Negative stories have their place and lately they occupy every inch of the news, columns and opinion pages of our press. This is why it makes a pleasant change to be able rise above the pessimism and praise the efforts and partial success of one of the important sectors of our society.
Unless you were born yesterday or have just come out of a seven year self imposed exile, you will be aware of a little sporting shindig taking place in London and encapsulating the globe. As we have done every year since independence, Trinidad & Tobago has sent a contingent to compete against the world's best athletes and continue the customary practice of punching above our weight for our relatively small size. Yet on this occasion, for London 2012, there is a marked difference in the vibe and certainly an elevated level of professionalism exuding from Team T&T (or the 'T&T Conquerors' if we take the marketing hype). A fair amount of praise needs to be given to the Ministry of Sport and by extension the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Sportt) as the atmosphere reeks of a long-term strategic plan put in place long before the Olympics.
What is even more exciting is that - based on the evidence of the projects taking place now, such as the Ministry's summer camps, to identify talent very early and harness it—there are further plans to carry the nation's sporting youth forward beyond London and onto Rio 2016. There is none of the wild predictions that we are going to win gold medals but rather the reality that we expect a few medals and that this is the genesis of a new era in our sport, eventually reaping gold as the norm and not a maverick exception. The right noises are being made by Sportt to bring all the sporting governing bodies under one umbrella, with the same ethos and vision. Whether this challenging exercise come to fruition remains to be seen, but the valid point is that the intent is there.
Programmes such as the Hoop of Life basketball tournament showcase the desire to use sport, the one thing that unites any nation, as a deterrent to crime, while linking with the Ministries of Education and as Social Development.
Whatever the viewpoints on the costs of bringing Shaquile O'Neal to launch the basketball tournament, whatever the misgivings of Ministers Jack Warner and Anil Roberts, they are initiating schemes (perhaps wrong choice of word) that use sport as an opening to target and not neglect the poorer sectors of the society. Also, the big push in promoting sports tourism is long overdue for a nation blessed with the weather, links and topography to attract competitors in the largest growing facet in global travel. In this instance give Jack his jacket and Anil his uhm.... anvil.
Beyond these Olympics there is the initiating of the construction of the much needed Olympic size velodrome and swimming facility, there is a long-term focus to have our athletes live and train at home, removing the dependency and reliance on foreign institutions, though they will still serve as the "finishing school" as County Cricket once facilitated our world beaters' development.
What has been refreshing is the crowing about our past achievements and the insight into what our current crop of Olympians endure in their goal to bring home the gold. In today's social media setting and voyeuristic environment, Sportt commissioning the film Red, White & Black: a sport odyssey is a masterstroke. Robert Dumas' patriotic labour of love is timely and sets the platform for similar endeavours that showcase the unique talent in other areas of T&T. We need to understand the efforts of the past, of the sacrifices made for the sake of national pride (and little else) to take us forward as we whip up national fervour. As the stomachs of our team turn with the nerves of the upcoming start line, the country's pores have been raised to make us more interactive and appreciative of the representation in London.
Nobody can guarantee success but communication exercises such as this film will change our perception that defeat is failure and make us more supportive that our athletes gave everything; and that is all we can ask, until they medal next time. Fuelling patriotism is crucial to future unity; sport is its greatest ignition. It fills one with optimism to see us take the first steps towards 21st century equality by profiling our Paralympians on equal footing with other athletes. That the film will be shown across the nation to educate and inspire, proves that at least within one Ministry there is a strategy to implement progressive programmes. Take a bow Sportt and Mr Dumas.
There are still many more hurdles to overcome than Jehue Gordon will face in his 400m race next week: our history dictates that we will rightfully cast a suspicious glance at contracts for the new venues, completion dates and upkeep. We should practise economies of scale and create one compound housing the facilities for athletes, instead of splitting the venues over a small island. Reigniting T&T football after the upheaval of recent years will prove extremely difficult. Though some big entities thankfully offer their support to the TTOC and many athletes, Sportt needs to engage corporate T&T to fund elite athletes so that taxpayers' money is directed at the talent pool of the grass roots programmes. However, this is about optimism and we are in a period of sporting renaissance, due to the extraordinary talent and the work ethic of the athletes and due to progressive thinking by some administrators.
It is nice to be able to be positive about our team in London, to be in tune with the rare global positivity that the Olympics create. We can say that our team has had the best support, the best preparation (remember these athletes were not picked for the Games, they qualified) and that there is more to come. This is unprecedented and it is a rare example of meaningful progress. Good luck T&T!
Martin Daly's column
returns next week