There is no doubt that Barbadians are avid Olympic fans. In fact, it would not be a stretch to suggest that there are few sporting events that come close to attracting and holding the attention of as many Barbadians as the Olympic Games.
Since the current games began in London the tradition has held. It would appear though, that the four years that elapse between games also allows us to literally forget about these persons who are so dear to us for just a few weeks during the Olympics — the athletes.
That’s why we welcome with enthusiasm the announcement on Tuesday afternoon by Minister of Sports Stephen Lashley that more than $2 million in work on the National Stadium will start next week. It is long overdue — an undertaken that Barbadians should have committed to and executed long before Lashley took responsibility for the sports portfolio of his Government.
Our athletes have done us proud over the years, but sadly we have not been nearly as kind to them — or their supporters. As we have had reason to say in this space before, were it not for the selfless and unremunerated contribution of a small cadre of dedicated administrators and coaches, we would never have made it this far.
The national injection has always been missing.
We also warmly welcome the simultaneous disclosure by Lashley that Cabinet had approved a strategic plan for sports development, part of a path toward the full embrace of a sports industry. This, we believe, can turn out to be a giant step in the right direction — provided it is not allowed to languish as just fancy talk ahead of a general election.
Both the current Democratic Labour Party Government, and its predecessor, the Barbados Labour Party, have spoken repeatedly of the importance of exploiting alternative employment strategies, and just like entertainment, sports holds tremendous potential for our young people.
In fact, long before they enter the job market, as has already been proven, the avenues for academic advancement while pushing their athletic abilities to the highest level at North American universities, have been just what many of our young people needed.
Unfortunately though, at the national level we have not been able to achieve results comparable to Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas or Jamaica — not even close. This, we believe, can be largely attributed to the woeful lack of facilities and a thinking by too many educators and parents that sports is a natural enemy of academic achievement.
We hope the improvement in facilities will also be accompanied by a shift in this archaic thinking.
But it can’t end there. If there is one thing Jamaicans have over the rest of the Caribbean it is that they support their athletes. Their passion is overpowering and inspiring! In Barbados, while a mother or father may feel duty bound to attend a major meet when his or her child is doing well, outside of this kind of obligation, not many Barbadians find a day at the National Stadium welcoming.
We may not be flush with money, but quite frankly the National Stadium is nothing short of a national disgrace — almost an eyesore. If its concrete design does not allow for modernisation and retrofitting, it should be demolished.
And while we are at it, our cyclists have done so well for us on the international stage that it is about time we repaid the favour by providing them with a modern velodrome and accompanying facilities. We have spent more money on less — we can’t lose from this kind of investment.