For Love of Country — Show Support for Our Bajan Sports People
Wherever our athletes are, they should feel and know that they have the backing of their home drum beating . . .
Three weeks have passed since the closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. To be honest it feels like a month or two and already it has faded into the background. When we came up for air from the athletics, the swimming, and everything that was the Rio Games, the world hit us full on with the impeachment of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the shenanigans of the 2016 U.S. election cycle, the effects of the Brexit, G20 meetings etc, the world has moved on to the next big thing.
But this Rio 2016 Games, for me was a year that had far more young Bajan athletes and competitors featured than I’ve ever seen. In one day alone there were three or four athletes in back to back heats for track events. Ramon Gittens, Levi Cadogan, Burkheart Ellis Jr. And then there was Akela Jones who stole the hearts of many at home and there at the games, with her positive attitude and focus. Darian King, a wild card qualifier for the games, represented Barbados in Tennis, only to be knocked out in an early qualifying round. After this he left the games early to prepare for the US Open.
THE U.S Open. What an accomplishment!
And that’s not all. I applaud our team of 11 that made it to the games and participated in their various events. I didn’t even know there were eleven. And there in lies the problem. On our official olympic association website there is a list of each of the team members and a brief bio.
But we need to support our sports people year round, in whatever way we can.
During the Olympics there was a video highlighting Akela’s life story and her journey to where she is now. But that was just one of our competitors. What about the rest?
Maybe I missed it. After all I don’t get to see the news due to my schedule quite often, but leading up to the Olympic games, there didn’t seem to be any kind of acknowledgement, beside mention here or there that we had an Olympic team.
We can do more. You don’t produce world class athletes by simply mentioning them in passing once inter school sports is over; by letting them go off and attend a university overseas, where they continue to excel and just don’t follow through.
Those who do well probably face enormous pressure to represent their host country in the Olympics when the time comes around.
While it may be necessary for them to go to dedicated sports programmes at well known international colleges, we must not only remember them strategically when the Olympics come around but always.
Le me be the first to admit that I am guilty of this passive support, if you can even call it that.
But what can we do? What must we do to foster an atmosphere of Bajan ‘pride’ in the accomplishments of our people?
In the context of Sports and athletics there are a few things right off the bat that I can see we can do differently.
We need a culture of seeing young talent and driving it forward. Creating an atmosphere where they can focus on doing what they do best, without having to worry about rushing from work to the gym, or having clashing schedules of class and practice.
This means a partnership of government, corporate Barbados and the man on the street. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, Yohan Blake, Elaine Thompson and Asafa Powell did not become household names and Jamaican, Caribbean and world superstars by simply passive support. And now everyone in the world knows their names, and everyone in the Caribbean celebrate their accomplishments.
We must be invested to follow Akela and Ramon and Burkheart and Darian and Lani and Jason and all our other rising star sportsmen and women so that their stars don’t just become embers. Each of us must champion the cause of sports and raise the level of competition beyond Inter-School Sports, CARIFTA, the World Games and the Olympics.
What meets do they take part in? Do we like their Facebook profiles and send them words of encouragement?
Do we criticise them when they don’t do as well as we’d hoped?
There is something to be said about the power of community. Wherever our athletes are, they should feel and know that they have the backing of their home drum beating, resounding in their hearts, in the background of their lives.
How are we beating our home drum? We may not have a Usain Bolt to our name, and I’d never want to in any way pull down his accomplishments. As far as athletics goes, he is a master-class. In Barbados, we should not be looking for a Bolt. But we should be providing our athletes and sports people with such a sound and solid foundation of support and community involvement, that they are encouraged to push. That instead of our criticism and expectations being the weight of the world on their shoulders, our love, and well wishes, support and encouragement can be the fuel they need to succeed.
The Tokyo presentation at the Rio 2016 closing ceremony left me ready for olympics 2020. It was a tribute to childhood with so many of my favourite cartoons and video games featured in a high tech display of what Japan will offer in the next four years. I am ready now.
Over the next four years, how will we follow and support our local athletes? I hope to see way more media coverage of their journey’s to the world’s biggest stage in athletics. I hope to see more features on more athletes like the feature on Akela Jones, before the games begin. I want to see buses splashed with graphics of our team, celebrating their achievement for having just made the cut. I want to see quality local coverage of the games, maybe from Rio itself, who knows, that puts the hopes and dreams of our athletes and sports people on display.
I want to see support for Team Barbados that goes beyond words, beyond the hype of the Olympic games, and beyond anything we’ve seen before, that helps us to remember what pride and industry actually mean.