“We want to see action. We have been hearing the talk for so long; so, we want to see some movement on this . . . .” – Former Olympian and coach Harcourt Wason, speaking on Starcom Network News this week.
Wason was speaking about the need for new athletic facilities in Barbados, a day after our flag was raised and the National Anthem was played at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, London. The events that led to this occasion were exhilarating, to say the least.
Quarter-miler Sada Williams had smashed a field of seven other world-class athletes and won a gold medal. Her glory followed Andrea Blackett’s amazing feat some 24 years ago at the Games held in Kuala Lumpur.
Minutes earlier, fellow quarter-miler and former schoolmate Jonathan Jones copped a bronze medal in a blistering run among the world’s best. The two added to the silver medal that Shane Brathwaite had already captured, and the country left the Commonwealth Games with three medals – the same medal count as in the 1998 Games.
And while we bask in the accomplishments and what they mean to the athletes and Barbados on a whole, we cannot help but ask why it took us 24 years? And why, after more than two decades, did we not see increased medals?
There will be many hypotheses and reasonings put forward to justify the 24-year drought but, truth is, we have no excuse. We have been and continue to be blessed with talented athletes; sadly, we cannot make the world stage on sheer talent alone.
We cheer the loudest when we see them on the starting lines. We burst out in jubilation when they cross that finish line claiming a spot on the medal podium; yet as a country, we do not put as much effort and action into fully supporting our athletes on their respective journeys.
The most obvious is the lack of facilities, but while that is glaring there are many other factors. Athletes need money for proper diets, proper gear, to compete overseas, and the list goes on.
Therefore, in order to ensure we don’t wait another 24 years, it must be all hands on deck.
Bajans should make it their business to ensure they heavily patronise the various track and field meets held throughout the season. Neighbours and community-minded people should be eager to give when they hear of fundraisers and other support activities for the athletic clubs.
There is something that all of us can do, however small, that can aid our national athletes.
Government and corporate Barbados must get actively on board. The time for talk has long passed. Why is none of those three medal-bearing athletes sponsored by any entity in Barbados?
Along with the facilities, we need a structured and well-thought-out developmental plan for our athletes. The notion that most top athletes get scholarships, train overseas, and a facility is therefore not a priority must be rubbished. A proper facility is needed from the primary school level up. You cannot consistently produce world-class athletes with sub-par facilities. You cannot produce world-class athletes if we continue to treat athletics as a sideshow. We must demonstrate seriousness about the lucrative profession.
The Trinidad Newsday reported that the Ministry of Sport and Community Development in Trinidad would reward Commonwealth Games medallists over TT$1 million through its 2017-2027 Reward and Incentives framework.
Minister Shamfa Cudjoe recently confirmed via Facebook that $250 000 will be given to each individual athlete who wins gold at the Games. Silver medallists will earn $125 000 while bronze receivers pocket $62 500. T&T ended the Commonwealth Games with six medals – three gold, two silver and one bronze.
What are we doing in Barbados to incentivise our athletes? Up until 2018, the 2009 World Champion Ryan Brathwaite told the media that he had not received the title deeds to the land he was promised when he returned home after his golden race.
Olympian Obadele Thompson, speaking on Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Tonight show on Sportsmax TV gave a candid and sobering assessment of where we are compared to where we should be.
He said: “I feel extremely proud to get a chance to hear our anthem and to see our flag go up to the top; it is a great feeling. It is long overdue. I have long said that we have the talent. We have seen this before in 2009 when Ryan Brathwaite won the 110 hurdles in Berlin – set the national record – and we have had glimpses of it in past.
“The hope is that we can take from this and build with the core group of athletes we have now. There has to be a strong belief, there has to be policy, there has to be funding, and there has to be structure in place to ensure that the athletes that we have are well maintained so that they can continue to do well, and then there is a pipeline established for the young ones coming up . . . . I think once we can do that there won’t be a 24-year gap between what they have done today and what was the last time.”
As a country, if we want more occasions at which to feel that immense sense of patriotism and national pride as we all did on Sunday morning, we must challenge ourselves to do whatever we can to make that feeling the norm. It is not beyond us to achieve. We must all want it collectively and act, not just speak, towards that end.