the twin-island Republic.
For its part the SPORTT’s leadership declared that the decision came after full discussion with Brian Lara who actually made the request.
SPORTT’s Michael Phillips (who has since resigned) at the time stated, “Our decision to name the stand after Mr Tendulkar was done on the advice of Mr Brian Lara. We have included Mr Lara in our decision making process in terms of how we roll out the launch and management of both the stadium and the academy” (Trinidad Guardian 22 April 2017).
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB), Azim Bassarath, quickly let the government and nation know of his own and his organisation’s displeasure at the decision which received Cabinet approval.
Bassarath argued that there are numerous Trinidad and Tobago cricketers who should ve given priority in respect of having a stand named after them. He felt strongly that India has not attempted to name a facility after a West Indian player and hence there is little reason for a Caribbean country to engage in such a practice first. He noted, “India have so many stadia and I don’t know any of them have stands named after any of our West Indian greats so why must we name a stand after Tendulkar. I thought there would be stands named after Ian Bishop, or Larry Gomes or Gus Logie or even the late Rangie Nanan. Not Tendulkar.”
Not to be outdone, former opening batsman for both Trinidad and Tobago and the West Indies, Bryan Davis, added his voice to those opposed to the decision taken by Cabinet. He stated, “I have to agree with Mr Bassarath …I believe that we have many Trinidad and Tobago nationals over the years that are well deserving of a name being put onto a stand, especially one being built by the Government (of T&T). So I feel that one of our nationals should have been awarded that honour before a foreigner, no matter how great he is.” (Trinidad Express 24 April 2014).
Interestingly, there are people who have lined up on both sides of the argument.
Many are therefore wondering about the possible rationale for Brian Lara’s thinking regarding the naming of one of the stands after someone who is not a national of Trinidad and Tobago.
It is interesting that in the heat of the argument some have been angry enough to suggest that Tendulkar has done nothing for the twin-island Republic and therefore not deserving of the honour that Lara has asked to have bestowed on him.
One possible rationale is the fact that Brian Lara has been involved in the marketing of Trinidad and Tobago. He has been on tour with the tourism promotion people literally marketing his homeland as an ideal place to visit.
One suggestion is that Brian Lara is aware that India possesses the largest cricketing market in the world. He is also aware that he is very much adored in that part of the world.
The majority of the population of Trinidad and Tobago are Indians, descendants of the Indentureship that followed the emancipation of slaves in the Caribbean.
Caribbean peoples would not forget the adulation that Sunil Gavaskar received in Trinidad and Tobago from the East Indians as he stood up against the very best that the West Indies had to offer.
Lara would also be very much aware that Tendulkar currently has a draw of 28 million people to his face book account.
It is therefore conceivable that Brian Lara, in his anxiety to market Trinidad and Tobago may well have understood only too well the appeal to Indians that a cricket stand in Trinidad and Tobago named after Sachin Tendulkar, in the home of Brian Lara, would have.
Lara may well have literally been ‘thinking outside the box’.
If indeed Lara is still a global cricketing icon, his display of magnanimity may well have been interpreted in the international cricketing and sport world as a ‘cause celebre’.
Some seem to think that Lara may well have had plans to have Tendulkar and himself team up to bring cricketers of all genres to Trinidad and Tobago simply to play in an arena that is unique in its recognition of two of the world’s finest cricketers of all time.
The global appeal of playing at an arena graced by these two gentlemen would redound immensely to the economic benefit of Trinidad and Tobago.
Perhaps it is an aspect of modern life that others are yet to understand.
It may be too much for even seasoned sports administrators and myopic politicians to wrap their heads around.
That a national sporting icon can call for national recognition of another such individual and go beyond the narrow confines of nationality to the global stage, the global village as it were, may just be too much for insular minds to grasp.
Some time ago, Lara travelled with the West Indies team on a tour to India and an individual travelled several thousand miles just to get a glimpse of him play in real life. The man recounted that on the day of his visit to the game Lara only made 30 runs but he was satisfied that he was able to tell his family and successive generations of the day he saw, in real life, Brian Charles Lara at the crease.
Perhaps it is that as yet we have not attained this level of commitment to sport and appreciation of sporting icons.
In this Caribbean of ours we do not care much for national sporting heroes. Once their playing days are over we have a tendency to ignore them, with few exceptions.
While his home country continues to declare him ‘The Prince of Port of Spain’, his West Indies colleagues stood at the Queen’s Park Oval and watched as a fellow player, teammate, appeared to carefully orchestrate his demise in the middle in his final match before his home crowd.
Lara may well have shown the very player that whatever he may achieve in his own lifetime he would never attain the heights in the game that the man he so readily ditched at what should have been a moment of honour.
Globalisation is a reality. We can make of it what we please.
The problem for many of us is that the crabs in a barrel syndrome drives us to extremes that ultimately leave us looking a most despicable lot.
We have allowed so many trifling issues to divide us.
We have grown abhorrently myopic and insular.
It is possible for us to live in peaceful coexistence, if we are genuinely committed to the cause.
The challenge of what has transpired in Trinidad and Tobago regarding Brian Lara’s choice of naming a stand in honour of a fellow global cricketing icon is that we are not ready to build bridges.
We are only too eager to remain in the cloistered and claustrophobic cocoon that we have created for ourselves.
As a people we remain so lacking in self confidence that we cannot yet bring ourselves to recognise that the recognition of others inevitably helps us to strive after higher levels of achievement and of excellence.
Trinidad and Tobago, a country that boasts of its cosmopolitan status, seems hemmed in by its own myopia.
We need ask ourselves to what extent are we any different.
We watch in amazement as each week we boast of the achievements of a Vincentian living elsewhere and where ha/she has accepted citizenship. We still claim tem as Vincentian even as another country does likewise and acknowledges their achievements as emanating from that latter status.
Here at home however, we continue to remind people of their origins, promoting myopia and elevating it almost to an artform, integral to our Vincentian culture.
Lara may yet have challenged us about our very authenticity as human beings committed to living together in an increasingly fractious world.