Thursday, February 22, 2018

Outstanding nationals


Olympic medallist: Rodney Wilkes

Mark Fraser

McDonald Bailey, Hilton Mitchell and Rodney Wilkes. What do you know of these men?

No, don’t dive for Google or whatever else you opt for as your favourite search engine.

Okay, so you aren’t just the superficial sports fan and therefore you know a bit about Bailey, the world-class, record-breaking sprinter of the 1940s and 1950s; Mitchell, the champion cyclist of the 1950s who rebounded from a career-ending accident to excel in wheelchair sports; and Wilkes, the weightlifter who marked Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic debut in 1948 in London by taking the first medal for the nation, a silver in the featherweight division, before adding a bronze in the same category four years later in Helsinki.

But do we really know the comprehensive stories of these outstanding sportsmen, all born right here but whose lives have remained a virtual secret save for a few paragraphs here and there every so often?

Now they are all gone within the space of less than four months and this nation of 51-plus formal years, but with a sporting history that pre-dates Independence by a few decades, has once again let golden opportunities slip by to chronicle our outstanding achievers for the benefit of successive generations.

Sadly, this is not a country so much concerned with posterity as it is with posteriors, and from the evidence of the last Carnival season, preferably of the rolly-polly variety. With so much energy, effort and expenditure directed towards the celebration of such crude, crass vulgarity, it is probably asking too much for those entrusted with managing the resources of the State--supposedly in the best interests of the people--to seriously consider a proper allocation of funding to have the lives of our outstanding achievers in all areas of endeavour, not just sport, chronicled as a matter of national record.

By the way, this is no new idea. Rubadiri Victor of the Artists Coalition has been crying out for this for years. Yet we seem to think that a souvenir publication to mark some occasion or the other (like the 50th anniversary of Independence) with a few pages devoted to “Our National Heroes” is good enough.

If this were a place capable of producing real leaders--visionary men and women truly concerned with the welfare of the nation today, tomorrow and beyond--we would have long since seen the prioritising of our own history, our own social, political, cultural and sporting experiences as fundamental to national development.

Bottom line: we neither value our own nor spend enough time to properly analyse anything that is meaningful. Okay, so we are not alone in that regard as our Caribbean neighbours who share the same legacy of European colonisation suffer from a similar mindset to greater or lesser degrees. But for how much longer will the activities of the white people of the past be a convenient excuse for our contemporary short-sightedness and shortcomings?

True leadership is looking way beyond the next election, to come up with strategies that raise a nation’s consciousness above the waistline, even if it will only come to fruition after we have left this stage of existence.

Bailey, Mitchell and Wilkes have passed on. However, are their stories of effort and striving and discipline and ultimately, success, readily available to the schoolchild or the adult alike?

I know I’m not alone in having grown up reading biographies and autobiographies of outstanding sporting personalities from other parts of the world. Yes, we are a very, very small country. Surely, though, it is not unreasonable to expect that by now there would be more than a handful of proper publications on the many outstanding talents that have emerged from this twin-island state.

Leadership is not about giving people what they want, but recognising what will be of long-term value to them even if they show little or no interest in it at the moment. So if the people don’t really care and the private sector isn’t interested, it is up to the State to provide the wherewithal to ensure that the achievements of our outstanding nationals–in any area–are comprehensively recorded as a matter of course.

No, I am not looking for a work. That type of proper writing is way out of my league. But there are many others with the requisite skills who should be commissioned by the State on our behalf to fill the gaping void left by the unwritten volumes on our sporting and other champions.

This suggestion is obviously too late for the outstanding trio mentioned already and many others who have passed away over the years without the opportunity to tell their own remarkable stories for the benefit of successive generations.

Last week in his column in these pages, Garth Wattley recounted his interview with Wilkes ten years ago. It offered just a few snippets and insights into a simple, hardworking man from San Fernando who stood proudly on the podium of the greatest stage in sport on two occasions yet, like so many others, felt unappreciated by his own people.

You were left wanting more–a proper story with all the detail that only an accomplished writer can manage. The double Olympic medallist was laid to rest on Friday after succumbing to prostate cancer at the age of 89 a week ago.

“Mac” Bailey left us at 93 last December, while “Barracuda” Mitchell breathed his last eight weeks ago aged 87.

How many more of our champions must die with their stories untold?