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Sporting icon’s passing: A cause for reflection

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The death of yet another of our local sporting heroes, the ageless Fred Trimmingham, is the third such passing in recent months, following the deaths of former national footballers Tyrone ‘Tweety’ Spence and Keith ‘Slick’ Bonadie. Though like them, a national football star, Fred was more than that, an all-round sportsman, good enough to represent both his country and the Windward Islands in both football and cricket, a national coach, whose son followed in his footsteps, and above all, a huge inspiration to generations of young sports people.{{more}}

That his funeral rites took place at the Grammar School Grounds, the famed “Pastures”, speaks volumes of how this outstanding son of our soil dominated that field, spawning a formidable team that bore the Pastures name brand. It is a tribute to his contribution to national development, but can we ask, is that enough? Do we really, at a national level, show appropriate appreciation and recompense to those who give their all, the best of their youth and adulthood, to advance the sporting stock of St Vincent and the Grenadines?

How much have our sporting heroes benefitted materially or socially from their efforts on our behalf? Except for the handful of cricketers lucky enough to get West Indies selection in the era of professional payments, and the Stan­ford intervention, there is little to show. Is this how we reward those who provide an enormous source of pride for our tiny country through their sporting accomplishments?

Representing a poor country in the field of sports calls for a great deal of personal sacrifice. Many of our national athletes are, if employed, lowly-paid, and many times without secure permanent employment. Some employers are not always sympathetic to providing the necessary support. There is the issue of the provision of gear, training time, rest and recuperation. Then, there is the possibility of injury, not on the job, and therefore not entitled to legal compensation. Who provides it, especially when most sporting associations are themselves cash-strapped? Ironically, the lasting effects of those injuries, some sustained on national duty, show up to haunt and torment the athletes later in life, when many of us who used to root for them in their prime, have long forgotten them.

This combination of circumstances has had its toll, both at a personal, as well as the national level. Many, if not most of our best athletes, have been forced to migrate in droves to seek greener pastures abroad, leaving gaping holes in our continuity and institutional memory. The list is inexhaustible, going back to stars of the fifties like Alfie Roberts, Raymond de Bique, the two Garnets (Niles and Brisbane), while the Jones brothers, ‘Babs’ and ‘Zupang’, set a family trend, stretching right down to the Millingtons and Morrises of more recent time. In North America we can find almost complete netball teams of the past, at national level at that.

One can take Lawrence “Babs” Jones as an example. A waterfront employee of Geest fame during his heyday, as one of the finest Vincentian footballers, it was only when he migrated and displayed his entrepreneurial skills in New York, that we best appreciated him. It can apply to a host of others.

One of our former footballing greats, Guy Lowe, in paying tribute to the late Fred Trimmingham, has rightly called for persons to be fittingly honoured, not just after death, but while they are alive. We have no Hall of Fame, no home or place where we can treasure sporting accomplishments. We don’t even keep accessible public records as a guide. We seem to live for the moment; no wonder we can’t seem to maintain consistency.

But it is more than honour. It is more than time that we find a way to materially and socially reward those who are responsible for the national honour on the field of play. Too many of those who gave their all for the country are left to fend for themselves in their later days, with only memories of their past glories as companions. This is unacceptable.

Fred Trimmingham was a sporting colossus, whose memory must be kept alive to inspire future generations. As we extend condolences to his family, can we not use the occasion to re-examine how we honour and reward those who have excelled at the national sporting level?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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