Everybody seems to be very shocked and has a lot to say now about Jofra Archer after he anchored the English team to their first-ever World Cup victory. I am confused by the surprise. To be surprised would suggest that we do not know how this youngster is not a part of the current West Indies set up and I feel as though we well know.
I also feel that what has happened to Jofra is not restricted to the cricketing arena alone. Cricket is and remains the biggest mirror to what happens in societies across the countries that make up the team. It has shone a light on a particularly dingy and harmful part of the Barbadian psyche and while I do not buy our surprise about it, I certainly hope there can be a change in the attitude.
We do not yet have a clear place defined for young people in the Barbadian society. They live on the periphery of services and support that enable them to be fully integrated and productive members of our societies. They do not get adequate career guidance and worse if they get injured or become ill along the way, they are chucked further to a side and that is that.
There is a system of nepotism more than meritocracy in place. Young people feel as though they cannot excel solely based on hard work. They believe that if family connections or other connections are not in place, they will not get opportunities. All these themes play out in the middle and that, I believe, is the real context of the Jofra Archer affair. There are many Jofras that have been lost to cricket and several more that have been lost to other sports in Barbados.
The themes I outline above can be clearly seen in the cricket metaphor that is Jofra Archer. Jofra played for the Barbados Under 19 side at some point. For whatever reason, he was excluded from the West Indies squad for the International Cricket Council’s Under 19 World Cup. Then Jofra sustained an injury and pretty much the next time he showed up was in England – the rest is history. The rest is their history – delightful for them, scandalous and revealing for us.
I have written before about my concerns with how we manage young athletic talent in Barbados generally. We exploit the raw talent of youth and there are no real national programmes to ensure that young sports people are holistically managed in a way that minimizes injury and maximizes their time spent in a sporting discipline.
The first time that an athlete has a troubled spell, there is the inclination of selectors to drop the individual rather than working out a programme that scaffolds the burgeoning talent. World-class athletes go through peaks and valleys. They get injured. When these things happen, there is support. Not so in Barbados. We see people as easily dispensable and not worth development effort.
Let me now tackle the bigger elephant in the room – the selection process for talent in Barbados is arbitrary. Nowhere does this play out more than in the sporting arena and it is acute in cricket. There are all kinds of criteria and machinations that determine whether a player is selected or not and in the light of events over the years, we could reasonably ask if the highest determining factor is talent.
A long time ago a part of Barbados’ long-term economic strategy was the creation of a few high net worth individuals such as Rihanna. Jofra got £800, 000 for his Indian Premier League involvement. There is money in sport but we prefer to sideline people based on who we like and who we know. We want to make sport with sport.
Further from making sport with sport, we want to treat the young people of Barbados in a way that says to them that we do not care for their effort and talent. We are dismissive of them and then wonder why many opt to sit in the periphery of this society instead of taking a place in it. Cricket has always showed us ourselves – the English World Cup of 2019 was a panorama. Jofra Chioke Archer became a legend and we should be conflicted every time we declare he is a Barbadian born cricketer.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.