Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Still searching for identity

Here’s another addendum for the Constitutional Reform Commission to consider: the full inclusion of Tobago in all matters that are promoted as national in scope, like the Secondary Schools Football League. Whatever the reason for the non-involvement of schools from the sister isle in the main competition format of the SSFL’s new Premier Division, which kicks off in just over three weeks, this is totally and completely unacceptable.

According to the league’s new president, Anthony Creed, speaking at the launch of the 2014 season last Tuesday, this was a decision taken by officials in Tobago. “Please note that the Tobago Zone decided not to participate in 2014,” Creed is reported as saying. “They decided to widen their Championship Division. They said it was too difficult for them to travel to Trinidad at least seven times within a six-week window.”

Assuming that statement to be correct, I don’t know if it’s more distressing that Tobagonians are the instigators of their own footballing demise at secondary schools level, or that there has not been even the faintest murmur of discontent at this utterly outrageous decision.

Let me just clarify the real issue as I see it. This is not about championing the cause of Tobago because of its contribution to the national game through the likes of Dwight Yorke, Cyd Gray and Peter Granville among so many others over the decades.

This has nothing to do with the standard of secondary schools football in that zone and whether the two teams (I suppose) who would have represented Tobago in the Premier Division were only going to be hammered from pillar to post by their Trinidadian opponents.

Nor is this about finances or logistics related to teams travelling between the islands for the six-week duration of this new competition. Almost everyone has an idea of the occasional hassles and headaches of both the airbridge and the ferry service, but none of that is relevant in this matter.

No sir, this situation, fundamentally, is about national identity and the very obvious fact that, almost 53 years after political independence, we still have no real sense of what nationhood means. Maybe we have our politicians to thank for this deeply-ingrained tribalism, for it certainly allows many of them to maintain a constituency of support by promoting division instead of unity.

At the end of the day though, we really have only ourselves to blame for the evident failure to appreciate that, as a singular nation, we should not be having this conversation at all. It cannot be that a stretch of water represents such a mental divide between two elements of what is supposed to be a single country that the physical gap, and the costs associated with bridging it, becomes a readymade excuse for not fulfilling the mandate of nationhood.

Before heading out of your home this morning, you wouldn’t consider leaving a body part behind. So why do we – Trinidadians and Tobagonians – consider it perfectly acceptable to have events, programmes, sporting competitions and other activities that are promoted as national in scope yet deliberately exclude a fundamental element of the nation, for whatever reason?

If we are ever going to be true citizens of a real nation (and that is obviously going to be a very long way off given the usual polarisation of views on this election run-off matter), we first and foremost have to accept that Trinidad and Tobago is just that: Trinidad AND Tobago.

Participation in the Premier Division of the Secondary Schools Football League should not be in any way dependent on costs or other challenges of inter-island travel. Tobago must be accorded full participatory rights in all matters purported to be national in scope as a matter of course, not a matter of favour or privilege.

Like everywhere else in the world, regional resentment based on perceived favouritism of one area of a country over another is a fact of life. I recall covering a Pres-Benedict’s South Intercol final at Skinner Park in 1986 and being roundly berated by a Presentation supporter as a member of the national media who, according to the goodly medical doctor, were biased against teams from the southland.

Some in central will have the same issues, just like villagers in Speyside may feel that their concerns are not prioritised by officials in Scarborough in the same way that they would attend to matters in Lowlands. But the point is, and will remain, that whether people grumble all the time or happily accept their lot, anything that is presented as a national event, like the Premier Division of the SSFL, must of necessity encompass the entire country.

Unless there is some other amendment to the Constitution that is yet to come to light, that entire country still includes Tobago.