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Capitalizing on Our Sporting Greatness
Posted: Monday, January 22, 2007

By Edward Hoskins
January 22, 2006

Soca WarriorsIt has been approximately just over seven months since the Trinidad and Tobago Soca Warriors graced the world football stage in the 2006 edition of the World Cup finals. The 10th of June 2006 was an important date for the country as the first time experience of being in the World Cup filled every Trinbagonian's veins with immense, nationalistic pride. The Road to Germany experience for players, supporters and country was an event not easily forgotten, and always remembered. It is a pity, however, that the value of this experience, its significance and importance is diminished in the absence of any institutional and national framework to develop far reaching sporting programmes that will nurture football and other sporting talent.

It was with dismay, but not with surprise to witness the national reaction upon the return of the 'Warriors' and our inability as a nation to come to terms with the debilitating myopia that grips us in the aftermath of such sporting achievements. Our sporting history has been sprinkled with similar world acclaimed successes in athletics, boxing, swimming, netball, football and cricket. Yet our almost moronic reaction to these achievements of naming structures, planes, streets and giving financial gifts to our sporting heroes, have made them empty and irrelevant. This reaction has become a meaningless and idiotic gesture that makes us looks simply and indisputably, unimaginative and impotent as a nation. This is a malaise that has plagued the island since independence and is a repercussion of dealing with the weight of neo-colonialism.

In certain aspects the island is coping with this burden as evidenced by its position as an emerging exploratory giant in the region. However, it is ironic that we possess this exploratory prowess yet we cannot or appear unwilling to apply the same principles to explore, nurture and sustain the talents of our most prized resource, our human capital. It makes one froth with despair the palpable absence of any meaningful and progressive sporting programmes, degrees and facilities that will create the necessary conditions to sustain such levels of sporting excellence. The establishment of such an agenda will be a long-term investment in social and human capital, contributing to the achievement of societal and cultural goals, which are the basic objectives of any national programme and sentiment. If we are willing to carry out a serious introspection of our political and cultural ideology, there is obviously an obstacle that is preventing us from taking advantage of this and other potentially enriching opportunities. There could be many reasons for not overcoming this obstacle such as institutional failure, ideological deficiency, cultural naivety, social fragility or a volatile mix of all. The inability to identify and overcome this obstacle is having a corrosive effect on our society and wasting our sporting talent.

Imagine the level of athletes and sporting technocrats that would be churning out of the island if such forward planning were initiated after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It would have been appropriate to embark on a progressive programme at that time to not only celebrate our first international sporting achievement, but as a statement of self-determination having recently obtained independence in 1962. It is unfortunate that the political technocrats of that time were unable to approach these opportunities optimistically in a pragmatic and socially just manner. This issue nor its implications has not been addressed for over 40 years. The issue is not that it is physically impossible, but rather that we are mentally incapable of thinking in such a progressive and far-reaching manner. The main problem in our situation has more to do with attitude rather than aptitude or ability.

In dealing with the above, those at the levers of power adopt 'policies' that have been marked by misplaced and myopic causes, expensive both in the monetary and human sense. The present construction of the Brian Lara Stadium and the financial reward of the Soca Warriors is a perfect contemporary example. As a reward for the performances of the football team, each player was given a gift of TT$1m, which all would agree is a very generous and deserving gift. Half a year after the World cup all we have to show for it is memories and the granting of an extensive gratuity. It would have been more far-reaching if a percentage of the approximate TT$11m collective gift, be that the initial payment/donation to the institutional body newly created to oversee the conversion of wasted land into football fields, the transformation of derelict and unused football fields around the country, the building of football/sporting facilities, the establishment of football schools for the youth, workshops, training facilities and coaching programmes around the country, the development of a more established professional league, the establishment of sporting and other related degrees in the universities, all of this funded by public and private contributions, with a few of the "Warriors" lending their skills and experience to various programmes, thereby recycling their talents into the society, to the youth and the development of a vibrant sporting ethos. This is the picture that all Trinbagonians deserve to admire and appreciate.

