not satisfied: Outgoing TTOC president Larry Romany

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Time to start sporting turnaround

By Fazeer Mohammed

If it's going to take an entire generation to turn this problem around, then the time to start serious remedial work is now.

I really hope parents everywhere got Larry Romany's message of two Saturdays ago. Speaking at the annual awards ceremony of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee, the outgoing TTOC president warned about the long-term consequences of the prevailing low levels of participation in sport and recreation among the youth of the nation.

"A lot of people have celebrated the success of the Olympic team over the last four months, but nobody can tell the story of the Olympic movement better than the TTOC," he said in the keynote address at the National Academy for the Performing Arts.

"I am here to tell you that we are not at all satisfied. We are not satisfied for several reasons. We don't see a sustainable pathway at present for the development of sport in Trinidad, primarily because the young people of T&T are no longer interested in participating in sport.

"This is not a simple solution, this is a generational problem and we have to work assiduously at trying to solve the problem," continued. "This means that we have to target kids in primary schools, and in secondary schools and try to give them back that passion, that love they need in order for them to participate."

So who will rekindle that passion, that love? It's easy to point fingers at everyone and everything else, to get tied up in long-winded discussions about the changing world, societal ills and which political party wicked and which political you go die for.

But, jump high or jump low, if the biological mothers and fathers of children aren't prepared to be parents in the real sense, if they aren't willing to make the effort and sacrifice to provide healthy, positive, uplifting opportunities for their own offspring, then we are in real, real trouble.

This is not about Olympic gold, World Cup finals or Test hundreds. It's about nation-building, it's about health and wellness through physical recreation, it's about developing social skills, team-building, selflessness, playing by the rules and a whole host of other life lessons that a culture of sport facilitates.

Yes, there are innumerable obstacles in the way, ranging from widespread crime, violence and the dangers of letting your children just run off to the neighbourhood park or savannah, to an increasingly burdensome (physically and mentally) academic workload in an increasingly competitive environment for places at prestige secondary schools or scholarships to attend prestige tertiary institutions.

Add to that the pressures of work and the toll that the daily morning and evening grind of traffic takes on you, and it's easy to understand why so many will see getting their children involved in sport as an unnecessary hassle and prefer to have them at home playing with their phones, watching DVDs or whiling away the hours on Facebook. Understandable, yes. Acceptable, no.

More and more we are seeing the consequences of this sedentary lifestyle yet we fail to appreciate the catastrophic consequences.

The health complications associated with poor diet (how many parents were in the grocery or supermarket yesterday morning stocking up on cheap, unhealthy snacks ahead of the new school term as directed by their darling fat children?) and lack of physical exercise are well documented. Still, so many mothers and fathers seem to have no problem with their roly-poly youngsters stuffing their faces as they sit around or are driven around while they get heavier and fatter.

Getting them involved in sport is not about making it big and raking in the millions at the very pinnacle of specific disciplines. That will always be only a tiny, tiny fraction of the sporting population. If nothing else, it is a quality of life issue, of inculcating a culture of health and wellness at the most impressionable period of their lives so that they have a better chance of avoiding the myriad debilitating complications that are now increasingly manifest in what is fast becoming an epidemic of non-communicable diseases.

Sometimes we opt for the excuse that our son or daughter doesn't like sport, isn't athletically inclined or may get hurt in the process. Of course precautions have to be taken in anything you do, but isn't life about coping with adversity and overcoming setbacks along the way?

As for not liking sport or having two left feet, I have been privileged to see the value of encouragement and opportunity to play sport.

There were at least two occasions last year – the Indian Premier League final involving Sunil Narine's Kolkata Knight Riders and Dwayne Bravo's Chennai Super Kings and the World T20 final matching the West Indies against hosts Sri Lanka – when some parents and even some officials were less than keen on attending sessions of our community coaching academy at the Aranjuez Savannah on those Sunday mornings.

Yet the children came out in their numbers, eager and enthusiastic as ever and completely oblivious to the concerns of adults who wanted to go home and watch cricket on TV.

As Romany elaborated when I interviewed him on Sporting Edition on TV 6 last Friday, we should be making every effort to give our children the chance to enjoy themselves – because that's what it's supposed to be, enjoyment – by being involved in sporting or recreational activity of some kind.

If so many children in this country are no longer interested in playing sport, the blame lies with us, not them.

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