The relatively small Caribbean nation of St Kitts/Nevis delivered on its promise made three years ago in Scarborough, Tobago, in respect of hosting the 37th edition of the annual Carifta Games.
The Games were held in Basseterre, St Kitts, during the period 22 – 24 March 2008.
The governing body for athletics in St Kitts/Nevis, the St Kitts Nevis Amateur Athletics Association (SKNAAA) raised eyebrows at the annual Carifta Congress in Tobago when they submitted an official bid to host the 37th Carifta Games in 2008. The leadership came prepared and to add to their presentation to the Congress they made a telephone call to the Minister of State in the Ministry of Sport, Ricky Skerritt (a former manager of the West Indies cricket team) who was at the time holidaying on the island of Nevis. Skerritt immediately confirmed to the Congress via the telephone that the government of St Kitts/Nevis was fully supportive of the SKNAAA’s bid and would undertake whatever was required to ensure that the event was held at the scheduled time and recorded as a major success.
At the time of the submission of its bid for the Carifta Games 2008 there was no synthetic athletics track in St Kitts/Nevis. The first major challenge for the SKNAAA therefore was to be able to have the track and attendant facilities constructed in time.
Of course history reveals that many organisations bid for major events as a means of cajoling their respective governments to move beyond the promise of facilities and the playing of politics with sports to the realisation of these facilities and the allocation of adequate resources for a successful activity. This was easily the case in St Kitts/Nevis.
In the early 1990s the then government of St Kitts/Nevis gave an undertaking that it would provide $1m ECD to the National Olympic Committee (NOC) to facilitate the sport development process. The NOC joined forces with the SKNAAA to ensure that the talented athletes were identified and opportunities provided for them to train and compete regularly at competitions that served as a means of taking them to the next level. Since then the track and field programme of St Kitts/Nevis has become one of the more successful in the Caribbean.
Kim Collins who is already an athletics legend in St Kitts/Nevis, was the most successful of the beneficiaries of the programme. In 1999 in Barbados he showed just how much of a threat he would become. One year later he made it to the finals of the 100m at the Sydney Olympics. This was followed in 2001 with a bronze medal at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada.
The wily Kim Collins won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England in 2002 and shocked the world with a gold medal at the prestigious World Championships in Paris, France, in 2003.
Collins’ achievements have blazed a trail in athletics in St Kitts/Nevis that was the basis for the timely decision on the part of the SKNAAA to bid to host the annual Carifta Games 2008.
The Carifta Games 2008
The 37th edition of the annual Carifta Games came off with much success.
For the first time in the history of the Carifta Games the host country had a parade through the streets of the capital with the athletes who would be representing them at the Games. This event took place one week before the Games and at the conclusion of the parade each of the 56 athletes was introduced to the public. It was a grand occasion and a significant public relations gambit. It worked. It served to involve the nation in the hosting of the Games.
Never before did the host of any Carifta Games have any major contractual obligations to the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Association (NACAC) of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). In 2007 the NACAC prepared a contract covering all aspects of the Games in much the same manner that the IAAF engages host federations for the World Championships. Prior to these Games, the only contract established with the NACAC and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) related to an agreement with the third parties, the regional sponsors, Guardian Holdings Limited and National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago.
For the very first time the LOC of the Carifta Games was able to sell the broadcast rights in a manner consistent with the standards set by the IAAF.
The rights to the Games belong to NACAC and these were handed to the LOC. The rights were sold to ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation of St Kitts/Nevis for $100,000 USD. This is a major coup for the NACAC whose share would be 50% of the selling price, setting the stage for future editions of the Carifta Games. This is a point that many never foresaw. Few would ever have given consideration to the value of the Games being $100,000 USD. The reality is that the Games are now such an integral part of the international athletics landscape that its value continues to appreciate rapidly. It can only get better.
The 2008 Games proved to be the largest ever hosted by any country since the event began in 1972 in Barbados.
