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SVG and the Olympic stage


Fri, Aug 10, 2012

The continuing success of Caribbean athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games provides the region with a golden opportunity to, not only promote its talents, but also to showcase its attractions. No praise can be too high for our athletes, and in so saying, we extend very special praises to Kirani James of Grenada.{{more}}

Inevitably, the success of Kirani has set off a local discussion on why is St. Vincent and the Grenadines not producing athletes performing at the highest level and when will we be able to produce a medal winner on the international stage. Our small team at the Olympics has obviously tried but are clearly not yet in the so-called ‘big league’.

It is important to put things in perspective though. By the middle of this week, only 76 nations, of the 200-odd participating, had won medals. SVG is not alone in the Caribbean in not having a medal-winner. Larger countries like Belize, Guyana and Suriname have yet to have anyone on the winners’ podium, and in spite of promising performances, the athletes from Barbados and the OECS, save for Grenada, are in a similar position. But just consider that a mere 7 countries from the African continent have won medals thus far, and that many of the broad swathe of Asian countries have not even come close, then one gets a better perspective on the issue.

Equally inevitably, local discussions will re-focus on the sore theme of the National Stadium, on the cards since the mid-nineties. An informative article by G.E.M. Saunders on this page provides much food for thought on this topic. There will no doubt also be the usual finger-pointing regarding the state of administration of athletics, and indeed of all Olympic sports, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These would provide a platform for post-Games evaluation, but we can only hope that it is done in a positive framework to lay the stage for a brighter future.

One aspect of the current Games may be of some interest to us. It relates to the excellent performances of athletes from the host country Britain. On Wednesday of this week the host nation was in third place in the medal table, having already surpassed its previous record tally of 47 (in 2008). It has sparked off much discussion in the traditional and social media about the contributing factors.

It is significant to note that contributions from National Lottery funds are deemed as a major factor in Britain’s Olympic success. The UK National Lottery was started in 1994 and two years later, before the impact could be felt, Britain gained only 15 medals at the Atlanta games. Since then however, there has been a steady increase – 28 in 2000, 30 in 2004 and 47 in Beijing (2008). From the year 2006 a strategic decision was taken that lottery contributions should be used to fund what is called a “performance pathway”; supporting athletes from the period when their talent has been spotted right through training and mentoring up until the hoped appearance on the world stage.

That should leave us to ponder about a strategic use of lottery funds from our own lottery. Too often, the appearance is given that our Lottery is a fund-all, a veritable and proverbial ‘local Fire Station’ to which we run to put out all sorts of fires. We can perhaps learn a thing or two about focused strategic approaches by examining the British experience.