Yesterday, today and tomorrow
The next edition of the Summer Olympic Games is scheduled for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. St Vincent and the Grenadines is once more expected to participate hoping that the performances of its athletes will surpass the fortunes experienced since joining the International Olympic Committee in 1987.
Vincentian sporting enthusiasts feel justified in raising concerns that as yet this country’s athletes have not mounted the podium at the prestigious Olympic Games.
Why is this?
What is being done about it?
Can anything be done to change this reality?
Are we selling ourselves short or do we have outlandish expectations?
St Vincent and the Grenadines first participated in multisport Games in 1958 when a team entered the then Empire Games in Cardiff, Wales. One year later, as a member of the West Indies Olympic Team attending the Pan American Games in Chicago, Maurice King, once an unofficial world record holder in weightlifting, mounted the podium to take the bronze medal.
George Manners, who had some time earlier won gold for England at the Commonwealth Games, represented his home country, St Vincent and the Grenadines at the Games in Edinburgh, copping bronze in weightlifting in the 90Kg category.
It was not until the Commonwealth Games of 1974 in Christchurch, New Zealand, that Frankie Lucas gave this country its first gold medal at an international multisport Games when he won the middleweight boxing title.
In August 1994, Eswort Coombs made it to the finals of the 400m at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, becoming the first track and field athlete to achieve such a feat.
In March 1995, Coombs earned bronze in the 400m at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina and in August of the same year won the same event at the World University Games in Fukuoka, Japan.
In 1996, Coombs made it to the semi final stage of the 400m at the Atlanta Olympics, the best performance by a Vincentian at these Games to date.
In 2002, Natasha Mayers made it to the finals of the 100m and placed fourth in the 200m at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England. Eight years later, she won the 100m after originally placing third and favoured by two disqualifications.
The foregoing shows that Vincentian athletes do have athletic talent and have therefore competed favourably on occasions at multisport Games.
A primary issue however is why we are not achieving better performances at the regional and international levels on a more consistent basis.
What is that is not happening to facilitate better results more frequently in the different multisport competitions to which we are committed?
Are Vincentian sport enthusiasts and the media practitioners justified in levelling criticism at the sports associations for the inconsistent performances delivered by our athletes at these major events?
Have we taken the time to engage in any sort of analysis as to obtaining answers to the aforementioned questions?
Of the successful athletes named above only Maurice King and Eswort Coombs could lay claim that their achievements have been home-grown and King more so than Coombs.
King was part of a group of enthusiastic weightlifters in St Vincent and the Grenadines at the time. They were serious about their sport, weightlifting which also allowed for them to be bodybuilders.
It is claimed that at one point Maurice King set an unofficial world record while competing at the Peace Memorial Hall. His exploits allowed him to be selected to the team of the Olympic Committee of the then West Indies Federation that had been accepted as members of the International Olympic Committee.
What did weightlifting require?
The sport required access to equipment – weights. This was available.
It should perhaps be remembered that the Ballantyne Family – Gloria and her husband – established the first known gym in St Vincent and the Grenadines, at their home in Frenches, Kingstown.
From reading sport magazines the persons involved in the sport worked together to develop themselves and the sport. That was essentially the secret of their success.
In the case of Eswort Coombs, he was home based until 1994. Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines sent him to Jamaica for a brief period earlier in the year after he had achieved gold medal success in the 200m and 400m and anchored the 4 x 400m relay team at the Windward Islands Athletics Championships hosted by St Lucia in 1993. He spent approximately six weeks in Jamaica in May/June 1994.
He did not access his scholarship to Essex Community College, New Jersey, USA, until after the Games in Victoria.
Here at home Coombs achieved a national record at Arnos Vale of 47.30, a sure sign that he had the potential to be a world ranked athlete if given the appropriate training opportunities.
What made it possible for these athletes to achieve the performance status that they did?
While many would admit they possessed exceptional talent, what else mattered enough to get them to success?
Many seem to think that St Vincent and the Grenadines is today a very different country compared to previous years.
Some point to the days when playing fields were more constructively utilised by athletes and at times even without coaches.
Even before the Grammar School Playing was constructed, the small field in the area now occupied by the Library, was always heavily utilised by young people anxious to practise sport.
The Victoria Park with its one half up and the other down, was also always heavily occupied and for different sports.
Parents seemed keen on being involved with their children in playing sport and for many communities sport was an integral component of what made them viable entities. Sport and community togetherness went hand in hand.
There was little concern by the youths in the past about the size of the field or whether it had grass.
Troumaca Bay was never huge and yet several of the country’s better cricketers came from the area.
The interest in sport was infective all across the country.
The Grammar School was a place that young people wanted to attend because it was at the time the home to good academics and athletes. The school participated in national competitions alongside clubs with senior players and never bothered about age, size or experience of their opponents.
Today, the playing fields are sparingly used and there are numerous complaints about their quality.
What then can be identified as responsible for the changes that have so negatively impacted sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines that we do not seem to be able to produce athletes whose performances are of a high standard that are also sustainable?
Parents now appear so taken up with materialism that their involvement with their children is relegated only to their academics, for the most part. To them it is a matter of ensuring that their children are successful at their studies and nothing more. The fact that there are significant career options in physical activity and sport seems not to matter to them.
Some use sport as a sort of day care to keep their children while they are off doing their own thing.
The declining interest shown by the majority of parents in their children’s physical activity and sport is a major weakness in Vincentian society.
At the national level participation in sport is often perceived and presented as loss of instructional time. Is it not possible to see participation in physical activity and sport as adding to the holistic development of the student rather than a distraction?
Our society has become socially and morally decadent in many respects. Girls are encouraged to move away from physical activity and sport by their male counterparts, including much older persons, who are anxious to engage them sexually at an early age, at times, with the complicity of their parents.
Girls drop out of sport as early as 15 years. This is a problem for all sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Even netball is suffering in this regard.
What of commitment?
Are our athletes today as committed to the rigorous training required to attain success?
Are they willing to understand and accept that it takes a minimum of six years of systematic development training and competition to yield a champion?
Given the limited resources available to our athletes and coaches here in many sports the demands on athletes are significantly greater than in the past.
Examination of the standards around the region allows for an appreciation that in many sports the bar has been raised and so what was considered good in the past is now woefully inadequate. The issue then becomes one of concern regarding the willingness of coaches, teachers and parents to guide the youths to an appreciation of what is required of them to attain success.
Reality allows us to understand that at the Olympic Games we are competing against 203 nations. At the Commonwealth Games we are up against 70 nations. That we make it past the first round is an achievement that is not so readily recognised and certainly not accepted here at home.
We want winners.
Are we willing to provide our athletes and coaches with what is required for success?
Are we providing them with ready access to appropriate nutrition?
Are we prepared to upgrade our facilities that allow our athletes to be better prepared and therefore be more competitive?
Are we prepared to assist with their gym fees and the provision of training and competition gear?
Are we prepared to help them gain access to advanced training systems abroad?
How do we expect success if we do not prepare a programme that allows our children to get into physical activity as early as the first three years of their lives?
Is physical activity a viable option? Of course it is and we must find ways of getting our Vincentian society to appreciate what constitutes physical literacy and encourage its acceptance as much as we do other forms of literacy.
Physical literacy is no less important to life.