Last Friday night I stood on the track of the Usain Bolt Sports Complex and was awed by the spectacle that unfolded before the reported 4,000 persons in attendance. I was at the St Michael School Inter-house Sports Meet. For the first time in Barbados, a secondary school chose to have its sports meet at night. It was appropriately dubbed the ‘Glow Sports’. The media wasted no time in describing the event as ‘historic’, and to me it surely was. I was happy to be there at this history-making occasion.
I must admit, growing up I never had much interest in sports. I actually dreaded the Physical Education period on my timetable. I was horrified when the athletic season came around and we had to run. I didn’t mind a bit of football, but playing in defense where there wasn’t much action was my thing. I, however, did have a wonderful relationship with one of Christ Church Foundation School’s outstanding P. E. teachers in my day, Coach Frank Blackman. I visited him last year in hospital as I heard he wasn’t well and I hadn’t seen him in many years. He still remembered me and was the same ‘Blackie’ as I fondly recalled after 30+ years. I joke now that the only sports I did at school was to ‘mek’ sport.
My aversion to sports continued into my early adult life although I briefly took up Taekwondo when I studied overseas. That avoidance of sports couldn’t continue as my children came along, especially my son. It seemed that while the sports gene missed me, it was completely embedded in him. He was a sports enthusiast from very young, taking up cricket from the age of five and getting involved in other sports as he grew. Today, he is a student of Sports Science at the Cave Hill Campus and recipient of the Barbados Youth Development Council’s 2018 Outstanding Youth in Sports Award, a prize he received last Saturday. My youngest became interested in the sport of fencing three years ago when she watched the Olympics on television and was fascinated with the first hijab-wearing athlete to represent the United States of America. That athlete, Ibtihaj Muhammad, was a fencer.
Having taken an active interest in sports due to my children’s participation, I have developed an appreciation and admiration for those who participate in some form of physical activity and sport. Today, many opportunities exist in the area of sports to excel and to benefit. It is extremely refreshing when young people recognize their abilities and talents in a given sporting discipline and strive hard to make the most of these talents.
What I saw at the Usain Bolt Sports Complex during the St Michael School sports meet was young people at their best. And I am sure similar can be said for all schools and their sports meets across the island. What stands out for me from last Friday night were the accomplishments in several ways. Firstly, the fact that the games were held at night for the first time and was extremely well received, is worthy of note. This innovative approach to the long tradition of inter-house sports meets will certainly resound in many quarters and perhaps will become the new norm in inter-house and possibly inter-school sports. Kudos to the St Michael School for once again proving themselves to be trail blazers.
Secondly, I witnessed that these games were well subscribed and students and adults from several other schools were also present. For whatever reason they were there, the fact that they were helped make the occasion a momentous one.
Thirdly, and perhaps its the most important, was the experience of being among hundreds of young people all gathered together to either participate in friendly competition or to witness it, and there was not an act of lawlessness or rowdiness. The atmosphere was electrifying, the camaraderie contagious and the pursuit of medals and fulfilling dreams, hopes and aspirations overwhelmed the stadium.
I could not help but reflect that just a week earlier the country was called to a weekend of prayer for the senseless violence that prevailed in our nation during January mainly perpetuated by some young people. Yet, one week later, Barbados could witness a spectacle where hundreds of young people from all walks of life and backgrounds could assemble in one place and show off to the country and the world this is what can happen if we work together and create an environment of peace and friendly rivalry.
I came across a post on Facebook by a well-known Barbadian who chose to highlight the incidences of violence at the same time and immediately after the weekend of prayer. He queried “So, will God hear and answer our prayers for peace?”
As I wrote last week, I acknowledge that both prayer and action are important. I believe that prayers are answered in different ways and blessings are experienced in various manners. What I witnessed on Friday night was for me an answer to some of our prayers the weekend before. Young people can and have proven themselves to be positive role-models for other young people and even adults.
We can choose to constantly highlight the negatives happening in our society without speaking to the positives. We can also choose to be balanced in recognizing both. Or we can make a conscious decision, while not negating the presence of negatives, to focus most of our efforts on promoting the positives, peace, non-violence and love. In recent years, we have had a steady diet of bad news, violent images, fights and quarrels. Our social media platforms are filled with such content. Let us change the script, let us help our young folks rewrite that narrative. Let it be that we are proud, happy and eager to see young people engaged in positive behaviour, wholesome activities and friendly competition. Let that type of content go viral on social media.
I acknowledge that some sporting activities in Barbados have been associated with violent behaviour and some persons go beyond the limits of friendly competition. But, for the most part, sports have allowed for young people to learn discipline, sacrifice and understand working together as a team. It has certainly helped in creating an awareness for physical activity which is sadly lacking among many young people whose idea of playing sports is on the Xbox.
For the St Michael School and all those other schools that have added sporting activities to their schools’ priorities, I say congratulations. I know or heard of several students that have benefitted significantly by way of athletic scholarships to Universities overseas. The opportunities are there for Barbadians to gain meaningfully through sports in various ways.
Let the games begin.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: email@example.com)