The Caribbean Games and regional integration

In the late 1990s the Ministers of Sport of Caricom entertained the idea that the Caribbean people have provided the world with some outstanding athletes in a variety of sports but have been denied the opportunity of seeing them perform in real life at home in the region. Thus was born the idea of the Caribbean Games.
The Inaugural Caribbean Games is scheduled to take place in Trinidad and Tobago during the period 12th to 19th July 2009.
Southern Games
Many people across the Caribbean may well remember the annual Southern Games of old hosted at the time by TEXACO, which, at the time, controlled the refinery at Pointe – a – Pierre, Trinidad.
From humble beginnings Southern Games was transformed into the Caribbean’s most prestigious sporting spectacle. It grew from two days to four then on to five. The event spanned two weekends and there was no end to the excitement.
Southern Games featured just two sports – Athletics and Cycling. There was no synthetic surface for the track and field athletes nor was there any concrete, asphalt or wooden Velodrome for the cyclists. The entire competition was contested on an impeccably maintained and superbly prepared grass surface.
For many involved in sport the Southern Games was the Caribbean’s Olympics. Virtually anybody of sporting significance in the aforementioned sports sought to be at the Southern Games. The Caribbean’s best athletes hungered after the Southern Games and TEXACO facilitated the presence of the best in the world in several events.
Caribbean sports enthusiasts were able to see Olympic medallists in both sports compete against each other and the region’s best. They saw the remarkable Bob Hayes and Ralph Boston, Olympic gold medallists in the 100m and Long Jump respectively. They saw 400m Olympic Champion, Adolph Plummer, defeated by TnT’s Cliff Bertrand in a very fast 200m that produced remarkable excitement. Grenada’s Donald Pierre defeated American Olympian, Fred Newhouse, in an amazing 400m duel.
John Carlos and US High Jumper, John Thomas, were also in attendance and so, too, was India’s legendary Milka Singh.
Wendell Mottley, Edwin Roberts and Hasely Crawford all made their appearance at the annual Southern Games.
In cycling, multiple Olympic and World champion, France’s Daniel Morelon and compatriot, Pierre Trentin, renewed their Olympic battles at Southern Games. They competed with their world-class adversaries from Italy, led by Giordano Turini. Luigi Roncaglia of Italy and Morgens Frey of Belgium were also frequenters along with Dave Hanley, Roy Hurdley and the outstanding Hugh Porter.
Southern Games matched the Caribbean’s best in two sports against the world’s best in friendly sporting competition. Despite the fact that the Games was held in Trinidad and Tobago each year, the entire Caribbean eagerly looked forward to the annual spectacle and the governing bodies for athletics and cycling in each country sought to have their very best athletes available to compete in an effort to gauge their capacity to match strides with the very best in the world.
Original idea
When the idea of the Caribbean Games was first mooted the then leadership of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC), headed by Douglas Camacho, lent full support to the Minister of Sport at the time in the twin-island Republic, Manohar Ramsaran.
The proposal received early support from the Organisation of Caribbean Administrators of Sport and Physical Education (OCASPE).
Interestingly, at the same time that the proposal was placed on the table for Caricom to discuss another initiative was being discussed. The National Olympic Committees (NOC) of the Caribbean were in discussions on the establishment of a regional association of these bodies. This led to the Caribbean Caucus of NOCs and was later formalised as the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC).
The clear intention on the part of the CANOC members was one of regionalism. It was clear from the very beginning that the leadership of the NOCs of the Caribbean recognised that they could do much better in the sport development process if they pursued a path of harmony. This would allow for greater synergies and ultimately fashion better sports administration and effective and efficient competencies thereby facilitation better results at the highest level, the Olympic Games. To this end the CANOC Constitution states among its Objects:
To provide a forum for the discussion and implementation of ideas and programmes for the development of sport, athletes, administrators, technical officials and other sports professionals…
To maximize and fully utilise all the available human, financial and technical resources in the promotion and development of sports through training, competitions, sports medicine, sports facilities, sports administration and marketing.
