Barbadian pride soared to new heights over the past two weeks as 65 of our young men and women took to the track, the pitch, the ring, the court, and the pool to compete at the multi-sport 22nd Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
Today, we are basking in the successes of Sada Williams, Barbados’ first ever gold medal winner in the 400 metres and the first woman to win the event in under 50 seconds (49.90).
Shane Brathwaite clocked a season’s best time of 13.30 seconds in the men’s 110 metres hurdles and Jonathan Jones copped bronze in the 400 metres.
Beyond the medal holders, we are exhilarated by the skills displayed by all our competitors at the games. Team Barbados justifiably deserves high praise.
Our athletes trained under difficult conditions during the COVID-19 period. Without substantial financial backing, modern training facilities, and, in some cases, top-rated coaches, they managed to put their all on the line against competitors with far more resources to showcase our prowess to the world.
As we celebrated their feats, a sobering discussion erupted about how seriously does Barbados treats sport. At the centre was a torrent of criticism about the state of the derelict National Stadium.
Most commenters made clear that it was a sorry state of affairs as they demanded better for the athletes who they suggest were not well respected or valued as they should be.
One commenter said: “About time that old stadium got replaced.”
“We need a comprehensive sports programme with appropriate funding. Facilities, yes, that’s crucial but our Government isn’t putting adequate resources into our athletes. Hopefully, this changes soon as the Olympics is in two years,” suggested another.
Frankly speaking, the conversation on sports in Barbados needs to be had.
We all love to celebrate our cricketers, our athletes, our swimmers, our netballers when they do well, but the applause fades away until the next big meet.
Despite the obvious talent in our young men and women, there lingers an unfortunate mindset that sports is a hobby, an extra-curricular activity, a chance to play games on the school court.
Whether or not we like it, the construction of a multi-million-dollar stadium with all the perks wont change that mindset.
That is not to excuse our bungling as a nation on the construction of a stadium, given the importance of NAPSAC and BSSAC and other tournaments, regardless the discipline.
A stadium no doubt would signal that we value sport and our athletes.
But the conversation has to be much wider.
There’s been a loud cry for years about the lack of investment from both Government and the private sector. There’s a lack of funding, a shortage of facilities and the like.
The answer best lies in a comprehensive plan.
This was clearly outlined by the first Barbadian woman to compete at an Olympic Games in Munich 1972.
Freida Nicholls made clear that athletes don’t only need the cheers and tears when they reach the podium.
She told this media house in an interview that Barbados has to demonstrate real support for local sportsmen and sportswomen.
“Getting to the gold medal, to the podium is not an overnight affair. Listen to the stories; usually, it takes about ten years. Sada [Williams], Jonathan [Jones], Shane [Brathwaite], and [Nathan] Crawford-Wallis didn’t start when they went to university or Commonwealth, they started in primary, secondary school, some right out of secondary school. It is a tough road, they had to take the steps, the adjustments, (maybe some setbacks) and all of that has to be discussed in the boardroom,” she said.
Nicholls stressed the need to celebrate now but emphasised it was equally important for a major reset in Barbados’ sports. It will mean a serious enquiry about what is required in terms of a strategic plan, implementation and execution of such to move the sector forward in a sustained way.
It’s not debatable that we can do more. Every young Barbadian has the potential to excel in whatever discipline they choose. But we must team up, not just Government, not only the private sector, but all hands must be on deck to train, mould and condition our youth to be strong competitors in whatever discipline they choose. And we can’t afford to wait until Olympics to do it.
Barbadians can win big at any level of sports, and a national stadium can help to do that. But the gold lies in hard work, a solid plan, investment and new appreciation for sport.