The Carifta Games – a review

The 42nd annual edition of the Carifta Games just concluded in Nassau, Bahamas, on Monday last. There were more than 550 athletes representing more than 26 countries from around the Caribbean and for each day of the competition the stadium was sold out. Bahamas Telecommunications, BTC, now owned by LIME, was the premier sponsor with First Caribbean International Bank/Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (FCIB/CIBC) was also a sponsor with several local commercial enterprises serving as partners to the organisers, the Bahamas Association of Athletics Associations (BAAA).
For many the Games were a major success. For close analysts the important issue is whether indeed they were the kind of success expected by all stakeholders.
Approximately two years ago the BAAA indicated an interest in hosting the 42nd edition of the Carifta Games in Nassau. At the time Barbados also indicated that it had an interest. In the case of the Bahamas the rationale was that the government had received certain guarantees that a new stadium would be built by the Chinese as a gift to the country and that it would be completed in 2013.
Barbados’ rationale was that due to the deterioration of its stadium the local association was unable to host the Carifta Games for several years. However, there were guarantees from the government that the rehabilitation work would be completed by 2013 and so approval was given to bid for the Carifta Games.
As fate would have it the delegates at the Carifta Congress in Turks and Caicos last year voted to award the 42nd Carifta Games to the Bahamas. Good decision that turned out to be as the Barbados government has been apologising all year long to the local association there for its inability to complete the rehabilitation works even in time to allow for the national schools championships of 2013. The Inter Secondary Schools Championships have had to be held at the Kensington Oval, the region’s premier cricket facility. The Carifta athletes had to be sent to Trinidad on two separate occasions to prepare for the Game sin Nassau.
The Bahamas knew that the Games were coming and a Local Organising Committee was duly established.
The new Thomas A Robinson stadium as officially opened earlier this year and while it has the track for athletics is under the management of a body that facilitates its usage by other sporting bodies including football.
Usually second to Jamaica in the medals tally at the end of each edition of the Carifta Games the Bahamians were expected to ensure that it had taken time to prepare its own team even as it prepared the multitude of areas required to generate good competition – accommodation, meals, transportation, water, equipment, sports medicine, communications, volunteers and a spectator-friendly competition schedule.
The Chinese are great at giving gifts to governments around this Caribbean of ours. Perhaps it is because we are small and often relatively poor that we are not expected to be sufficiently aggressive in declaring up front our requirements.
When the national stadium in St Lucia was being built as a gift from the Chinese to the Kenny Anthony-led government the athletics association hastened to point out some of the challenges they would face if they were not involved in the project as its primary beneficiary.
Unfortunately there were not many willing to listen.
The end result was a synthetic surface that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) refused to recognise since the constituents were never provided. This left the local body unable to gain recognition of any result produced on the surface, not even a national record.
When St Lucia was awarded the Carifta Games in 2009 it was on the understanding that the surface would be changed. It was.
Still, the St Lucian athletics body faces many challenges as a direct result of their limited involvement in the decision-making process relative to the construction of the stadium. They have to convince the government to significantly upgrade the stadium in time for their hosting of the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2017, in which athletics is one of the premier sports on the programme.
In the Bahamas, the newly constructed Thomas A Robinson stadium faces numerous challenges and here again it has to do with the fact that as far as governments in the Caribbean are concerned, a gift is just that and hence the tendency to accept whatever is delivered.
While the Bahamas’s track received an IAAF Class II certification in time for the Carifta Games, this is unacceptable for IAAF World Championships. The Bahamas is due to host the inaugural World Relay Championships in 2014 and it must have an IAAF Class I certified track.
There are other challenges with the stadium not the least of which is its plumbing.
The Bahamas has many hotels not all of which appeared willing to facilitate the organisers of the Carifta Games relative to pricing policies. In the end the organisers could not deliver a single Games Village. Instead, there were multiple Athletes Villages, which certainly detracted from the camaraderie intended by organisers of this annual festival.
The use of multiple hotels also meant that not all were of the same standard in respect of the facilities and services on hand. This proved to be a major challenge for the different teams leaving some quite unhappy while others were in a veritable paradise.
