At the 2012 Olympics held in London, team Trinidad and Tobago won the most medals in our history, making this country prouder than it ever has been at an Olympic games. It was a reflection of the good stewardship of the UNC in government, as our athletes showcased our prowess to the world and put us on stage with the big players.
“Under Kamla Persad-Bissessar in 2012, we got one gold medal and three bronze medals and 11 finalists, the greatest performance in the history of our nation,” recollects former Minister of Sport at the time, Anil Roberts. Roberts was speaking at The Checklist.’s “Sporting Discussion: The Athletes’ Review” (click here to view) along with other of Trinidad and Tobago’s top athletes and coaches, discussing the state of the sports industry.
Roberts explained this historic performance as being accomplished “because Kamla Persad-Bissessar put resources, put passion, put heart, put brain, put all that she had behind our athletes.”
TT’s Olympic Journey began in 1948, Peaked in 2012
The 2012 triumph was the culmination of a long journey since 1948, the year that Trinidad and Tobago first participated in the Olympics. This was organised through the efforts of the sadly now-forgotten Lennox O’Reilly, who was a major politician of the time. One of the many pioneers that we need to remember in our history.
As former Minister Roberts recalls, “In 1948 we won our first medal with Rodney Wilkes in weightlifting, in 1952 Lennox Kilgore and Rodney Wilkes. Then we went to 1964 where Wendell Mottley won silver and we got two bronze in the relay and the 200 meters. We then went to 1976 where Hasley Crawford brought gold. We went through a period of no medals between then and there, but in 1984 we had Gene Samuel coming fourth in cycling. 1992 no medals but Ian Morris came fourth in the 400 meters.”
Notably, the 1980s was when the economy suffered severe decline and withdrawal of investment under the PNM, just like Rowley’s malicious mismanagement today.
But then when the UNC first took office in 1995, a Renaissance began.
“We then went into the Ato Boldon-era winning two bronze in 1996 a bronze and a silver in 2000 George Bovell bringing bronze in 2004. 2008 two silvers with Richard Thompson and the relay which turned out to be gold after doping tests for Jamaica. 2012 as, we said, the most successful Olympics in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. 2016 won bronze, a lingering effect from the efforts of Kamla Persad-Bissessar in preparing Keshorn Walcott and buying javelins for him to train as a junior since 2012 into 2016.
“And then we are here now with not a medal, limited finalists and our athletes left alone in a war of pain. Shame on Rowley. Shame on the PNM.”
What the Kamla Persad-Bissessar Administration did for Sport
Roberts recalls vividly what was done for sports during that time, “programs [were] put in place … focus[ing] on coach education, a rural coaching caravan, putting coaches in primary schools to identify talent, getting Cabinet notes to approve across the board, not only in football and cricket, but in all sports. Positive, qualified coaches across the board. [We] rehabilitate[d] 89 grounds with proper drainage, proper grass, conference rooms, stadium, and get these facilities ready.
“We as the UNC understood that sport is an industry and we began the process of creating… Look at what the young cricketer just said: “40 children did sport management degrees, and they’re working in construction and they’re working all over, and doing other things.” Roberts draws the obvious conclusion, “Because to Keith Christopher Rowley and the PNM, sport is not an industry and not important. They have the facilities that we built. We left Cabinet notes.
We dealt with sport from the grassroot level, from the coaching level, from the primary school into the secondary school, into the facilities, making it accessible to the entire population.
We were getting more children involved in sport across the board. We were diversifying. We were creating sporting avenues and pathways that you can be student athletes as well as having time to perform. We were going into the realms of sport medicine, sport tourism, across the board.”
As Minister of Sports, too, his colleagues, from Boxu Potts, Kenya Charles and Senator David Nakhid all had high praise of Anil Roberts’ direct participation at all levels, showing his passion and commitment to the sport, which is so necessary for it to flourish.
“I played football when Anil was Minister of Sports and I think that’s probably the most amount
of preparation we probably got.”
Recalls Kenya Charles, who played football with the national Under 20 and senior level women’s football team.
“And he was there himself doing it! He was there with us, fighting with us, because we were trying to prepare for our World Cup. So he had the time, and he put the effort into the athletes.”
David Nakhid, the first Trinbagonian to play in the European First division, where he played for 17 years professionally across Europe and the Middle East, and was also captain of the Trinidad and Tobago team from 1996-2000, observed, “We have to be clear.
