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The real champions of integration

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by Vonnie Roudette

In the past weeks we have seen two phenomena sweep through the Caribbean, unifying people in the various islands – the first, Hurricane Ivan, a natural disaster, and the other, the victory of the West Indies cricket team. Both events create a sense within all islanders that they belong to a wider territory than their own single island and that they are connected with others across the sea.

The great joy and euphoria that the victory of the West Indies cricket team brought to many people across the nation-states can hardly be matched by any other human accomplishment. {{more}}The match was the topic of discussion everywhere for days afterwards, and the ensuing sense of pride will live on in the hearts of Caribbean people for a long time to come. The record-breaking partnership between lower order batsmen Browne and Bradshaw, symbolises the strength and determination that Caribbean people can apply in times of crisis, when all appears to be lost. This accomplishment was all the more poignant for people across the region struggling to rebuild their lives after the hurricane.

The unification of Caribbean people, through the West Indies victory, embraces even those in the diaspora, celebrating through sports their enduring connection with their homeland. Sports have enormous influence in creating connections between people from different and distant geographical localities. Each islander can relate to the cricket team as their own.

In what other areas can a Jamaican be proud of the achievements of a

Barbadian? Or to put it another way, in what other areas can a Barbadian uplift the spirits of a Jamaican? In most other areas of activity – our economies, our politics – ordinary people on the islands feel separate, foreigners towards each other. Only sports and music have such a cross-regional resonance, uniting our spirits to recognise what is the truth of the Caribbean civilisation – a range of peoples whose many diverse traditions in which so many of them have their origins, their memories, their hopes, are bound together.

Sport inspires

The capability of sports to bring people together, as seen and felt clearly in the case of the endeavours of the West Indies cricket team, is matched to some extent by dance and music, expressed in carnival arts, which have been exported to countries of the diaspora. Sport then, like art, inspires.

Sports and arts provide inspiration to fulfil potential, to reach for goals. Sports and arts form character, leaders and achievers, people who do not give up.

But then why are sports and arts the least developed subjects in the education system when, apart from the power to unite, they are the most effective subjects in teaching life skills such as communication, group cooperation, organisational skills and creative thinking?

As a tool for regional integration, sports could be utilised much more effectively by forming more teams that represent the region, not only national teams.

Despite the existence of an OECS sports desk, squash is the only sport represented in the Caribbean region by an OECS team. Players from four different islands make up the senior and junior teams. There is also a national team, which competes with other OECS islands.

Friendships and sometimes business connections are made among players, tournament organisers and spectators from different islands. Other sports should be encouraged to establish an OECS tournament circuit. Cricket, with Windward Islands and West Indies teams, is pioneering sports between islands, but even though netball has a West Indies team, they compete in most international tournament as individual island teams. Other team sports such as football and rugby are represented internationally by separate island states, as is athletics.

Competing as OECS

We have seen how well Caribbean athletes, especially sprinters, fare on the international arena – wouldn’t these accomplishments benefit the entire region by competing as the OECS or the West Indies? In the case of football, a regional team would be far more competitive in the World Cup.

If we still find it difficult to see the benefits of having more regional sport teams we only have ask ourselves: what would have been the chances of the Windward Islands cricket team bringing home a victory over England?

What sports and arts can do regionally and internationally must start on a community level. Every village needs its own playing field and courts for ball games, to organise their own inter-community tournaments, to allow the talents and expressions of the youth to find an outlet.

Sports and the arts are indispensable in preserving heritage by counteracting the negative forces of imported culture, lessening the incidence of drug abuse and violence among the youth. This, plus the obvious benefits to general health through an active lifestyle would significantly reduce government expenditure on medical services. Surely these benefits provide more than enough reason to promote sports in schools and beyond.

Caribbean

civilisation

The Caribbean civilisation extends far beyond the islands into pockets of the diaspora.

No matter how long they have lived overseas, West Indians – even those born overseas – will always support the home team. Sports can be used to reach out to the diaspora, actively reinforcing their connection with home – involving them in developing and sponsoring teams whose progress they could follow.

The benefits of sports and arts on all levels are obvious, from fostering individual pride and inspiration, to boosting national economy through impacts on productivity and tourism, to fostering kinship between islanders.

From the farmer in the field to the barrister in the New York office, across conflict-ridden and insidious social divides of material wealth, political affiliation, racial and cultural background, all of us unite in the victory of our cricket team.

In taking steps towards regional integration, the politicians and policy makers would do well to pave the way with sports and the arts, so that we see a positive force, not only a disaster, unifying us through the physical strength and creative abilities of our people.

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