In the United Kingdom, the former England captain David Beckham has initiated, sponsored and developed football schools to tap into and develop raw football talent. The schools are conduits from grass roots level to professional status, funded by a combination of the personal wealth of Mr Beckham, and allowances and commitments from the private and public sector. There is nothing physical or monetary preventing the Ministry of Sports and Culture to initiate and develop a programme similar to this using the popularity of the Soca warriors or even of the sportsmen such as Yorke and Lara. It is concerning that we have not heard the Ministries' voice nor seen the private sector's clout in this matter. Even more concerning is the possibility that both entities do not have a voice to be heard nor speak in a language that is understood by society. On the other hand, we must question the ability of the island's two most popular and successful sportsmen to come together and use all their sporting contacts and expertise to ignite the inherent development of schools and facilities similar to the aforementioned.

It is common knowledge that these two sporting giants do come together and pool their social resources and expertise every Carnival to throw all-inclusive Carnival parties that have been etched into the Carnival calendar. If collectively or individually they can create a niche for themselves in the annual party circuit, imagine what they could do if they pool their sporting expertise in a much more fulfilling and rewarding project as the Yorke and Lara Football and Cricket School of Excellence. Imagine the quality of young cricketers and footballers that would come out of this institute on a biannual or quadrennial basis. Imagine if this was initiated at the height of Lara's popularity in 1994 and Yorke's in 1999. There must be something fundamentally wrong with us as a nation if these icons are unwilling or unable to recycle their talents back into the society. Serious questions should be asked if these two icons are content to be remembered for their Carnival parties rather than for their input to the development and promotion of sport on a domestic and regional level. It is unfortunate that at present there is no evidence to show that by their actions or perceptions, that making permanent incisions into the party circuit is of secondary importance compared to the urgent and obvious need for the development of a national sporting programme.

It should be noted that to place blame for this uncomfortable reality solely on sportsmen like Yorke and Lara is an argument of deeply dubious merit, for as citizens we all posses a responsibility for our welfare and we should be using all our powers to voice our opinion and put pressure on those at the levers of power to discontinue this absurdity and prevent our sporting legacy from plummeting further into new depths of idiocy. The point of culpability is spread to all, society and state and we have an obligation to provide viable and intelligent solutions to the problem facing the nation.

Instead of building the massively expensive and obscenely worthless Brian Lara Stadium, it will be more efficient to build football, cricket and sporting schools all around the country to tap into and nurture the raw sporting wealth of the nation and produce athletes that have a calculated chance to enter and compete in international competitions on a regular basis due to the high level of training, coaching and facilities that the resources and financial means of the country can provide. The two aforementioned icons as well as other specialists in the sporting sector can be used as advisors, their expertise and knowledge filtering down into these projects, creating an assembly line of professional, disciplined and respected sportsmen as well as citizens.

The building of the Brain Lara Stadium and the gift to the Soca Warriors are the unfortunate results of a tremendous confluence of ineptitude and empty cosmetic solutions that is ferociously eroding the very building blocks of the country. The mindset that has initiated these two actions is a recipe for continual inactivity, triviality and proof of our overall inaptitude for self-governance, organisation and lack of vision. It shows clearly the absence of common sense to head towards a new direction. A government and its governed should possess a civic sense and duty, a sense of state, with the ability to look ahead and cultivate the social and political seeds at its disposal and realise when change and not more of the same is needed. The stadium creates an illusion of prosperity, but in reality we are suffering from an entrenched poverty of ideas, and the cheapness of our present ideas if we can call them that, are dwindling our natural, human and financial resources. This is a cause for concern, as the high level of ignorance that has been and is still contaminating our perceptions for the last 40 years, is creating a citizenry that is totally disillusioned and demoralised with the reality that this myopia has created. There is a crisis in the present leadership and style of government which desperately needs to be realigned from a cost led governance to a more design led entity that encourages success and reciprocal benefits and seeks the best solutions to a backlog of huge untidiness. There needs to be a different approach to the design of policies, but the depressing factor is that we seem unable to develop the necessary structures and ideologies that will promote the common good.

The Road to Germany experience more than any other national sporting achievement has brought all of these inefficiencies and misperceptions to light. If we are to move forward as a nation in the 21st century and beyond it is vital that we begin to deal with these issues in a pragmatic and intelligent manner so that we can arrive at a stage of development to cope efficiently and effectively with all aspects of nation building. It is imperative that we facilitate this, or we run the risk of perpetually wrestling with our own institutional and cultural inertia and remain in a position of impotence and political dysfunction.

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