We have never seen a coach in Trinidad and Tobago in any sport with a scientific knowledge like Senator Roberts, who coached me personally. We’ve never seen a coach like that, and that’s why I said when people talk about him as a swimming coach, I correct them.
Anil could have coached any sport. You don’t have to have a specific sport when you have that kind of knowledge.”
“Having said that, we’ve had excellent coaches like Bertie St. Clair, then Alvin Corneal, Jimmy Blanc… we’ve had coaches that could have developed players, who spend time with players. We don’t have that anymore.”
PNM “Stinking thinking” reversed the gains made
After Kamla Persad-Bissessar left office, the acidic, destructive politics of Keith Rowley and the PNM set in, and they rejected everything constructive that was put in place by the previous administration. This did nothing except to hurt our people, as if that is the only way the PNM could gain.
As Kenya Charles put it, “Now we could see Trinidad is going backwards. Even in football you’ve seen it a lot. We’re going backwards right now.”
Senator Roberts noted, “As Kamla Persad Bissessar was removed from office because of lies, obfuscation and dishonesty in the EBC, the PNM and the media, sport got back to zero. We are now underground. Everything that was begun under Kamla Persad-Bissessar is now gone. So I’m very sorry, but we have to start all over again.”
Boxu Potts, the country’s premiere boxing coach, noted, “When Anil [and the UNC] left office, everything fell apart. The funding fell apart. The understanding of the science of sports fell apart. The developing of the nurseries fell apart, and everything went back to business as usual.”
Potts continued, “I am prepared to work with the state, but you know what I worked with the Honorable
Kamla Persad-Bissessar under Anil Robert. He hired me to develop boxing, and as soon as the UNC leave office, they say ‘Let us fight Boxu Potts. We don’t care how much knowledge he have.’ The PNM said ‘Let us spite him. Nothing for he. He went and worked with the enemy. Nothing for he.’
But, you know what? When I was in the PNM they never give me a job. I come and I work with the UNC and I got a job. Not that I want a job, because I could do my own business and make money. Not that I want a job, but if you leave the PNM… When you’re in the PNM they give you nothing to do. You starve. They want to starve you. But if you leave them and go and work with anybody else, whereby you can earn something, they hate you for life.
“The most knowledgeable person in boxing in the history of the West Indies is Boxu Potts. Five world records, 42 title bets with my charges. 42 titles and five world records, and yet this PNM regime don’t see it fit to call me in for my expertise in boxing. Something wrong with the thinking.”
Potts continued, “When you’re on the hustings and you’re trying to get into office your [the PNM’s] language is that you’re going to serve the country. When you get into office you’re serving your party, you’re serving your agenda.
You’re self-serving, you’re dis-serving and at the end of the day, look at the results we get: Football down the drain, cricket going down the drain, boxing down the drain, Olympians down the drain. That is because of the stinking thinking of the politicians that we have in office today.”
The Tragic degree to which Sports has reversed under the PNM
In every area of sports, just like in the rest of the country, Trinidad and Tobago has been regressing terribly under the PNM.
As Kenya Charles righlyt observed, “We knew Tokyo Olympics was coming up and we did nothing. We did nothing to prepare our athletes to go there to represent us, the red, white and black, Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, I know my athletes probably gave their best, but our best is not reaching a final.”
Anil Roberts agrees, “I want to commend all of our athletes for going out there, putting their blood, sweat and tears for Trinidad and Tobago, the red, white and black. I’m proud of all of them. They really went out there with the best intent, the great desire, and having worked as best as they can in trying circumstances to do their duty for Trinidad and Tobago and for each and every one of us, so I commend them.
Having said that, I must say that the preparation that our athletes had to endure through for the last six years is the worst in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. Our athletes were left naked in a war against the world, without resources, without support, without facilities, without equipment, without uniforms, without training camps.
And all of those who are in charge of providing our athletes with this support necessary to perform at the highest level should hang their heads in shame, from Keith Christopher Rowley to Brian Lewis to Douglas Camacho of the Sports Company.They should all resign and hold their heads in shame. For they ensured that our Olympics 2021 team in Tokyo will go down in history as the worst ever in the history of Trinidad and Tobago.”
This government failure in the Olympics is seen in every area of sports. And the PNM cannot use the excuse of Covid to cover up their failures here, too.
