We have outgrown CARIFTA Games

Franklin Johnston

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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The Carifta Games (the Games) should be transformed, abandoned (not our call) or we exit gracefully. They show the best and worst of the West Indies and divide the Caribbean.

The Games, like West Indies Federation (WIF) or the CSME political and economic union, are not our future. They talk sportsmanship, character, healthy rivalry but it is hurtful and demeaning. We brutalise small-island friends for decades and thump chests in this unfair contest. The Games should be uplifting for all, but we appear a bully.

Our athletes are great, but these Games shame us as a nation used to battling giants and are boring for most as for 40-plus years the results are predictable. The Games are offshore rivalry among Jamaicans with others to look on. We thrash them year after year; they suck it up and love us for whupping them? Friends for life? So what are the Games about and can we create more innovative, competitive ones?

Carifta was formed 1965 in the wake of failed WIF to increase trade in the Eastern Caribbean, which has a long trading history. Jamaica, with no such history, joined in 1968 but our neighbours Haiti, Dom Rep, and Cuba were barred as allegedly they produce the same goods (don’t we all?) as members. Yet, distant Guyana in South America, and Belize in Central America got in. Were small, majority black islands not keen on large, majority brown and white islands in WIF, Carifta, the Games or Caricom?

The end of "Jim Crow" in America, rapprochement of Britain with former enemies France and Spain in the EU was real, but our neighbours were not welcome to our Games. Later, poor black Haiti (one medal to date) was. Curious? Does English, Protestant and the Westminster model make us superior to non-English, Roman Catholic Caribbean people next door? Are the West Indies guilty of the snobbery, xenophobia, bigotry, racism of which some accuse the British? Do the Games have pan-Caribbean value or exclusive club status?

The Games were to unite. Yet they excluded 80 per cent of Caribbean people and Jamaica hogged the show and the country second in medals has a third of our tally — friendly rivalry or massacre? This can’t be good for morale or competition. This year we bagged 86 medals. Since 1990 we won over 1,500; Trinidad and Tobago second with 500-plus, and minnows one-one. Are these games friendly? We are world beaters since the 1940s so what value is there to us to walk over events or the islands? Is Caricom united? Let’s retire Carifta games.

Are there issues? When sports involve school-age kids we must be vigilant. Travel and easy medals must be set off against damage from stress; missing studies, ego risks. Thousands are into sports, but only one Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce emerges from the miasma — God’s lottery! What cost, effort of an annual trip for a predictable outcome? The islands do not nurture our athletes. They are not in their dreams. Our diaspora do not live there, so our forays are fleeting.

The Games are a "medal fest" for us; others may be gluttons for punishment as leaders submit their youth for regular humiliation. When sport is suborned to politics the first victim is "sportsmanship". What is the agenda? Many rivals at our Champs make common cause in whupping the strangers. Do we enjoy being a bully? Do they like being bullied? Experience abroad is also useful, but we can evolve an inclusive, serviceable athletics model. Then, how does an extended athletics season affect the emotional, physical, behavioural and academic? Who tracks athletes’ well-being and risk of sexual harm among the raft of do-gooders and peers in the entourage and milieu?

We are a powerhouse in global sport; everyone wants to be us, yet we still pound small islands. We are better than this! The Games are the most enduring good to emerge from attempts by cabinets to get us hitched to the distant Eastern Caribbean, but are flawed because of mismatch. These islands are not in our league in the physical but we may not be as gifted in the smarts.

They prospered for decades until the global meltdown, we tightened belts. Do we have heads for good governance? Note the tenacity with which Barbados defends its dollar? Given Nobel laureates, their top three per cent may be intellectually above ours and their masses are highly literate, ours are not. Did God give us athletic prowess to even the odds? I wish He had asked my advice. Still, there are great days ahead for competitive athletics, great friendships with no political or economic union. We must believe and innovate. Think with me!

We need a "Caribbean Games" in the IAAF architecture to replace Carifta; with Usain and Shelly-Ann as patrons and the first by 2020. Include all Caribbean islands — cry shame, no exclusion. In time all nations washed by our mighty sea may join. We applaud schools, students, coaches, ISSA, sponsors but Carifta Games polarise both the West Indies and the Caribbean. Black politicians did not bring big islands to join Carifta, the Games or Caricom, though they asked, but Haiti got in; it is black, poor and did not threaten the Anglo-blacks who run things. Stop it!

Our Cabinets fought apartheid in Africa but not in our backyard sport or single market. Can our growth czar ignore Dom Rep, the fastest-growing Caribbean nation with a market three times ours? We hear of so-called "Caribbean" events, agencies, statistics but they do not include 80 per cent of the Caribbean population — our neighbours — West Indies only. We are better than this.

Trinidad, Barbados bring in neighbours. Our big nearby markets are for our coaches, winning athletics, jobs and exports. Can ISSA package Champs for franchise to them and to school districts in New York, London, Toronto, Birmingham where Jamaicans live and our exports grow? Africa? We took much from the world, so let’s give back, export and prosper.

A Caribbean Games would be more competitive, fairer; give our student athletes, migrants, sponsors exposure to markets in their futures. Give the old imperial "divide and rule" a bloody nose! Let’s exit Carifta’s annual "slaughter of innocents" and embrace the Caribbean’s 100m market. Sport tourism? Be upbeat about Jamaica. Stay conscious!

— Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon) is a strategist and project manager. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com




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