Thursday, April 18, 2024

Take a bow, CARIFTA athletes


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NO PRAISE IS too high for the Barbados team which defied some serious odds to perform commendably at this year’s CARIFTA Games that ended in The Bahamas on Monday.
Confronted by the unavailability of the National Stadium because of delays in the relaying of the athletics track, the Barbadian athletes – who have been like Poonka, moving all over the place, seeking any and every place possible to get some sort of competition – reaped the fruits of perseverance.
Twice, the athletes had to journey to Trinidad and Tobago to get the necessary competition. First, it was during the Trinidad and Tobago National Championships to try to make the qualifying standards for the Games, which I must say, were far too high in some cases.
And, secondly, a number of the CARIFTA selectees, desperate for a meet to stay in shape and get competition-ready ahead of the Games, returned to the twin-island republic for the Falcon Games. They were joined by athletes from some of the local clubs as well as perennial secondary school girls’ queens Springer Memorial.
Unfortunately, some athletes were unable to travel overseas to vie for a place on the CARIFTA?team because their parents couldn’t afford the cost of sending them, while others were unaware of the situation.
Those responsible for the selection of the final squad must still be commended for doing a fairly satisfactory job in the circumstances, even though there were some glaring omissions and a couple of questionable inclusions. With a little more foresight Barbados could’ve won even more than the 20 medals (four gold, 14 silver and two bronze) that they did.      
It was one of those years, when it would be foolhardy to criticize our athletics administrators for the manner in which they went about their duties, taking into consideration the many hurdles they had to clear.
In all of this, it is very worrisome that one physical education teacher, who has previously served as a Barbados head coach, has not allowed the majority of the athletes under his care to compete on grass.
While it would’ve been nice to train and prepare for the CARIFTA Games on an athletics track, some Caribbean countries are still without a decent track.
For example, Kirani James, who won a gold medal at the London Olympic Games last year, was never able to train or compete on a track in his homeland of Grenada. He got good by running on grass, as ever since 2004, when the National Stadium track in the Spice Isle was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, Grenadian athletes have been without a track.
Whereas the neighbouring Cricket Stadium was rebuilt for the 2007 World Cup, the track wasn’t, and even before James received an athletics scholarship, a couple years ago, he was winning at CARIFTA by competing on grass.
That’s just one example and there is no need to list many others here because people were running for years without a track. That’s why I’m saddened that some schools, granted the late notification, have opted not to participate in today’s scaled-down secondary schools meet at the Police Sports Complex’s Weymouth “A” Playing Field.
What is even more shocking is that only last Saturday, there was a trial meet at the new Ryan Brathwaite Track at the Lazaretto.
Lo and behold, I could not believe my eyes when I visited there on Saturday, to see UWI?athletes competing in a trial meet for the upcoming Inter-Campus Games in Jamaica. While this is happening, their primary and secondary school counterparts are scrambling around for a decent playing field to run their races.
I am fully aware that the Ryan Brathwaite Track is still a work in progress, some may suggest a construction site, but I am absolutely certain that the venue can be used to assist the BSSAC officials in getting the preliminaries/heats run off prior to the staging of the finals when the National Stadium becomes available.
I have already mentioned in this column that some sort of serious dialogue should be held with principal of the Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. And today I am calling on a high-powered team from Government, led by Minister of Sport Stephen Lashley and Minister of Education Ronald Jones, to convene a meeting with Sir Hilary.
This is a national crisis in athletics and the greater good of the country should be paramount. While it is understandable that the UWI officials would probably want to open their facility with a major meet, probably featuring Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Brathwaite, I don’t think having eliminations there can do any harm.
With the necessary temporary amenities, tents, security and restrictions in certain areas, a successful meet can be staged there, from what I witnessed first-hand. It would definitely be better than having to run on uneven grass fields, which are now starting to crack because of the prolonged dry spell.
Today, I’m calling on the University of the West Indies to hold out a helping hand to our young athletes, several of whom will probably be studying on top of the Hill in a few years.
The UWI cricket team has been the beneficiary of goodwill from the Barbados Cricket Association, which allowed them to participate in the highest domestic division without winning the Intermediate title at the time. The West Indies Cricket Board also permitted a UWI team to play in the regional limited-overs competition before expanding the gesture to the Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC) for the past six years.
It is time for UWI to give back to the society.
But for the time being, let’s warmly embrace and salute our CARIFTA athletes and lest we forget, the swimmers, for rising to the occasion.
Special mention must be made of gold medallists Mario Burke, Jalisa Burrowes, Akela Jones and Rivaldo Leacock.


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