For many people in Trinidad and Tobago, the 100-metre sprint is the ideal job. You work for ten seconds and earn millions of dollars. Even better, the less time you spend working, the more you earn. This is why so many Trinis want more young people to become better athletes. Why shouldn't children be encouraged to pursue a career where only the top one per cent succeed and which is over by the time you're 30?
These sports fans also argue that athletes spend long hours training and should be praised for that. More precisely, fans of swimmer George Bovell have been arguing this in response to a letter from former newspaper columnist Anthony Milne who stated that Bovell should now retire after his defeat. But Bovell's fans don't think Bovell was defeated, saying that he is still the seventh fastest swimmer in the world. (Actually, he's the seventh-fastest swimmer in a 50-metre pool, but fans don't like to quibble over details.) So athletics administrator Jason Wickham not only wrote that "Trinidad and Tobago is a blessed democracy that allows any idiot with a pen to send a letter to the editor" but, unlike most letter-writers, then proceeded to prove his own assertion. According to him, only persons who have coached athletes and produced Olympic champions have the authority to critique athletes, and he was backed up by letter-writer Camille T Cummings who, also proving her mental case, asked the critics, "Can you do what Bovell or any of these other athletes do on a daily basis?"
But, by this logic, nobody who's not an athlete or a coach should praise Bovell, since their opinion is equally uninformed. One of Milne's points concerned Bovell's beard, because in an event where shaving the entire body is standard practice and victory is separated from defeat by a tenth of a second, any drag would be significant. Milne, however, failed to realise that T&T athletes are so talented that they can ignore such petty details, so Richard "Torpedo" Thompson was the only runner in the 100-metres who was wearing gold chains and two diamond earrings, including the women's. And he did look blingingly better than all the other athletes when he came in seventh.
Now Wickham and Cunningham and their other pseudonyms may find my column today offensive but, by their own principle, they can't criticise me as a writer unless they, too, can write 800-plus sarcastic words on a weekly basis. They also cannot criticise diplomat Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, or else they would be T&T's Tropical Bear to Geneva; or National Security Minister Jack Warner, or else they would be fighting crime with a stammer; or UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, or else they be this country's first female Prime Shopper.
I would, however, admit that in this place writers do less for the society than athletes. After all, Derek Walcott and VS Naipaul won the gold medal of literature, the Nobel Prize, but Walcott still didn't get the Old Fire Service building to accommodate the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and Naipaul couldn't even get a floor of the National Library named after him. Yet Hasely Crawford got a stadium, Brian Lara got prime real estate and Dwight Yorke got a British accent. But no writer ever gets praised for the long hours they spend reading, thinking, and moisturising. Indeed, the local literati only praise T&T writers who have emigrated, because good writing requires intelligence and the critics realise that anybody who stays here to write is, by definition, not the brightest bulb on the planet.
In contrast, even those local athletes who fail to make the Olympic grade are still hailed as world-class champions. Far from discouraging their fans, the lack of medals has instead led to calls for more funding for upcoming athletes.
Such programmes would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually, but clearly it is more important to train young people to run or swim very fast than to teach them to read, calculate and use a napkin. Investing these millions into stadiums instead of schools helps the nation develop, since winning gold, silver or bronze at the Olympics creates national pride, which helps social progress. Indeed, were it not for Usain Bolt, the homicide rate in Jamaica would be so high that even light-skinned Jamaicans would be murdered.
So I think I'm going to give up writing and start training for the next Olympic Games in 2016. I'll probably do the 100, 200, and 400 metres sprint, and then swim the 50 and 100 metres freestyle. Of course, I won't win any of these events, but I'll put in long hours of practice and do my best. That way, sports fans and politicians would have to praise me even when I fail to qualify, and small children will cry when I don't get a medal since this is more traumatic than not getting an education.