The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) recently announced that TT has won the bid to host the August 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG). Huge congratulations to Brian Lewis, president of TT Olympic Committee (TTOC) and TT Commonwealth Games Association (TTCGA), the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs and the three bidders Rheeza Grant, Kwanieze John and Chanelle Young for pulling off a feat.
I was more than a little surprised by the mixed reception this excellent achievement has received. Maybe it is not quite appreciated what it takes to prepare for such a bid and to convince the very experienced CGF guardians that they should entrust us with the Youth Games. The sole fact that it relates to young people should make us all gleeful, especially after the disappointing news that our under-23 footballers were withdrawn from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers. The TT bid team deserves even more admiration for the short time period they had for preparing the bid, which is apparently based on three pillars: youth, e-sports and TT culture. Pretty quickly after the original bid winner, Belfast, was forced to withdraw, owing to politico-social upheaval in Northern Ireland last year, TT had to submit its emergency bid, including a site visit by the CGF evaluation team in February. It must have been like an assault course because TT is not a prefect place and we have our own security issues. So, well done team for winning the bid in spite of all the possible pitfalls.
Having the opportunity to host the world’s future sports administrators and great athletes in TT is a gift horse to be embraced heartily and it needs our collective support. Complaints about the need to spend money on upgrading some of our deteriorating sporting venues are short-sighted when we consider the size of the original investment and the chance offered to capitalise on that now and in the future, not to mention the very positive impact the CYG will have upon this country’s youth, sporting and non-sporting. We are in the fortunate position of not having to construct expensive new stadia, because we have an array of world-class facilities begging to be used. What we do not have we will simply have to create, because socially, the effect of the games will be to encourage our dispirited young people to engage in sport in a new way (Laventille youth with their brand new swimming pool would be able to see, unequivocally, where swimming can take you); and economically, it gives us the chance to resuscitate the stalled idea of sports tourism.
This is the opportunity we have been waiting for and Mr Lewis and his team must get their shoulders to the grindstone at once, as it is no small matter to organise a whole week of events that include seven international sports (aquatics, beach volleyball, boxing, cycling, netball, tennis and track and field) in different locations and involving dozens of young people and their minders from 71 different countries. It seems to me that given the practical difficulties of doing any business in this country, it would be strategic to get prompt buy in and from the Ministry of National Security, especially immigration and customs, and most importantly a guarantee from the Ministry of Finance, which reportedly is still enduring a cash flow problem, that it will earmark funds for early release to get the groundwork done.
The work required in order to guarantee a 2021 CYG that we could be proud of appears, to me, a little daunting but it is not impossible, and TT simply has to rise to the challenge. We have competed in all the Olympic Games since 1934, except two, and brought home a host of medals that still make us proud and inspire younger competitors. The 2021 CYG will be only the seventh but in 2017 in Bahamas we sent four-dozen, or more, young competitors, so we are veterans of the games. Now, TT will benefit for the first time from not only being on the track, whether we win or not, but in the controlling chair, learning from the experience which, if adequately capitalised upon, could launch us into another realm of sport administration and even competition.
We wring our hands about how bad we are at selling our tourism product, but hosting the 2021 CYG gifts us uncountable dollars of easy tourism promotion. Besides whatever media coverage deals can be stitched up, the most positive tourism aspect of the CYG is that young competitors would draw not only country fans but also relatives and guardians to this country. It’s a win-win for TT. The chance to do a roaring trade in many parts of the economy is worth every dollar we spend to do a good job.