“That is absolutely rubbish,” Nakhid declares. “If we look across not even to the United States where we consider first world, if we look within our region, we just had Grenada send two Under-14 teams to the Caribbean Cup… and Trinidad could not send even one. Again but [the Government] puts in the blame on Covid.
“They know what needs to be done but they really do not understand how it needs to be done. I’m angry because I only knew about it tonight that Grenada could send two teams. A country with nowhere close to our resources, nowhere close to our talent pool… to send two teams to that championship, and we couldn’t even send one.”
“What they have done, basically by not engaging in this tournament they have destroyed a generation of players, because Under-14 in Trinidad has produced Clint Marcelle, Russell Latapy, Dwight York, Shaka Hislop, Kona Hislop. I mean, they produced quite a lot of players. I think even Senator Roberts played on the Under-14 National Team. I know Brian Lara, too.
“You know, what you’ve done is you have destroyed the hopes and aspirations of a generation of football players. And to back that up, I also heard now that they sent a hockey team to Chile.
How you can send a hockey team to Chile and you come up with the excuse because of Covid you could not send a football team?”
Kenya adds, “Now we’re seeing that they’re looking to bring CONCACAF for women. We’re not going to be ready because we don’t have preparation and we definitely don’t have the funding, because we have reached the point that … Shamfa Cudjoe has no idea what is going on.”
Eliminate Corruption in Boxing, and Sport in general
Boxing is even worse. “We have a lot of corruption in boxing. I speak to boxing only because some of the associations may disagree that they’re not corrupt. So let me not broad brush everybody. In boxing, we have a very corrupt bunch of people and until we eliminate that corruption and the money could redound to the athletes and the coaches and the programs, we are not going anywhere in boxing.”
“If the state does not pay the coaches direct, we will have a lot of disgruntled coaches. If they don’t treat with the athletes direct, bypassing the association, to fund the coaches and the athletes, boxing will die in this country.”
Under-19 cricketer Mark Deyal noted, “Covid has just hit, let’s say a year and a half, two years now. But let’s go back beyond that. I can speak about cricket. You know, 10, 15 years ago there was there was always proper functioning training, functioning grassroots programmes, tournaments and all these things. And as it started to climb into the years, I’ve noticed that there’s been a terrible decline in in the lack of application towards the grassroots, especially.”
All the athletes and coaches lamented about the funding, of course, and also about the unsystematic nature of the training. Deyal, for example, observed, “You have training programs, you distinguish the age groups. But we have 12 year olds, 16 year olds and 18 year olds all together as one, training together. That’s wrong. First, to begin with, because you’re asking a 12 year old to do the same skills that an 18 year old doing.”
How to make TT Win Again
Despite the PNM undermining or outright destroying the legacy of Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Anil Roberts in sports, all hope is not lost. The UNC is ready to take our sportsmen and sportswomen back to where they once were, and even to new and greater heights.
So what are some of the most important things recommended by our panel of athletes and coaches?
“The first thing we have to do is stop re-electing the PNM,” says Anil Roberts, with plain talk and good sense. Their track record speaks abysmally for itself. It’s almost as if everything they touch gets blighted or results in calamity and corruption. “This government can spoil vomit!” Nakhid declared.
“Jamaal Shabazz, God bless him,” Nakhid goes on, “always begging the PNM, although he comes from a community where he says it’s only PNM children, but he is begging the PNM 30 years to upgrade a community field. I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
Start with a Minister who Loves Sport
Kenya Charles advises, “You have to have a love for this. if you don’t love sports, or if you don’t love the athletes, on its own, then you’re not going to give them what they really need. And that’s all we need. Because when we put on our red, white and black, it’s because we’re going to give them everything that we have in our thanks to represent our country. So you have to give us the time, the preparation, the finances, where we don’t have to worry about, hey, if we go back to our hotel room, that we can’t open up our door because we locked out, because somebody didn’t pay for the hotel.”
Anil Roberts agrees. “You have to start with a Minister who understands sport, and loves sport. On this program alone, we have eight people who could be Minister of Sport better than Shamfa Cudjoe.”
Nakhid continues the theme, “It’s like beating up a useless horse, not a dead horse, a useless horse in talking about Shamfa Cudjoe. What can I tell you? When we have a whole World Cup campaign that came, without any proactive policy in place by Shamfa Cudjoe. Nothing.
I mean I feel almost insulted to call this woman a Minister of Sports, and that’s no disrespect to her. It’s just, to call her a Minister of Sports would be a disrespect to the sport, to sport in general.”