The Caribbean Games therefore was seen as a critical pillar in the broader process of regional integration. While the original idea of the formation of the Games by the politicians focused on having the peoples of the region afforded the opportunity to see their internationally acclaimed athletes perform at home, the CANOC saw the greater picture of facilitating the regional integration process as an essential outcome.
Sports philosophy suggests that it is a unifying force, that it facilitates the building of character and engenders discipline. In this regard the CANOC Constitution has as one of its Objects:
To strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity among the peoples of the Caribbean through the NOCs of the Caribbean region.
The CANOC approach adopts in full the fundamental principles of the International Olympic Movement of which its members are an integral part. The Olympic Charter stipulates that it promotes Olympism, which it defines thus:
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
The CANOC sees itself as facilitating the spread of Olympism in the region. The Caribbean Games is the quadrennial culmination of the efforts of the CANOC in the intervening period. In this sense, the CANOC joins the Olympic Movement in projecting placing sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
The CANOC Constitution reflects its commitments in the Objects of the organization:
To promote the shared values of integrity, fair play, discipline, commitment to excellence, respect for gender equality and tolerance, including the fight against the use in sport of performance enhancing drugs and other unhealthy or psychotropic substances consistent with the objectives of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA).
The Caribbean Games is therefore intended to facilitate better relations not only among the NOCs of the region but among the sportspersons and the people as a whole. The ongoing conflicts between the peoples of the Caribbean and the insularity so often evident in almost everything that is done in the region are primary targets of the CANOC and its quadrennial Caribbean Games.
Today’s reality
The goals of the CANOC are quite lofty but are attainable. However, the reality of global sport developments have already begun to impact the organisational objectives.
Today’s world of sport is big business. Sport is one of the fastest growing industries. We have watched in awe as the football elites achieve mega contracts. The salaries of some NBA players, Baseball stars, and Tennis professionals attract lucrative salaries and remarkable endorsements making them among the highest paid people in the world.  Usain Bolt is already attracting huge sums of money in appearance fees that would now spur track and field athletes to greater achievements.
The monies now involved in the sport for top athletes have created a scenario where, apart from the Olympic Games, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get them to think about placing regional sporting activities on their priority list of competitions. Indeed it is even difficult to get some of them to commit to national representation in some international events.
When Jamaica got Asafa Powell to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, in March 2009 many of the Caribbean’s sports leaders were in a state of shock and wondered what it took to achieve this feat given that Powell was at the time the hottest athlete in the world of track and field athletics.
The reality is that many top athletes now have agents, managers and coaches all of whom are professionals and expect to be paid. Their interest is in ensuring that the athletes in their camp compete at events that are financially lucrative or, like the Olympics, a means of facilitating access to lucrative contracts to compete. This approach has not escaped the athletes of the Caribbean who may well be thinking that they are late, compared to their European and American counterparts in this regard.
Today’s reality also reveals that in the sport of track and field athletics as soon as an athlete ‘makes it big’ it is extremely difficult to get them to compete at home for anything that does not carry significant prize monies except the national championships which is a criterion for national representation and the sanction of the governing body for the sport. NOCs, for example complain that they cannot get their best athletes to compete at the CAC games, the Commonwealth Games and the Pan American games. The Athletics associations complain that they cannot get the same athletes for the CAC Senior Championships and the NACAC championships as well.
It may be just the same in some of the other sporting disciplines.
Today’s reality therefore suggests that the Caribbean Games would require a tremendous effort on the part of the NOCs and governments of the region to prevail upon their best athletes to participate.
The Caribbean Games is not offering prize monies and since this is the first edition there is no history to determine the impact that success at the Games would impact the athletes’ capacity to access lucrative offers thereafter.
The success of the inaugural Caribbean Games would therefore depend on the commitment of the athletes to the Caribbean region. Unfortunately, if the recent West Indies cricket experience is anything to go by there seems little hope that commitment would impact the athletes.
Perhaps we should place more faith in our governments to assist NOCs with getting athletes to the inaugural Games. However, even here the region’s political leaders have not said much publicly about the pending event beyond the three-line paragraph of the Final Communique from last year’s Heads of Government Conference in Antigua and Barbuda.
Whether we like it or not, the inaugural Caribbean Games is an acid test of our general commitment to regional integration.