Some people speak as though sports—cricket in particular—had recently arrived on the island with locals excelling. (The same people speak of “agriculture” when in fact they are referring only to bananas!) Such folk are obviously under-informed about the several excellent sportsmen and sportswomen this island has produced. A quick glance through the pages of a booklet by Rupert Branford, published a decade or so ago, should set them right. So, too, the writings of Stanley French about Francis ‘Mindoo’ Philip (alas both deceased) to say nothing of the widely published bodybuilding accomplishments of one Rick Wayne. Also of note are the many other men and women who gave freely of their time and expertise to uplift sports in Saint Lucia, among them Julian R. Hunte, Jon Odlum and Ms Alicia John.
That we neglected the pursuit of excellence in sport and focused instead on building roads, ports and telecommunications worthy of a developing State, is a subject destined to be forever debated. At political Independence some thirty-seven years ago one of the island’s most accomplished sports personalities returned home from the United States to carve a niche in local publishing. He later established a modern gym to win conscientious Saint Lucians to health and fitness. Yes, love him or hate him, Rick Wayne had blazed a trail for Saint Lucia and other Caribbean athletes at a time when few here had heard of Steve ‘Hercules’ Reeves Joe Weider, until his death five years or so ago publisher of the world’s most successful fitness magazines.
Before Rick’s return there was singular (as gargantuan as he was gregarious) Imbert Roberts who had in 1960 had thrown the shot put at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, and earned a bronze medal for his effort. Before that Mindoo Philip had been invited to Trinidad for trials amongst Geoffrey Stollmyer, Gomez, Frankie Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes and other West Indian cricket legends for a place on the West Indies test team. But—so it has been said—Mindoo difficulties with the English language and the psychological effects of poor schooling proved his undoing.
Then there were Reggie Clarke, Hollis Bristol and J. Easter in tennis; Joyce Auguste, Acinthia Auguste (no relation), and Lyndell Brathwaite (later Noone), in netball, and many others in football, athletics and swimming. Of course most Saint Lucians of a certain age would probably agree our nation’s greatest athlete was Vincent ‘Quayak’ Devaux—Leo ‘Spar’ St. Helen a close second. So yes, Saint Lucia has had a fairly solid sports foundation, bequeathed to us by the colonial system we so love to hate. What did we do about sports when it was finally in our hands? We ourselves the excuse that we were so overwhelmed by the need to provide the basic amenities for economic growth that, perhaps inadvertently, we forgot that real development is always about people; whether in sports or in academics. Indisputably, few achievements provide more pride and pleasure to a nation, a developing nation, especially, than its achievements in sports.
At one time sports had been so sidelined, (some say maligned) that the need to harness and develop youthful talent seemed wholly transferred to academic pursuit. The better schools tried to balance academics with physical exercise and sports but the majority remained in pursuit of education as the sole means to decent employment and a regular income. A holistic life of academic pursuit and a drive for excellence in sports died at the exit doors of most local schools.
Thankfully, the tables are gradually turning. An opportunity for participation in professional sports, where money and fame await, and an escape from poverty assured, is gradually taking hold. In planning a future of sporting excellence and professionalism there is also need to be well spoken, well read, well mannered and courteous. Often the self-confidence at athlete projects in his or her arena can make the difference between winning and losing. To use the sports vernacular: a promising but relatively inexperienced athlete can be psyched-out before an event by a perceived more confident but actually less talented opponent. It is also worth keeping in mind that good manners and decorum are by-products of the discipline demanded by sports.
As briefly hinted earlier, a nation that is serious about people development cannot afford to take sports lightly. We must learn to abhor mediocrity wherever we find it, whether on the field or in the work place. It’s not nearly good enough to crow about having been in the Olympics when in fact we could make it past the preliminaries. Finally, we must not only start producing future stars at an early age but our athletes must be properly rewarded for their successes. We must also teach our people to be health conscious from the get-go. After all, as you sow so shall you reap. Government and private sector, caring citizens on all fronts must lend a hand.
The marking of another Emancipation Day at the time of the Rio Olympics and a CDB/OECS study of poverty in the region should give us all food for thought. It is to be hoped that better conscious nutrition, and more focus on sports will ultimately lead these islands out of poverty and backwardness. I offer a silent prayer that the brave young Saint Lucians at the Rio Games may return home with an Olympic medal or two. Some may say that for miniscule countries like ours is an impossible dream. In which case I cite the proud people of Grenada who I bet will not soon forget who won the 400-meter final—and the gold medal—four years ago at the London Olympics.
Those who at the Rio Olympics carry their nations’ flags, including the cerulean blue with its triangles of black, white and yellow, will be admired and praised across the world by nations large and small. Still, we must confront the question: Are sports really making a comeback in Saint Lucia?