Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Our athletics way off pace


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I left the island in the late 1960s and Barbados had a very strong sports programme where they did well at the international level.
I do not have to speak about the cricket, because that speaks for itself. A Barbados football team of the 50s and 60s was a powerhouse against the likes of Trinidad, Jamaica, Air France team and visiting teams from England.
None of the other islands in the Caribbean was capable of beating Barbados in any sport, whether it was netball, athletics, football, cricket or even pitching marbles.
I returned to live in Barbados in the early 80s and the very week of my arrival, I ventured to the what is called the National Stadium – I always refer to it as a cow pen, because I have seen high school stadiums far superior, furthermore universities and international stadiums – to watch Barbados and St Lucia play a football match.
Barbados lost 1-0 and tears came to my eyes. I have never watched any form of football on the island since then. I could not believe that in 20 years the standard of Barbados football had deteriorated so badly.
Since then, I hear or read in the press of some of the smaller islands defeating them from time to time.
Since athletics has been my life sport and very dear to my heart, I will speak on the pitfalls, failures and downfalls of Barbados athletics, which are also the same problems that are plaguing all the other sports programmes.
Year after year, we continue to send sub-par athletes to the Pan American Games, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. The CAC Games are the regional senior games and yet Barbados athletes cannot dominate or feature prominently at these games.
I have always maintained and said publicly, that if you cannot win at this level, why waste taxpayers’ money to send athletes to the world-leading track meets?
The relevant administrations would say that they do it for developmental experience. Well, the world stage is not the place to seek this type of experience. As a matter of fact, it is rather embarrassing to see our athletes not getting past the first round.
If we want to develop our athletes, there are a number of regional meets that attract international athletes. Each year, American athletes compete at the Trinidad Southern Games, Jamaica Nationals, in Venezuela and Martinique.
The other islands also have at least one major meet a year that Barbados athletes can participate in. The cost of travelling to these meets is far less expensive and a larger contingent of athletes would be able to participate and gain the relevant exposure and experience that is lacking.
Jamaica and Trinidad have shown the world that athletes do not have to go to the United States in order to develop. Both countries have produced home-grown world-class athletes in their own backyards.  
Every few years, Barbados would get one athlete coming to the fore, unlike the other islands. My heart aches each time I turn on the TV and can see athletes from all the other islands competing on the world scene and occasionally you would see one Barbadian carrying our flag.
How is it that our athletes excel at the primary school level regionally and cannot get past the CARIFTA Games level?
Athletes from other islands that we beat go on to the world stage and are doing well, while the Barbadian athletes fall by the wayside.
Obadele Thompson and Ryan Brathwaite are the only athletes that reaped success at the CARIFTA?Games and went on to the world stage and performed admirably. If we as  nation cannot dominate at the CAC level, how can we expect to compete favourably at other level superior to CAC?
I have always wondered what is the role of the Barbados Olympic Association (BOA). I am yet to see any progress that organization could show the public in terms of sports development in the last 20 years.
They are still thinking in a 19th century box and it is time that this organization goes through a transformation where it can benefit from a more modern method of thinking that can take the island forward.
The country is currently going through a turbulent financial period and I am at a loss as to why the Government has sent a senior athletics team to the same track meet in Utah each year for the past ten years and not send a representative to the World Senior Games which are held every two years.
The Utah games are not even rated as one of the ten top senior track meets in the United States. There are better meets along the eastern seaboard that are also qualifying meets for the World Senior Games.
If the Government wants to send a team overseas, it would be advantageous money-wise to send a team to one of these meets and send a larger contingent because it would be much cheaper than flying all the way out to Utah.
Why is it that none of the athletes compete at the World Senior Games after going all the way to Utah to qualify?
This is not a qualifying year for the World Games and the meets will not be well attended. Most races will only have one or two athletes and would have to combine with another age group. It is not surprising that the team normally return with such a large number of medals each year. Once you finish your race, you get a medal.
The annual Senior Games initiative was one the best things to have happened in Barbados but it has been losing its impetus over the years.
A number of changes need to be made in order to save the games. The administration will have to realize that they are other people in the society that are knowledgeable and are willing to make a contribution to the games.
There is no reason why a Barbados representative team should leave these shores and the officials are outnumbering the athletes. We need to take stock of our coaching programmes and coaches. The BOA is in a dire need of overhauling.
Our sports commentators need to stop adulating the other regional athletes as if it was Barbados that they were representing and concentrate more on our athletes regardless of how they perform.
The Government needs to support sport more by providing better infrastructure for sport and the politicians need to support the athletes more, not only when a team does well overseas when they run up to the airport to get a picture taken with them.
• Wayne Cadogan is a former athlete.

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