There was much disappointment and shame at the conclusion of the Opening Day of the Annual Windward Islands Secondary Schools Games at the Arnos Vale Playing Field. The shame and disappointment came in the form of the particularly poor performances of the Vincentian athletes in the first sport of the Games, Track and Field Athletics. From the commencement of the very first event of the day, the Girls High Jump, it was evident that the host nation, St Vincent and the Grenadines, was really not prepared for the athletics competition. The rest is now part of this country’s sordid sporting history.
This was certainly not the first time that there were problems with the selection of the national representative team for the Windward Islands Games. The problem seems to begin and perhaps end with the determination of precisely who is responsible for the selection process.
Each of the participating teams is allowed a total of 48 athletes to participate in five sports – Athletics, Basketball, Football, Netball and Volleyball. This fact in and of itself suggests that several athletes would be called upon to participate in more than one discipline. The team selection process therefore must necessarily involve the aggressive search for individuals possessive of the requisite skills to facilitate involvement in multiple sports. But that may only be one way of looking at it.
In the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines for the 2009 Windward Islands Games it was clear that the persons responsible for team selection did not consider Athletics one of their priorities. This is the only explanation one can have for the composition of the team.
In the case of Netball, the selectors ensured that netballers were selected. As has become the norm, a training squad is selected immediately following the conclusion of the Inter Secondary Schools Netball Tournament. This training squad is then entered in the National Netball Tournament. This gives them several months training and competing together and the obvious benefits that accrue therefrom.
Earlier in the year there was a bone of contention in respect of the selection of the training squad, however. There was confusion over whether the selected players should be allowed to compete for their respective clubs/teams or the Secondary School team, in the National Tournament. In the end the decision was taken to allow the players, in consultation with their parents to make their own choices. It was the understanding of those at the particular meeting that the players who opted to play with their respective clubs/teams would not be subjected to any form of recrimination. As it turned out it appears that this latter understanding was not universal and some players were not considered regardless of their abilities.
Still, the Vincentian Netball team in the Windward Islands Games would have been together for several months. The team therefore has specialist netballers.
The case of Football is relatively similar to that of Netball in terms of the selection process. The national representative team comprises a significant number of players in training with the Under 20 national team under the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation. Many of the players would have been involved in national and regional competitions over the past year. Here again the team has the benefit of a majority of specialists in the particular sport.
These players would have been training and competing together for several months.
The Volleyball team for the Windward Islands Games is the third one to have had the benefit of a significant number of specialists in the particular sport. Indeed it has been suggested that many persons thought that this was the first time in several years that the Volleyball team would have had the benefit of so many specialists.
Given the foregoing there would have been very few places left for the overall team to accommodate many more specialists in the remaining sports.
Basketball appears to have experienced more than its fair share of problems in respect of the selection process.
Athletics can readily lay claim to not having had the benefit of any significant number of specialists. With several trained coaches in the school system it appears that the governing body for the sport, Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, was not considered in the selection process and were certainly not called upon to assist in the preparation of the athletes selected.
In many respects it appears that there may well have been a deliberate strategy on the part of the Vincentian selectors to pin their hopes of moving up from the cellar position in the annual Games on the netballers, footballers and volleyballers more than on the overall team.
Reports seem to indicate that the athletes involved in the Track and Field competition at Arnos Vale on Saturday last were never really subjected to any genuine attempt at preparation of the order expected for these Games. The athletes were, for the most part, totally unprepared for the competition.
In the very first event one of the athletes showed signs of injury after the first attempt in the High Jump.
In several events the Vincentian athletes found difficulty completing the course or did so very poorly. At the day wore on there was one event in which there was no Vincentian athlete where there should have been two in the competition.
The Arnos Vale Playing Field remains a very difficult surface on which to compete given the heavy sand base that now exists. To compete favourably on the surface one has to engage in an extensive period of preparation. This was certainly not the case for our Vincentian athletes.
The poor preparation was evidenced at every turn. The Vincentian athletes displayed the most hopeless baton-passing exhibited in the competition. It was as though they had never been through the regimen before.
While the athletes from the other countries were adept at using the starting blocks provided or started the sprint events from the crouched position the majority of Vincentians were seen using the standing start despite knowing that this is anathema in regional and international competitions.
One wonders therefore whether the selectors had identified coaches to prepare the athletics team and the extent of the training undertaken prior to the competition.
It appeared clear that following the conclusion of the Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships in April, the athletes were not informed of their selection to any training squad in preparation for the Windward Islands Games nor were they brought under the direct leadership of selected coaches.
The outcome for the Vincentian athletes in the athletics competition was therefore cast long before the Windward Islands Games began. The showing on the day of the Track and Field competition was merely the final straw.
The Track and Field Competition at the Windward Islands Games was particularly good. The performance of the Grenadian team was predictable given their ever-improving performances since the acquisition if a synthetic track and the boost in interest, participation and serious training thereafter.
The top Grenadian athletes involved in this year’s Carifta Games were involved in the competition. The only major athlete absent from the Grenadian team was the recently crowned IAAF World Youth 400m Champion, Kirani James. The athlete who placed second to him at this year’s Carifta Games, Rondell Bartholomew, was the winner of both the 200m and 400m on Saturday last.
The Grenadian athletes had been in training for some time but they were also significantly committed to taking top honours at the competition on Saturday.
The Dominican team was also particularly keen on the competition. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final event of the day, the Boys 4 x 400m Relay in which they narrowly defeated the Grenadians.
The St Lucians also cam much better prepared than the Vincentians and delivered more in the competition arena.
The approach being taken by the Ministry of Education to once more involve national sports associations in its annual sports programmes augurs well for the future. There must however be a systematic strategic plan established to facilitate ongoing development of all of our sports. This must be reflected in ever-higher standards emerging in our respective Inter Schools competitions.
The preparation for the annual Windward Islands Games must be seen in all of our competitions throughout the year. This preparation must be part of the overall development strategy of each of the sporting disciplines involved. The approach must be to have the respective governing bodies for the sports provide a comprehensive developmental programme that would allow for the ready availability of a strong cadre of specialists in each of the sports on the Windward Islands Games programme while identifying and appropriately preparing those with multidisciplinary capabilities to provide the critical support needed to deliver high quality performances.
Clearly the annual Windward Islands Games provides a tremendous developmental platform for our young athletes and it must be so perceived by the national sports associations. It must serve as a useful guide to the future of our sports.