WHILE stickfighters are passionate about their artform and wish to keep the tradition alive in TT, they say they are tired of being mistreated and taken advantage of by the National Carnival Commission (NCC).
On Friday night, the stickfighting semifinal which was scheduled to be held at the Arima Velodrome was called off as fighters protested not being paid fees by the NCC.
About 1,300 patrons were in attendance, who demanded that the $100 entrance fee be refunded.
The NCC then issued a press release on its website on Saturday saying the semifinal was postponed until further notice.
It said, “The NCC was unable to meet the fighters’ on-the-spot demands for an immediate increase in prize money.”
It also apologised to the public for any inconvenience caused.
Daniel Barclay of the Princes Town gayelle, who has been involved in the art for 21 years, told Sunday Newsday they were supposed to be paid at the preliminaries which took place in Moruga last week.
He said that payment should have been approximately $3,600.
He said when they arrived at the velodrome on Friday night, NCC officials said their payments had still not been “sorted out.”
“Last night they tell me the cheques eh make up still so the fighters decided to do that (protest).”
Barclay said many rely on the money to prepare for the next round of the competition, on things such as clothing and transport.
He added that the stickfighters are not compensated if they are injured during any course of the competition.
“It’s a life-threatening game. My good partners lost their eyes and they ain’t get nothing (sic). And they are family men who have wife and children and thing.
“That same money you win the finals, you have to spend it on yourself going to the doctor.”
He said the issue of receiving late payments has been going on for years, and that the fighters continually plead but to no avail.
Asked what motivates him to continue despite all these challenges, Barclay said the love of the art form.
But he added, “At the end of the day, name which sportsman does play sports and doesn’t accept the money.
“I do it for the passion and the money, I’m being honest. I can’t take the passion and go in the grocery. The money helps out."
Sunday Newsday also spoke with Keegan Taylor and Rondel Benjamin– the founding members of the Bois Academy of TT.
While Taylor did not attend what should have been the semifinal, he said he was not surprised when he heard what happened. He said it was a movie he had seen more than once.
He said, “I understand NCC has been trying over the years to do different things to improve the situation. But you have to remember these guys putting their lives on the line.”
He too spoke of the absence of any form of insurance for stickfighters if they get injured.
“Promises of up to $1 million for eye surgery were made over the years and still, nothing."
He said he was injured on several occasions and received no compensation.
“Once things are being done this way, this would happen.”
He said the NCC needs to be more transparent, especially when it comes to the use and distribution of funds. He said stickfighters are usually left confused about all that is happening.
He believes an even better show would be put on if these issues are resolved.
Asked why stickfighters continue even with these challenges, he said it is a question that is asked very often but difficult to answer.
“The feeling when you enter the ring and you doing what you love.
“Some people like to drink, go to parties, fete, but some people like to fight another man, look him straight in the eye, challenge him, accept the challenge and win.”
He said when you are in the ring, you cannot focus on the past or the future. Everything else becomes a blur, and your focus is on your competitor.
Benjamin told Sunday Newsday he left the event early because he expected something like that to happen. He said the fighters had been complaining over the weekend.
“We fed up, we tired, we’ve been speaking for the past ten years about this situation, (there has been) constant disrespect, constant inability to engage to stakeholders.
“It’s very poor of the administration of the cultural form. It is a failure to have them as stakeholders and participants. They somehow feel stickfighters are below and they don’t respect them.”
He said the pure love for the culture is what has been keeping the art form alive.
“Poor funding, poor organisation, what next?”
He said if these men were doing it for the money, they would have left a long time ago.