Friday, January 19, 2018

Price of amnesia



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The scenes in the sporting world change so fast, it is hard to remember yesterday far less yesteryear. Take the week past.

The men's and women's hockey teams went through World League qualifying in Tacarigua; and at the same time, the Soca Warrior footballers were playing in Tobago and making it to the Finals of the Caribbean Cup. In Bangladesh, Kieran Powell was scoring two separate centuries in the same match; Tino Best was getting five wickets in a Test for the first time and West Indies were going 1-0 up in the two-match series. Simultaneously, India were having their way with England at Ahmedabad, New Zealand were succumbing to Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic's tennis players were relieving the Spanish men of the Davis Cup.

Dear reader, by the end of the month, no, by the end of this week, how much of the details of those events will you remember?

It is as if the pace of these days is designed to produce amnesia. But forgetfulness can be harmful and counterproductive. Really, there are some things we cannot afford to forget, lest the problems keep recurring.

So let me bring back to mind one detail. In fact, it is news that may have escaped you all together. It was the retirement—at age 26—of cyclist Christopher Sellier.

Remember him? Well just a year or so before Njisane Phillip announced himself as a senior rider, Sellier won gold, silver and bronze in the keirin, team sprint and match sprint at the Pan American Cycling Championships in Uruguay.

He and the rest of the team got a VIP welcome at Piarco International Airport when they came home.

In 2010, at the Pan Am Championships again, Sellier set Mexico alight with a new Pan Am and Trinidad and Tobago record in the kilometre time trial—one minute, 00.995 seconds to take the gold. The national coach at the time, the abruptly fired American Olympic medallist Erin Hartwell, described the ride as "world class". Sellier was also part of a team sprint trio including Phillip and Azikiwe Kellar that got bronze at that meet with another new Pan Am Champs mark.

So what in just two years has happened to move Sellier from a VIP (Very Important Person) to an NIP (Not Important Person)?

According to him, it was no help.

"I've been doing this (cycling) for 10 years now, and since funding has been lacking, it's about time to call it quits. It's a waste of time training in Trinidad. I've been wasting my time for two years now."

"Very discouraging" and "demotivating," was how he described the last 24 months.

"It's only so much I can do training in Trinidad. By the time you leave Trinidad, all the good form that you have doesn't mean anything. The tracks (abroad) are completely different."

True, nowadays, form on the concrete track at the Arima Velodrome can hardly help a man gauge how he will do in competition on a 250 track at a World Cup or a regional championship. To be attuned to international conditions and competition, some level of preparation would have to take place overseas. But to be overseas takes money; money, money, money.

The obvious question in my mind, was why would an athlete with such proven credentials not be funded? What about the Elite Athletes programme?

So I asked Sellier. He said he got funding in 2009 ($250,000). But nothing since then.

Why not? He couldn't say. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation for this; one not given to him.

But this is not the first time that money had been a problem for this cyclist.

Looking through my files, I came across this in a piece I wrote back in 2008 on Sellier: "Two years ago (2006), he was on the verge of quitting cycling.

'I just wasn't getting any kind of financial support,' he explains. 'I just couldn't keep putting my dad under that pressure to just keep buying stuff for me. Not getting any kind of help whatsoever really just... It's not helpful.'"

There was a happy ending to that story at the time. Things are different now.

So, given the complaints that are aired from time to time by sportsmen and women about the lack of, or slow disbursement of funds by the Ministry of Sport/Sports Company, perhaps full disclosure is now necessary.

In the interest of transparency, it is time that an annual list of athletes in all disciplines who are in the Elite Athletes programme should be published. It would be clearer then how and on whom public funds are being spent. There would be less room then for idle speculation and suspicion that everyone is not being dealt a fair hand.

It is true that success or failure in any endeavour is down to the individual. But it is also true that help at the right time can make a difference as to how well a person succeeds.

Sellier's plight in cycling is not unique. Before him there was one Mario Joseph. And for those suffering amnesia here, Joseph won a Pan American Games kierin bronze medal in Winnipeg, Canada in 1999. He was still a raw product, succeeding through sheer speed, strength and will power. But less than a year later, he was virtually lost to cycling. He did not have a financial benefactor to prop him up either.

So for every Njisane Phillip that comes through, there is a Christopher Sellier or a Mario Joseph who is lost to local sport. This place is too small to be so careless with its talent.

If, as the politicians often say, sport is a vehicle to project T&T to the world and provide opportunities to the youths; then the authorities must prove true to their words. There must be less lip service.

It is simply costing too many when we forget. Or worse, ignore.