Kenya Charles is determined to look ahead. “Listen, we have to forget everything now and start to prepare for 2026. This is our next opportunity to qualify for a World Cup. The same thing with the women, we need to start to prepare from now. We have a young generation, I mean sometimes right now we’re losing a lot of athletes because they’re not going outside. They’re inside playing games they’re on their tablet whole day, so half of them don’t even know how to run.
So now we have to train them from a young age, to come out and learn to run and develop them gradually. This is how we’re going to get there again, for us to get back out, to get back our Maylee Atthin-Johnson, our next Tasha St. Louis, to get back a next Dwight Yorke, or even a David Nakhid. For us to get there, we have to start NOW… We need to find them from our primary school.”
Boxu Potts’ motto is “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” But this applies to policy makers as well, not just athletes.
Bob Roopnarine, Honorary General Secretary of the Caribbean Region Table Tennis Federation and General secretary of the T&T Table Tennis Association, raises a serious structural issue. “Table tennis, like I’m sure most of the other sports, does not offer career opportunities.
In Puerto Rico, we won gold in the first Under-10 Caribbean championship. And now two of the players on that Puerto Rico team in the Under-10 championship are now highly ranked world athletes. Okay, what did Puerto Rico do that we didn’t do? They offer career opportunities.
What do I mean by that? If a player decides that they want to go down the academic road or go around the road of owning business, and cannot give that time and effort to take it to the next level, they would remain amateur.
But the focus would be on those who are staying, and those who are staying, they are almost guaranteed — and I’m speaking about countries like Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — they know that when they finish play they have a job as a coach waiting for them.
They know there is some form of employment waiting for them. So they will now focus all of their energies into the training that is needed and give all of the time that is needed to train.”
“We need to be able to find some way to guarantee our players that persons are giving the time and effort, but after you come off of the table or come off the track, come off the football field or come out of the swimming pool, there is some job opportunity for you. Then they would give their time and effort into it. You know I’m passionate about this because I see us going nowhere very fast if these things continue to happen.“
From a young player’s experience, Mark Deyal agrees. “Every sports person goes through that constant worry of what if? What’s next? Let’s say I decided I’m going to focus on cricket. But let’s say unfortunately you end up with a career-ending injury five, six years down the line?
Then what is my position? Next thing you see I probably work in KFC, Pizza Hut, why?
Because nothing was put in place for myself, or even athletes like me who decided to put country first and say, ‘You know what? Okay, I know I have this talent, but I want to devote it all to Trinidad and Tobago because that is my passion, that is my love.’ Three four years down the line, something that happens to me, where’s that same Trinidad and Tobago? What are they going to do for me in terms of something unfortunate happens.
I think that mentally that plays a big part on athletes, and it’s not something that is spoken about enough. A lot of discussions are happening right now about mental issues and mental health and this is something very similar.
As an athlete, you’re always constantly worrying about it, so you’re never fully into it [your sport].
“Whoever is in charge, whoever is at the top at the head you know they need to look into these things. I mean how many coaches can they really have?… I don’t like to get into politics but those that are in charge, they have no plan forward for the youths and the young aspiring whatever, doctors, lawyers, teachers whatever the case is. Nothing is put in place. So for me, better planning needs to take place in order for our athletes to really excel in their fields.”
Boxu Potts pleaded, “The programs that were put in place under the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, if the programs were allowed to run, if they had continued the program we’d have continued success.
I remember there was a Prime Minister called Bustamante in Jamaica, he went into the schools and put down the nurseries, put the programs in place, and they proudly run it for years. Governments come, governments go, but they stuck to the program and look at the results!
Don’t hate on the knowledge. Do not hate on the people who have the knowledge to create the growth and the development for the sport and the country. Allow them to work.
When the Bustamante regime left office the other regime that came in continued with the programs. Look what Jamaica has become today: a force to be reckoned with in all Olympics!
So if they would have continued with the Anil Roberts philosophy as it relates to the growth, the development, the funding from nursery to elite athlete, if they had allowed those projects and those initiatives to go forward up to today, we wouldn’t have been talking about a dead postmortem for the last Olympics.”
Listen to the Full Discusssion
To listen to The Checklist.’s full “Sporting Discussion: The Athletes’ Review” with
- Senator Anil Roberts
- Senator David Nakhid
- Kenya Charles
- Boxu Potts
- Mark Deyal
- Bob Roopnarine