Stickfighters were up in arms in Arima on Friday night, not in battle but in protest over not being paid appearance fees by the National Carnival Commission (NCC).
Their cries turned into demands for an increase in prizes, and as a result of the impasse, the NCC has postponed the 2020 National Stickfighting Competition.
Talks on Saturday morning to save the competition – a tradition of Carnival – failed, with NCC chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters saying the commission would not be “bullied”.
Chants of “tera tera, mad man ah say, all bois man is mad man,” in anticipation of rivalry turned into “no money, no stick” when, at about 10 pm, without any blow being struck, Friday’s semifinals at Arima Velodrome were called off. The stickfighters began demanding payment for their appearance at the preliminaries in Moruga, on January 24. They expected to be paid at the venue before entering the gayelle. The stickfighters also complained bitterly about the lowly prize – $10,000 for the winner, the same as last year, which had been cut from $20,000 in 2018.
Harlem Keston Bullard, of the Princes Town gayelle, said, “We want more money. They owing us and expect us to come and fight. We doing it because we love the game but what is it profiting us?”
A Moruga stickfighter shouted, “The fighters were depending on the money. The maxi cost us $1,000. In the preliminaries, one man got his hand broken and we are still here.”
Officials tried in vain to get them to go into the gayelle but the stickfighters refused, insisting they would only fight for more money and the semifinals were called off.
This triggered irate patrons, estimated at 1,300, who clamoured for a refund of the $100 entrance fee which they got back.
However, the stickfighters were not as fortunate as they did not receive their fees, neither a higher prize.
Chairman of the Stick Fighting Federation Joseph Adams explained stickfighters would usually receive cheques before they appeared in fights but that did not happen at the first round last month.
“We realised that was the wrong policy. So they should have really been paid for the preliminaries, at the semis (Friday). There was a slip-up at the office and we came without the cheques,” he told the media.
He tried to reassure the stickfighters they would be paid, saying he had called the account manager to bring the cheques to the velodrome. They, however, said they would not fight unless they were also paid for the semifinals.
“They want two payments in one. We have the $47,000 cheque for last (month) and tonight (Friday). Then they said that they also wanted a raise in fighting fees. They got more and more unreasonable and we decided that it was not feasible and cancelled the show,” Adams said.
Community Development, Culture and the Arts Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, in a statement to Newsday, on Friday, confirmed the dispute over money and the cancellation of the semifinals.
“The fighters wanted to have the cheques, and the NCC offered to disburse them tonight (Friday), along with the cash for the fighters’ appearance fees. After discussion, they came to an agreement, that they would take the cash tonight (Friday) and the cheques tomorrow (Saturday).
Subsequently, they demanded an increase in prize monies – a completely separate issue – and the NCC officials did not agree that this was a demand that could be accommodated on the spot. As a result, they cancelled the event and have begun to refund patrons,” she said.
In a separate statement, on Saturday, NCC said the entire competition was postponed.
“We not gonna re-negotiate with this anybody for this year, that’s the end of the stickfighting as far as we are concerned. The stickfighters are free to go ahead and fight wherever they want and whenever they want. As far as the NCC’s involvement in it this year, we would take no further part,” the NCC chairman told Sunday Newsday.
Peters denounced the stickfighters’ protest saying they “continue to move the goal post as the game goes along.”
“They have unreasonable expectations and unreasonable demands which we cannot meet and are not willing to meet. Every year it’s the same thing. First they tell us they want the money before they go and fight.
“That is not how it is done. Then we decided that we would compromise and give them some of the money that they want from the intake from the patrons. While we are in the process of doing that, they want an increase in prize money. That is not how things are negotiated. That is holding us to ransom and that is actually bullying.” Peters assured patrons that any NCC tickets purchased for stickfighting will be refunded.
Gayelles present were Ring Masters, Longdenville, Newtown Boys, St Mary’s, Princes Town, Mayaro and Talparo. The finals were scheduled for Guaracara Park on February 19.
In 2018, stickfighters made calls for better prizes and conditions even before the competition began. They had complained the issue had been ongoing even three years before. However, the competition was held after the NCC reached an agreement with them that year. Last Carnival, the competition also took place and was won by Roger Sambury who was crowned King of the Rock, and the Princes Town gayelle won the team prize.