IT HAS become rather perplexing that, in spite of the jelling of the West Indies cricket team, the nations of the Caribbean refuse to use this model for all sports. This issue has been mooted from time to time in various Caribbean media, starting almost two decades ago, but has never been addressed by Caribbean governments, sporting bodies and Caricom.
At the 2016 Olympics, the English speaking Caribbean tallied 17 medals. In 2012 that number was 43.
A West Indies soccer team stands a chance of competing internationally and possibly winning medals in a way that none of the territorial teams do. Ditto for any other team sports. In athletics a West Indies team can bring home a significant amount of medals from various world games, the Olympics and so on, especially given that powerhouse Jamaica will be supplemented by the best of The Bahamas, TT and the other nations.
There are also other reasons for West Indian participation as a single entity in the international sports arena. For one, it’s much more cost effective since, instead of large numbers of officials that accompany the various teams, there will be one set of officials at any given time and trips for the boys or girls would have been eliminated. As well, we have seen how cricket brings us together, even as we debate, argue and diss at the national level in seeking to claim the superiority of individual countries’ teams.
This level of coming together on the one hand and bantering on the other across the Caribbean will become multiplied with each new West Indian birthed and this can only be healthy for Caribbeanness. As well, besides expanding that glue keeping us together, other West Indian teams can also ensure that the cream rises to the top and becomes internationally sought after while those just below strive to get to the top à la cricket.
As former West Indies Davis Cup player Ian MacDonald pointed out almost two decades ago, “For 30 years, from 1953 to 1983, there was one other united West Indian sports team: the West Indies Davis Cup tennis team. I know this well, since I played with extreme pride in the very first match for the West Indies, in their tie against the United States in Jamaica in 1953, and later captained West Indies Davis Cup teams with even greater pride in the 1960s.
“I think it was a tragedy that the West Indian Tennis Association meekly accepted a sudden ruling by the International Lawn Tennis Federation in 1983 that the West Indies, not constituting a country by their rules, could no longer play in the Davis Cup as a united team. Since 1983, there have been a number of years when a West Indian team drawing on the tennis talents of all the region’s countries would have done extremely well in the Davis Cup.”
And like cricket, other sports can bring international tournaments to the Caribbean and overall economic benefits including boosting tourism and putting the Caribbean on the global stage as cricket is doing. Consequently there will also be more money to develop sports, including building needed infrastructure and maximising use of currently available ones.
I quote MacDonald again: “I cannot understand why more thought has not been given to organising sports other than cricket on a pan-West Indian basis. Nor can I understand why there has not been more debate on this issue in the Caribbean media. A West Indian presence as one nation in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Pan-American Games, the Davis Cup (again), the World Cups in soccer and rugby, and other world and regional events is infinitely worth pursuing. As West Indians draw closer together, we cannot afford to neglect the tremendous emotional charge that can be derived from grassroots identification with sporting teams embracing all of us as one.”
And while some international sports bodies, as pointed out above, will claim that the West Indies cannot participate as one team since it’s a conglomeration of nations, unified West Indian sports teams can fight this, and more likely than not win out, especially given that Caricom does reflect a one-team concept in many ways.