By Tyrone James
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) national junior track and field team returned home on April 23, after representing SVG at the 2019 Junior CARIFTA Games in the Cayman Islands over the Easter holidays.
The team won 3 bronze medals. Ulanda Lewis won bronze in the women 100m and 200m (U17) and Randal Roban won bronze in the men 800m (U20) events. Moreover, Ulanda Lewis is now the youngest athlete to have won a medal for this country at the CARIFTA Games and also the first athlete to win more than one medal at any CARIFTA meet. Were these achievements not worthy of congratulations? When one compares the conditions under which our athletes, as opposed to their regional counterparts, have to train and compete, to win any medal at any external meet speaks a lot to the abundant talent in this country. Alas, if only…
The silence that welcomed the team from official circles was deafening. Recall last year the efforts made by the Minister of Sports to be at the AIA to meet and greet and for his photo opportunity with the athletes. So what happened to this year’s team? Are they not deserving of support? I know they did not win a gold medal but our young people must be supported and we can’t wait until they are successful to be at their side.
In contrast, the Prime Minister found himself in Parliament extolling his political interference in sports, suggesting that the best junior athlete in this country was victimised and he had to step in to save the day. He attempted to justify his political interference by stating that the athlete won all his races in Grenada. According to the Prime Minister, he was informed by Minister of Sports Cecil McKie and the Minister of Health, Luke Browne that, an exceptional athlete, was not chosen for the Grenada team and as there were not enough time to organise support through the government “… I put my hand in my pocket to provide to send money … to the young man’s family”.
The nation later learnt the embarrassing truth, that the claims made by the two honourable ministers were incorrect. The facts did not support their claims of discrimination. It would appear that the goodly gentlemen were so eager to get at TASVG that they grasped at what appeared to be an opportunity without a proper check of the facts.
The team has since participated in the CARIFTA Games and that particular athlete was not part of it. TASVG has a policy of sending athletes to overseas meet to provide them the opportunity to meet the selection standards. Despite being sent to the CARIFTA Trials in Trinidad, that athlete did not meet the selection standards. Where are the politicians now? Will they now provide that athlete with further support? What explanation can the coach provide for this? Will he again blame TASVG? There is a selection committee in place. Would they now receive the brunt of the attacks against TASVG?
This is not the first political incursion by Gonsalves and the ULP in sports, especially in track and field. In 2015, Gonsalves made a commitment to two athletes (who incidentally were twins), and assured them of sponsorship support, after, according to him, they had a falling out with TASVG. He further said that until he arranged the sponsorship he will “take the money out of his own pocket” (sounds familiar?). Where are those athletes now? What happened with the promised sponsorship to those athletes?
It appears more than passing strange that the only time support for sport is manifested by Gonsalves and the ULP is when they think it will work against TASVG. Perhaps this was the motivation for Minister McKie to hasten a reception at the AIA last year when the TASVG team returned with two gold medals and an overall 5th place ranking at the Games.
In their 2001 manifesto, the ULP promised Vincentians that they will construct a national stadium. On the heels of this promise, the ULP announced in Parliament on Dec. 4, 2001 that Ralph Gonsalves had acquired some $4 million dollars from the Libyan government towards the construction of the stadium. On April 17, 2002, the nation was told that the stadium was estimated to cost $15 million. On Feb. 28, 2005, this nation was again told that US$21 million was allocated to the national stadium. On March 22, 2005 the ULP again promised (again) in Parliament that they will construct the stadium. In 2018, Gonsalves said the cost of the stadium in 2008 was $56 million. In 2018, McKie surfaced at a photo op and again promised this nation a stadium.
It’s now 2019 and our athletes are again competing on grass track for the Inter Secondary Schools Games and other major national championships. After 18 years we are no better off than we were in 2001.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, Minister of Sports Cecil McKie, and Minister of Health Luke Browne should hang their heads in shame with their lack of performances in sports. McKie is an absentee Minister of Sports. He cannot be found to offer any substantial support to sports but is only present when a team is successful. He is now the Minister of Photo Ops.
Gonsalves boasted of putting his hand in his pocket for sports. The CARIFTA team participated in the Cayman Islands, did Gonsalves, McKie or Browne put their hands in their pockets to support the athletes? Did they consider making funds available from the government to the team along the same lines as they wanted for the individual athlete to get to Grenada? Did the National Lotteries Authority provide assistance to the team, in keeping with their mandate for sports?
What exactly then is the ULP’s legacy in sports?
Once again, broken promises and shattered dreams are the sum of the ULP’s overall legacy in sports. Ralph Gonsalves, Cecil McKie and Luke Browne should hang their heads in shame.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].