Two months ago, the UK’s Conservative government appeared vulnerable against the backdrop of a deepening recession and a seemingly unpopular Prime Minister. Many were calling for a change of PM. This was the scenario prevailing before London 2012 Olympics.
A skeptical media, nationals pissed about restrictive travel arrangements and some empty seats at early events threatened to negatively impact public perceptions about the relevance and importance of the Olympic games. Then came Romney’s unfortunate comments about the British readiness, and a magical moment ensued.
The Olympic fever caught on. The British reacted. Patriotism unleashed. Massive public support, enthusiastic volunteers, comparatively good weather and outstanding athletes suddenly ushered in the greatest patriotic fervour since the last World War experienced in the UK. Minds were captivated as the British put on a great show.
It was indeed great. In the process, British national pride was rekindled and patriotism soared. Hundreds of thousands visited the Olympic Park and hundreds of thousands lined the roads. The British are proud.
At the same time a national debate raged about the importance of sports and the government’s policy. For example, people lamented the fact that in the last few years, over 1000 playing fields were sold to private developers for commercial business to the detriment of the health of local communities.
Policy makers suddenly acknowledged that sport can have a positive impact on national health, crime and security. They also acknowledged that sport provided numerous opportunities for the young people. And so, the big debate now is about how can the success of London 2012 be sustained? Already, the policy makers have announced massive funding for all sports in the UK as well as incentives for athletes to train hard and prepare for RIO 2016.
In other countries reactions have been similar. Every one suddenly seems to recognise that sport and Olympic glory is important. Many with significant resources are counting their losses or poor performance. For them, it seems hard to digest that small countries with little resources have done so well.
For us in Grenada, the issues are similar. A country, tramautised by the recent spate of uncharacteristic domestic violence, petty politics, recession blues and high unrealistic expectations. Then, a gold medal, a burst of patriotic fervour, goodwill and national pride. So whither Grenada beyond 2012; Kirani and the Olympic team 2016.
The success of the Caribbean in terms of medals and more importantly the large number of qualifying athletes augurs well for the region’s athletic future. Already much attention is being paid to the region particularly in the last two decades given its athletic successes.
So the big issue is, what is the way forward? We have made much progress with little resources but this cannot continue if we are to do much better and maximise our true potential. If Grenada is to build on its success so far, what is required? The success of teenage athletes at the Olympics sent a clear message. We have to start at an early age. As such, more attention, emphasis and support must be given to pre-primary, primary and secondary sports programmes.
Secondly, the linkage between sports and a healthy nation, sports planning and costs implications are quite clear. As a result, sports planning, management and financing must occupy more importance and significance nationally. Thirdly, more persons need to be trained and the dozens of trained coaches need to immediately get active.
Focus should be on commencing coaching programmes targeting two groups, the young kids in preprimary and primary schools and the older kids leaving our various high schools. Too often, promising athletes retire at age 16 after secondary school because of distractions and the absence of any organised structure to fit into.
More commitment is required from coaches as leaders clubs need to be formed. This activity needs to be complemented with initiatives from leaders in our communities to organise many more clubs.
Fourthly, every Grenadian needs to become more health conscious. Sports need to be viewed as a medium for improving health. Fifthly, citizens in Grenada and the Diaspora can and should do more to provide support for individuals, teams and schools sporting activities and programmes.
This support needs to be continuous and not spontaneous on occasions of national achievement. The glory we enjoy today came about because of hard dedicated work over a period of time. It is a journey. So let’s get to work and forget about egos.