The Olympic Games 2016’s challenges continue
We have completed the first week of the 31st edition of the Olympic Games and the experience has been significantly mixed.
Everyone eagerly anticipates the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and this time around was no different. Indeed, given the numerous cutbacks in expenditures on the preparation for the Games precipitated by the near-devastation of the Brazilian economy many aficionados of sport were anxious to see how the organisers of the sport spectacle would deliver the opening ceremony.
The ceremony was rather simple but impressive and reflected a commitment to the environment with special focus on the forest. Indeed, the document introducing the ceremony stated, “Our ceremony is not a celebration of power and achievement.
“We will honour our spirit and focus on the future – not only ours but of the whole world.
“Let’s celebrate Pindorama, the huge garden that the planet may become once again.
“We are launching a new symbol of peace – peace with the planet – and a challenge to transform the future.”
Brazil is named after a tree and so the organisers used this reality to emphasise the importance of regeneration, not only for the country but for the entire world.
The ceremony called on all peoples
“Let’s sow the seeds of peace!
Stir our imagination
Dance until we drop”
The ceremony wove together the country’s history with tradition, industry, dance and music of different genres and generations leaving all viewers with an appealing tapestry of what it means to be Brazilian.
Since St Vincent and the Grenadines first participated in the Olympic Games in 1998, the national representative has only once been seen live on television at an opening ceremony. That one occasion came at the Summer Olympics of 2004 when Athens, Greece, played host.
The only reason that the St Vincent and the Grenadines team was captured by the USA’s NBC in 2004 was because the Greek organisers used their own alphabet to determine the order of the parade and so our team was captured because it was far removed from the USA.
Traditionally, NBC, as an American media hose, ensures that the coverage of the Games is decidedly American. This can readily be understood since most of the advertisements that carry the organisation to continued profitability comes from US enterprises. So it has become normative that when an opening ceremony takes place and the traditional alphabet is used, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are almost always not shown on NBC because they use the time these countries are parading into the arena for an advertisement in preparation for coverage of Team USA.
The situation has been no different in respect of coverage of participating athletes by NBC, the largest broadcaster of the Games.
Years of the foregoing embarrassing situation caused the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) to establish the CANOC Broadcasting Inc (CBI, to allow NOCs of the region to bid for the rights for the Caribbean with the intention that profits, if any, would accrue to the media houses and NOCs of the region.
ESPN agreed to be a partner of the CBI. FLOW also came on board as one of the partners.
The commitment of the CBI from the very beginning was to provide professional coverage of the entire Games with special emphasis on ensuring that each CANOC member country would receive full, unique coverage from the opening ceremony through all the events in which their athletes compete, ending with the closing ceremony.
Horror and gross disappointment
It was therefore with much disgust that Vincentians all over the world sat and watched the opening ceremony only to witness first hand the kind of treatment from the CBI’s coverage that proved to be precisely what NBC had been doing to us for decades. When the Vincentian team was marching into the stadium, the coverage took an advertisement.
Immediately following this disappointing moment, Vincentians took to all social media platforms lamenting the situation, much to the chagrin of the National Olympic Committee, a member of CANOC and a shareholder in the CBI.
The General Secretary of the NOC immediately complained to the CBI’s CEO who advised that somehow the team responsible for the coverage spent too much time covering another Caribbean country, unaware that our national team was due to come into the stadium.
Furious at the embarrassment caused and rejecting what was considered an unacceptable explanation, the General Secretary responded, “This is totally unacceptable. No amount of apologies would satisfy our people who were led by us, given the word of the CBI, to believe that we had a good deal that would have ended this type of discrimination that we suffered for years with NBC now only to receive it at the hands of our own CBI.
“Incompetence is not an acceptable option. One would have expected that the order of the parade of teams would have been known beforehand.”
A news release was also done.
The CBI promised to somehow make up for its major intransigence in respect of coverage of the Vincentian team in the parade into the stadium during the rest of the Games’ coverage. However, nothing could possibly erase the fact that St Vincent and the Grenadines was the only Caribbean country, the only CBI member, that did not enjoy the benefit of coverage at a time when the entire world was focused in the opening ceremony of the 31st edition of the Olympic Games.
As always the competition is particularly keen. Athletes from participating countries have been preparing for this event for years and they are prepared, despite numerous challenges, to showcase their immense potential.
Not everyone would win a medal but they are all here to compete at the highest level and give of their best.
At the Summer Olympics swimming tends to dominate while at the latter part it is all track and field athletics. Already, world records have been broken in the swimming pool and this is expected to continue in this and other sports.
The Games are about the athletes and they always deliver, even when things do not seem to favour them.
The Vincentian delegation is small, featuring only two sports, swimming and track and field athletics.
Swimming benefitted from two universality places. Both athletes – Shne Joachim and Nikolas Sylvester – are still very young but have been competing at various events thus far in their fledgling careers.
Shne Joachim, competing in the 100m Breastroke, finished seventh in her Heat with a time of 1:17.37..
Yesterday, Thursday 11 August 2016 Nikolas Sylvester had his turn in the pool in his inaugural Olympics. He competed in the 50m Freestyle. However, this week’s Column would have already gone to print before the event had concluded.
Today, Brandon Parris would commence his 400m foray while tomorrow, Saturday 13 August, Kineke Alexander would begin her own sojourn in the 400m.
Both swimmers are very young and despite having attended some major international competitions may well not have been expectant of the kind of atmosphere at the Olympic Games. Here the scenario is like no other.
That the renowned Williams sisters could have been knocked out of the tennis doubles tournament in the very first round and Serena not get to the quarter finals in the singles segment, speaks to the quality of the preparation undertaken by all participants and their commitment to excel on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
While our athletes learn from the Olympic experience there remains a need for understanding the challenges we face at home in respect of laying the proper foundation for them.
While swimming has at least been able to have a home with eight lanes track and field athletes continue to suffer the ignominy of no synthetic track and field surface for high level preparation at home.
Our best athletes need more international competition on an annual basis and this is an expensive undertaking. Without major government support this is not possible.
Many of our athletes face tremendous challenges getting access to scholarships because they do not have the academic requirements and do not do well in the scholastic aptitude tests (SAT). In the absence of acceptable SAT scores athletes can only access overseas training at a very high cost, impossible without government funding.
As it now stands, the National Olympic Committee is the organisation that consistently commits funding to the national associations annually to facilitate development. It simply does not have the resources to facilitate funding all athletes who have not been able to access scholarships or meet the travel expenses of those who do have access.
There must be a comprehensive revision of what we want to do with sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.