A Tale Of Two Nations

Keith Smith
Date Published: 

WHAT is wrong with the country's sport? Nothing and everything. It depends on what you mean by the question.

If the question conjures up images of dispirited footballers stumbling along the length of King George V Park, or of athletes being run or cycled into the ground at Munich, or of the same cricketers casting the same old shadows along the green of the Queen's Park Oval, the darkening evening unrelieved by the bright promise of some newly discovered star, then the answer to the question is everything.


If, on the other hand, by sport you mean the clash of youngsters in the alleys and on the fields that they have cleared with their own hands - barebacked, old short pants, displaying skills that the limitations of the playing area has forced on them; or of couples crouched at either end of the scores of table-tennis boards that have been built throughout the country; or of the country's youth playing 'ball' using basket-ball posts, that, when the game is over become common-place trees and lampposts, then the answer is nothing.

In the unconventional world of sport there is talent and creativity in abundance and it is this knowledge that caused English coach Michael Laing to shed tears when he discovered three years ago that the official administrators of sport in the country were concerned not with the nurturing of this talent but with status and socializing. Caught between these two worlds, Laing left.

As did Leslie King. Hailed as the fastest man in the Western Hemisphere, King, with much pomp and ceremony announced his retirement, broken by his dealings with a soul-less administration. And there are other Leslie Kings in the sense that there are sportsmen who have quietly slipped out of the various games, either to stop playing completely or hiding themselves in the various Minor Leagues, bringing to these Leagues a dash and vigour for which there was no room in the conventional leagues - Eddie Hart and men who have rallied around him is a case in point.


For all this, 1972 has not been without its stars for such is the wealth of ability in the country that not even a moribund system of sport organisation can prevent them from shining.

Still the question remains? What will happen to say Sammy Llewellyn, the Essex-Trinidad and Tobago player who had scores of supporters, many of them from St. Joseph Road where he lives, coming to fatten the TFA's pockets.

Will he go the way of Everard Cummings and Archibald whose skills and experience we have lost to the United States? Or will he like Jimmy Springer become dispirited when he realises that the TFA has no intention of meeting him even half-way in bid to make for himself a career in football.

What about young Mike Wilson who, by coming from behind the bridge and defeating all others to become the country's lawn tennis champion, gave us what was easily the local sport story of the year?

Are the officials simply going to pat themselves on the back and preen that his victory is the result of the introduction of public tennis courts in Port-of-Spain and not ask themselves the logical question which is whether the provision of more public facilities throughout the country would not produce more Wilsons?

Or are they satisfied with just this one crack in a sport that has always been the domain of the rich and privileged?

And the same questions can be asked as regards to swimming. Must it always be the Ferreiras and the Littlepages? Or are there not the natural swimmers in Tobago and the coastal villages of Trinidad languishing for the want of facilities and coaches who can give them a scientific approach?

We lost the Shell Shield this year. But we are going to try to regain it with the same team because nobody has bothered to look for new talent and because cricket is played in relatively few communities simply because there is no where to play.

This was the "Year of Sports and Culture" and its highlight was the Village Olympics but as in the past years it is the villages that have suffered most of at the hands of sporting officials in this country.

Even Tunapuna, the winning village is forced to make-do with makeshift basket-ball playing fields, running the risk of having its youngsters carted off to jail for playing in the road.

And what has this competition given us for the future? Nothing, except the conviction that sports in this country must be liberated from the choking centralization and being organized along community levels.


For it is because there was a modicum of organization along community lines that the "Olympics" caught the imagination of some communities - the imagination boggles, as Dickens put it, when you consider the electrifying impetus sport in this country will get if national football, cricket, basketball, tennis, hockey, netball and all the other sports were organized: community against community.

For what the complaints and grouses of 1972 have demonstrated is that the recognised agencies for handling sport have not an inkling of an idea - either of the hold that sports has on the country, or indeed even what kind of sports are most suited to the communities.

If not, how come in 1972 there has not been a programme to dot the nation with basketball courts? The old escape clause of lack of space cannot be cited because all over there are plots of land that can be converted into basket-ball and netball courts.

Imagine Laventille, Waterhole, Chaguanas, Couva, Lambeau, Plymouth with a series of these courts, relieving the boredom that is the life of the unemployed, giving entertainment to the listless employed and an outlet to the skills and talents that abounds in the country - and you become aware that the absence of such a programme amounts to a lack of imagination that is criminal.

And the neglect in 1972 is not limited to basket-ball.

Guyana beat the arse off us in table tennis in this year's Caribbean Championships. In Queen's Hall we found out that the game had leaped ahead of us but still our players suffer from a lack of exposure and a resulting lack of awareness of the trends in a game that, perhaps, more than any other, is in the throes of a revolutionary development.

Still on pieces of ply-wood under houses and in the open air, the youths are smashing and chopping, most of them doing it badly, because there is not channel for Stephen Wade or "Reds" Mulligan or Joey Gonsalves or Derek Da Silva to pass on the rudiments of the game which they have all learned.

That is why in 1972, as indeed in the past years, it is always the same players as if they have somehow gained for themselves a monopoly in the game. It seems that we have no sense of continuum here, so that the Press instead of wondering why Maple and Malvern have to resort to people like Arthur Browne and Alvin Corneal gush about the veteran "stars".

Not that Corneal, and in some instances Browne, did not star but surely implicit in this fact is the inescapable point that our football in 1972 was at the same level as when both these players were in their prime.


Only two weeks ago, an agonised Eddie Hart was asking "Keith, you, me, Alvin, so many people have ideas about how to correct sport in this country, is there nothing we can do?" And my answer was that we have to keep hammering away at the old-time sport organization, to articulate what the many sportsmen in the country are saying and feeling about sport, to involve ourselves in the leagues that are being organized in our communities, to show in a limited way what can be done on a national basis.

And I added that what we would be doing is involving in politics, since in sport government had thrown away a political tool and delivered a tremendous blow to the young in the nation in the process.

My argument did urge that there was no need for pessimism; that this year had spot-lighted the gap between conventional and unconventional sport; that more and more young people are creating opportunities for themselves and that this phenomenon was bound to grow; that a country that produces the likes of Learie Constantine, Shay Seymour, Carl Thorpe, Wendell Mottley, Yolande Pompey and Ralph Legall, will not allow its sporting instincts to be grounded into the dust of official incompetence.


For in spite of the different picture given by the Press, sport is more than Jesse Noel, Allow Loquay, Eric James, Rawle Raphael or Errol Dos Santos - and in time all the things we have been calling for - professionalism, community organization, coaching and training facilities, school programmes (what kind of government would build a school and provide no facilities?) will come.

So that in spite of our Munich failure, our loss in cricket and in table-tennis, our stultified football programme, the fact that we were cheated with Pele - in spite of all these things, because it marked a widening of the movement towards a new kind of sport, 1972 was a very good year.