At the conclusion of the event the LOC had produced over 800 accreditations for teams and over 60 journalists from across the region, including the host nation.
St Kitts/Nevis showed the region that despite its relatively small size it was capable of producing the largest crowds in attendance at the Carifta Games since 1976 or thereabouts. On Sunday 23 March there were in excess of 5000 people in the arena and this was readily exceeded on the final day when some 8000 people were in attendance.
Despite the problems experienced with the electronic high definition display board it was a first for the Carifta Games and signals a new direction for the annual event.
The Governor General attended every day of competition and the Prime Minister was present at the Opening Ceremony, the first and final days of competition. The Minister of State in the Ministry of Sport was present at every session of the Games.
Several records were broken at the Games and the standard of competition was consistent throughout.
The trend of the medals being shared around continued at this edition of the Carifta Games. Perhaps the pride and joy of everyone was the gold and silver medal attained by the athletes from the Turks and Caicos Islands. The importance of this achievement has to do with the fact that last year the country hosted the Carifta Games and its athletes suffered from the chiding of its populace because they did not achieve any medals. Things take time and the athletes and coaches of the Turks and Caicos Islands realised the benefit of a new facility. Thus, it was a very sweet tasting success for the country as a whole when the athletes achieved gold and silver.
Another major element of success was the large contingent put into competition by little St Kitts/Nevis. 56 athletes, some of whom were competing in events that they had not fully grown accustomed to, impacted the process immensely.
The Bahamas delegation, all two charters, inclusive of parents, family members and supporters, were once more the life of the party. They are now an integral part of the culture of the Carifta Games. They make a tremendous contribution to the economy of the host country. They attend all of the competition sessions and make a pleasant sound throughout the Games with their Junkanoo entourage. No other participating country in the Carifta Games, not even host country has ever been able to compete with the sounds produced by the Bahamians. They are simply unbelievable.
The Bahamas support team involved 150 persons who filled two additional hotels in St Kitts/Nevis, rented 14 vehicles for the five days they were there and spent much on Games and other Kittitian memorabilia, food and beverage.
The Games have come and gone but their significance would forever impact their future.
The silencing of the critics
ithin our little Caribbean we are today as far removed from any genuine regional integration as we have ever been in the past.
When the SKNAAA made its bold bid to host the Carifta Games of 2008, there were national athletics federations of the Carifta Family who insisted that it was an impossible undertaking.
One of the larger Caribbean countries made bold to openly criticise the SKNAAA for what it perceived as a silly bid declaring that it would never come off.
Even when participating teams were arriving in St Kitts/Nevis some were still quite apprehensive about the capacity of this small nation of 45,000 people to host the Games. They were all proven wrong and by a very long way.
One of the problems of the Caribbean is our eagerness to maintain the old colonial divide and rule policy. The big island, small island controversy is as alive today as ever before. There remains a sort of looking down the noses by the larger countries to the undertakings of the smaller ones. There is a sense in which the larger countries continue to belittle the capacities of people from the smaller ones. This is all very unfortunate.
The successes of the smaller nations of the Caribbean in respect of the hosting of athletics competitions and the continued inroads being made into the medal tally of the larger countries have been a source of bother to some of the larger countries and the response has not been exactly consistent with the lofty ideals of the global sports movement. They often ignore the reality of the ratio of medals per head of population. In this regard the achievements of the Turks and Caicos Islands with a population of just around 25,000 would probably have made them the victors of this year’s edition of the Carifta Games. Grenada would probably have done well enough by this same yardstick to be next in line. Our larger Caribbean brethren do not like these statistical analyses but they are real.
St Kitts/Nevis can take a proud bow for all that it was able to do to realise the 37th edition of the Carifta Games. Surely there must be a number of very tired people of the LOC and the SKNAAA following the conclusion of the Games but they can all rest assured that their contributions have been indelibly etched in the annals of Caribbean athletics history.
Congratulations to all.