The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

Some peo­ple speak as though sports—cricket in par­tic­u­lar—had re­cently ar­rived on the is­land with lo­cals ex­celling. (The same peo­ple speak of “agri­cul­ture” when in fact they are re­fer­ring only to ba­nanas!) Such folk are ob­vi­ously un­der-in­formed about the sev­eral ex­cel­lent sports­men and sportswomen this is­land has pro­duced. A quick glance through the pages of a book­let by Ru­pert Bran­ford, pub­lished a decade or so ago, should set them right. So, too, the writ­ings of Stan­ley French about Fran­cis ‘Min­doo’ Philip (alas both de­ceased) to say noth­ing of the widely pub­lished body­build­ing ac­com­plish­ments of one Rick Wayne. Also of note are the many other men and women who gave freely of their time and ex­per­tise to up­lift sports in Saint Lu­cia, among them Ju­lian R. Hunte, Jon Od­lum and Ms Ali­cia John.

That we ne­glected the pur­suit of ex­cel­lence in sport and fo­cused in­stead on build­ing roads, ports and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions wor­thy of a de­vel­op­ing State, is a sub­ject destined to be for­ever de­bated. At po­lit­i­cal In­de­pen­dence some thirty-seven years ago one of the is­land’s most ac­com­plished sports per­son­al­i­ties re­turned home from the United States to carve a niche in lo­cal pub­lish­ing. He later es­tab­lished a mod­ern gym to win con­sci­en­tious Saint Lu­cians to health and fitness. Yes, love him or hate him, Rick Wayne had blazed a trail for Saint Lu­cia and other Caribbean ath­letes at a time when few here had heard of Steve ‘Her­cules’ Reeves Joe Wei­der, un­til his death five years or so ago pub­lisher of the world’s most suc­cess­ful fitness mag­a­zines.

Be­fore Rick’s re­turn there was sin­gu­lar (as gar­gan­tuan as he was gre­gar­i­ous) Im­bert Roberts who had in 1960 had thrown the shot put at the Com­mon­wealth Games in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, and earned a bronze medal for his ef­fort. Be­fore that Min­doo Philip had been in­vited to Trinidad for tri­als amongst Ge­of­frey Stollmyer, Gomez, Frankie Wor­rell, Clyde Wal­cott, Ever­ton Weekes and other West In­dian cricket le­gends for a place on the West Indies test team. But— so it has been said—Min­doo dif­fi­cul­ties with the English lan­guage and the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of poor school­ing proved his un­do­ing.

Then there were Reg­gie Clarke, Hol­lis Bris­tol and J. Easter in ten­nis; Joyce Au­guste, Acinthia Au­guste (no re­la­tion), and Lyn­dell Brath­waite (later Noone), in net­ball, and many others in foot­ball, ath­let­ics and swim­ming. Of course most Saint Lu­cians of a cer­tain age would prob­a­bly agree our na­tion’s great­est ath­lete was Vin­cent ‘Quayak’ De­vaux—Leo ‘Spar’ St. He­len a close sec­ond. So yes, Saint Lu­cia has had a fairly solid sports foun­da­tion, be­queathed to us by the colo­nial sys­tem we so love to hate. What did we do about sports when it was fi­nally in our hands? We our­selves the ex­cuse that we were so over­whelmed by the need to pro­vide the ba­sic ameni­ties for eco­nomic growth that, per­haps in­ad­ver­tently, we for­got that real de­vel­op­ment is al­ways about peo­ple; whether in sports or in aca­demics. In­dis­putably, few achieve­ments pro­vide more pride and plea­sure to a na­tion, a de­vel­op­ing na­tion, es­pe­cially, than its achieve­ments in sports.

At one time sports had been so side­lined, (some say ma­ligned) that the need to har­ness and de­velop youth­ful tal­ent seemed wholly trans­ferred to aca­demic pur­suit. The bet­ter schools tried to balance aca­demics with phys­i­cal ex­er­cise and sports but the ma­jor­ity re­mained in pur­suit of ed­u­ca­tion as the sole means to de­cent em­ploy­ment and a reg­u­lar in­come. A holis­tic life of aca­demic pur­suit and a drive for ex­cel­lence in sports died at the exit doors of most lo­cal schools.

Thank­fully, the ta­bles are grad­u­ally turn­ing. An op­por­tu­nity for par­tic­i­pa­tion in pro­fes­sional sports, where money and fame await, and an es­cape from poverty as­sured, is grad­u­ally tak­ing hold. In planning a fu­ture of sport­ing ex­cel­lence and pro­fes­sion­al­ism there is also need to be well spo­ken, well read, well man­nered and cour­te­ous. Of­ten the self-confidence at ath­lete projects in his or her arena can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning and los­ing. To use the sports ver­nac­u­lar: a promis­ing but rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced ath­lete can be psyched-out be­fore an event by a per­ceived more con­fi­dent but ac­tu­ally less tal­ented op­po­nent. It is also worth keep­ing in mind that good man­ners and deco­rum are by-prod­ucts of the dis­ci­pline de­manded by sports.

As briefly hinted ear­lier, a na­tion that is se­ri­ous about peo­ple de­vel­op­ment can­not af­ford to take sports lightly. We must learn to ab­hor medi­ocrity wher­ever we find it, whether on the field or in the work place. It’s not nearly good enough to crow about hav­ing been in the Olympics when in fact we could make it past the pre­lim­i­nar­ies. Fi­nally, we must not only start pro­duc­ing fu­ture stars at an early age but our ath­letes must be prop­erly re­warded for their suc­cesses. We must also teach our peo­ple to be health con­scious from the get-go. Af­ter all, as you sow so shall you reap. Gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor, car­ing cit­i­zens on all fronts must lend a hand.

The mark­ing of another Eman­ci­pa­tion Day at the time of the Rio Olympics and a CDB/ OECS study of poverty in the re­gion should give us all food for thought. It is to be hoped that bet­ter con­scious nu­tri­tion, and more fo­cus on sports will ul­ti­mately lead these is­lands out of poverty and back­ward­ness. I of­fer a silent prayer that the brave young Saint Lu­cians at the Rio Games may re­turn home with an Olympic medal or two. Some may say that for minis­cule coun­tries like ours is an im­pos­si­ble dream. In which case I cite the proud peo­ple of Gre­nada who I bet will not soon for­get who won the 400-me­ter fi­nal—and the gold medal—four years ago at the Lon­don Olympics.

Those who at the Rio Olympics carry their na­tions’ flags, in­clud­ing the cerulean blue with its tri­an­gles of black, white and yel­low, will be ad­mired and praised across the world by na­tions large and small. Still, we must con­front the ques­tion: Are sports re­ally mak­ing a come­back in Saint Lu­cia?

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