Transportation was excellent, with the Police providing outriders for the several delegations to the competition. Delegations had no complaints about the transportation service provided.
Since the Bahamas government apparently intended the 42nd edition of the Carifta Games to serve as a veritable test for the Inaugural World Relay Championships of 2015 the Ministry of National Security, now headed by Bernard Nottage, former president of the BAAA and of the Central American and Caribbean Athletics Confederation (CACAC), ensured a heavy police presence that guaranteed all delegations the assurance of safety they required.
There was an abundance of bottled water available throughout the period of five days that participating delegations spent in the Bahamas. This was the case at the hotels as well as at the training and competition venues.
The local medical fraternity provided yeoman service throughout the competition.
It was also evident that the organisers bought new track and field equipment from internationally renowned supplier, UCS.
Volunteers were in abundance and each team was provided with an attaché. Larger delegations were provided with several volunteers.
Whatever challenge delegations to athletics competitions face the athletes always save the day by providing a remarkably high standard of competition.
In the case of the 42nd edition of the annual Carifta Games the competition wads particularly high.
Winner of the Austin Sealey Trophy, Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas, won two gold medals – 400m and 200m – with outstanding performances. She set a new Carifta Games record in the 200m and just missed out on a similar feat in the 400m, a result of poor strategy, having done too much in the semi finals earlier on the first day of competition, Saturday 30 March. She was also the key to Bahamas’ astounding performance in the 4 x 100m relay in the Under 20 category.
It was her remarkable feat that earned her the coveted award.
A few athletes came away with double and triple gold medals.
The 42nd Carifta Games would perhaps best be remembered for the spread of medals and finalists.
Zharnel Hughes of Anguilla defeated the field in the finals of the 100m, giving the little island a significant boost.
The British Virgin Islands won several medals during the Games having brought its largest delegation in Carifta History – a total of 24 athletes. This is the impact of a national stadium with a synthetic surface on which athlete scan prepare themselves.
Grenada also gave good account with one of its athletes setting a new Carifta record in the Javelin Throw.
Dominica won gold with a world record in the Under 17 Javelin Throw for Girls.
Guyana produced two young athletes who each won the 1500m – Under 17 and Under 20 respectively.
The Vincentian athletes gave their best outing for several years, reaching the finals in three events.
For the three days of competition there was never a dull moment. The competitors gave of their best at all times, never letting up.
In every event the athletes took the challenge through to the very end.
Bahamians are true lovers of sport and particularly of athletics, the sport that has given them most global exposure and recognition. This is the sport in which Bahamians have been most successful.
The Opening ceremony on the evening of Good Friday saw the 17,000-seat Thomas A Robinson stadium overflowing with patrons. This set the stage for the three remarkable days of competition to follow.
From the very first event on Saturday 30 March the crowd got into the mood.
While the Bahamians brought their Marching Band and scores of Junkanoo players to the stadium every session of the competition, the Bermudians were not to be outdone.
Bermuda, proud hoists of the 41st edition of the Carifta Games last year, joined the distinguished group of countries that organised a charter to the event with athletes and supporters.
Still revelling in their success of hosting the prestigious Games in 2012, the Bermudans brought their own band of musicians who delighted their supporters and all patrons each day of competition.
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago also had charters, which accommodated scores of supporters.
The athletes were truly encouraged in every event of every day of competition, much to their delight and that of the organisers.
One of the founding fathers of the Carifta Games, Austin Sealey, was on hand for this year’s Carifta Games. He was truly impressed with the legacy that he has given to the Caribbean.
The Carifta Congress, held on Sunday 31 March, agreed a change in the age grouping for the annual event. Effective 2014 there will be Under 19 instead of Under 17, for the younger athletes. This brings the competition in line with the IAAF’s Youth World Championships, Commonwealth Youth Games and the Youth Olympic Games. The latter event is scheduled for Nanjing, China, in the summer of 2014.
The Carifta Games would continue to be the region’s premier athletics competition. Host countries would remain challenged to sustain the very high standards set by those who have done it before.
The 43rd edition of the Carifta Games would be held in Martinique in 2014.