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Regional travel – sporting dilemma

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The drama surrounding regional airline LIAT, its vagaries and inconvenience, over the past weeks, have dealt body blows to many, including some in the sporting arena.{{more}}

Whilst delays and its attending problems are inevitable, some of the happenings of the recent past and their effects on events of a sporting kind were most telling.

This column is aware of some of the tournaments which were either disrupted or pushed back, because of the late arrival of teams, compliments LIAT.

The NORCECA men’s second round qualification, held in Tortola in late July, saw teams arriving a matter of hours prior to their first match, while the bulk of members of the team from Panama travelled directly from the airport to the venue to play their first match.

Likewise, the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 male football tournament taking place in the Cayman Islands, saw our national team touching down in five countries in four days.

In fact, St Vincent and the Grenadines arrived in the Cayman Islands on the same day of their scheduled match, which had to be played at a later date.

The same was the case for some of the other participating countries.

At this time of the year, there is always that peak in junior tennis competitions around the region, and many of the hosts rely heavily on effective airlifting, as the tournaments dovetail one another.

They again this year suffered in some measure from the frequent delays.

Also affected were the NORCECA men’s second round qualification staged in French St Martin, however, this was a reversal, as teams and officials were faced with difficulties in leaving the island.

The senior Caribbean Area Squash Association men’s tournament also had its share of hiccups because of travel issues.

These are not simple matters, which could be repaid by a mere apology, as the damage has already been done.

Sport, in all its forms begins with the mind, and while one always has to cater for the unexpected, the worst case scenarios, performances on the field, the court or wherever, are usually negatively affected by issues such as these.

Additionally, many of the sporting disciplines practised here in the Caribbean, in the main, are amateur and played by persons who have 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. jobs or otherwise.

Team officials and the organisers also have their regular jobs which come first on their list of priorities, and with threats of destablisation to their livelihood, such volunteerism gets the boot.

So, that fear factor kicks in, the apprehension, the certainty of the unreliability of LIAT, then become the top agenda item when the planning of tournaments takes place.

But with all the happenings, the show must go on and teams and individuals have to travel and compete, so therein lies the dilemma.

The overall dent on such occurrences is the uncertainty of the host organisations, who, in most cases, operate on tight schedules.

Whilst we in the region may extend our tolerance levels, the same cannot be said for those who come in from international destinations. The debilitating high cost of travel, especially to the Caribbean region, already puts us in a precarious position of not having a trump card in our hand, even without the travel delays.

Furthermore, that spirit of regional integration through sports, is taking a slow walk to its eternal resting place, as there are fewer competitions among the islands.

Gone are the days when entourages travelled in droves to lend moral support to their teams.

And, the list of attending negative spin-offs grows each time the inefficiencies rock a tournament.

Ironically, at one end, the concept of sports tourism is being promoted by the same governments who support the regional airline financially, yet they are not as corrective when the ultimate factor of efficiency is brought into the equation.

It is those same governments who spend millions in upgrading facilities in their respective territories, with the view of cashing in on the hosting of regional and international competitions.

The task of correcting the library of travel woes that counteracts regional sports is out of the hands of the various tournaments and competition organizing committees, but in the grasp of those who are the public policy makers.

They are the ones who have to act now, otherwise competitions will be have to resort to being solely home based.

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