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Leadership that doesn't work

By Fazeer Mohammed

Fans locked out and a heavy police presence for an InterCol football final. A two-time Pan American cycling champion bows out of the sport at the age of 26 claiming frustration and victimisation.

Maybe they don't quite match a hunger-striking activist challenging the government of the day, or the same political administration being raked over the coals on the issue of Section 34. Still, matters of state and matters of sport that are mired in controversy appear to revolve around similar themes — selfishness and a failure of leadership — which continue to stymie development into what a proper, functioning nation should be.

We are so preoccupied with our own interests, our own priorities that very few in positions of authority are prepared to contemplate the bigger picture, while even fewer of that very small number choose to be advocates for the greater good, even if it may eventually mean surrendering their privileged spot at the trough of national largesse.

What could have prompted a spectator to attack a referee's assistant with a bottle a week ago with ten minutes left in the South Zone InterCol final between Presentation College of San Fernando and Shiva Boys Hindu College at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium. Too much alcohol? Too much money at stake in a wager in support of the potential upsetters from the deep South?

If they felt that the ordering of a full replay by the Secondary Schools Football League was an injustice, given that they were 2-1 up at the time of the incident and that the perpetrator encroached from the Shiva Boys section of supporters, why did "Pres" accede to the SSFL ultimatum? Is there anyone left who is prepared to hold to principle above all else, firmly believing that the long-term consequences will be more far-reaching and beneficial than appeasing the majority who are clamouring for short-term gain?

And why, after that outrageous assault on the football official on the sidelines, did the referees' body not immediately withdraw its members' services, or come out strongly in condemnation of such reprehensible behaviour, not least because of the message it sends to young people who may feel further emboldened in the use of physical violence in the face of perceived injustice from authorities?

Not surprisingly, on the other side of the coin, there is a sense of victimhood, a belief (whether justified or not) that Shiva Boys have been getting the very short end of the stick from officials who, it is claimed, are openly biased in favour of the "prestige" school. As one parent from the Penal/Debe area explained to me yesterday: "Let them come down this side and they go get real licks!" Given that the licking, as he elaborated, was going to be of a physical rather than a scoreline nature, I'm assuming that the blows would have been intended for the alleged tiefin' officials.

None of this is unique to our environment, of course. Just last week, fans of West Ham United did the Nazi salute and hissed as a means of mimicking the gas chambers of the Nazi World War II death camps during the English Premier League fixture against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, a club which has traditionally enjoyed strong support from the Jewish community.

But that is where real leadership should be exercised in the form of swift censure and a clear, unambiguous message that such conduct will not be tolerated. We didn't hear that from West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, who claimed not to have seen or heard the provocative gestures or noises, nor did we get that from the SSFL, with the spectator's violent intervention having essentially contributed to Shiva Boys' advancement to the national semifinal against St Anthony's College this afternoon at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.

Has the leadership of the Trinidad and Tobago Cycling Federation failed Christopher Sellier, who says there is now a great weight off his shoulders following the decision to retire from the sport? Or is he just a prima donna, a star performer who expects to have his way every time?

His recounting of the circumstances that prompted him to choose retirement, if they are true, require of the TTCF and re-elected president Rowena Williams to respond to the accusations and allegations in a precise, verifiable manner that would make a lie of the cyclist's version of events. To do otherwise would be to add fuel to the fire of speculation that the sport, not for the first time mind you, is governed by an executive that prioritises favouritism, cronyism and expediency ahead of merit.

We are not a population so large that we can afford to lose phenomenal talent in any sphere of endeavour. And even if we were, even if there are one or two Christopher Selliers just waiting for the chance to shine in the saddle, is it not something worth investigating that a young man of such ability could be so disillusioned in such a short space of time that he chooses to give it all up?

It is just so typical of this bizarre twin-island state that in the same year in which Njisane Phillip came closest to an Olympic medal since Gene Samuel 28 years earlier, a double gold medallist from the 2010 Pan American Championships determines that the heavy jamming, as he perceives it, from the administration of his own sport, is just too much to take.

That he isn't embarking on a hunger strike as an act of protest should be no consolation.

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