UK envoy excited: Commonwealth Youth Games to open doors

READY FOR THE GAMES: British High Commissioner Harriet Cross shows her athleticism, at her Beaumont Avenue, Maraval residence.  - ANGELO MARCELLE
READY FOR THE GAMES: British High Commissioner Harriet Cross shows her athleticism, at her Beaumont Avenue, Maraval residence. - ANGELO MARCELLE

SPORTS fan and British High Commissioner Harriet Cross is counting down the days to the start of the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games, to be held in TT for the very first time.

Cross said the games present a tremendous opportunity for sport to make a huge impact on the lives of athletes. She said it does not matter what disability one might have or economic status: sports opens its doors for everyone to compete.

The games, which will be hosted from August 4-11, will bring the world to TT as over 1,000 athletes from over 70 countries, between 14 and 18, will compete in seven disciplines: athletics, swimming, cycling, netball (fast5), triathlon, beach volleyball and rugby sevens.

Athletics, swimming and cycling will be held in Trinidad, and netball, triathlon, beach volleyball and rugby sevens will take place in Tobago.

Some of TT’s world-class facilities will be used, as the National Aquatic Centre and the National Cycling Centre will host events.

Cross intends to take time away from her busy diplomatic schedule to enjoy the games.

“I am quite looking forward to the triathlon, because I have never seen one done before, so I will definitely go over to Tobago at some point.

“I used to play netball when I was at school, but I have not watched netball in ages, so I am really looking forward to that as well as athletics, I really enjoy watching athletics.

"I am a bit disappointed that there is no weightlifting, because I just started doing weightlifting myself at a gym here, so I was hoping I would see some in action.”

A new era begins

The Commonwealth Games started in 1930, involving all territories that were part of the British Empire.

From this, the Commonwealth Youth Games was born in 2000, and debuted in Edinburgh, Scotland.

This year's Commonwealth Youth Games VII is historic, as it is is the first since the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned from February 6, 1952 until September 8, 2022. The games will be the first under the auspices of King Charles who has succeeded his mother to the throne.

Cross said the queen's death was a loss felt all over the world.

Sports reporter Jelani Beckles, left, chats with British Ambassador Harriett Cross at her Maraval home. - ANGELO MARCELLE

“People knew the queen like she was family in a way, and that is what it felt like to a British person." She said because the queen visited TT on several occasions, people felt a real familiarity with her.

Cross said the royal family has shown keen interest in sport for some time. The late Queen Elizabeth enjoyed horseracing and owned a number of thoroughbreds.

King Charles also shares a love for horses and enjoys a game of polo. Prince William is known to be an avid Aston Villa supporter. Prince Harry has a passion for rugby, once saying it had "captured" his heart.

Cross said it is now King Charles's turn to continue the legacy of his mother.

“It’s for him to make his mark with the people of the Commonwealth…This is an opportunity for TT to see the Commonwealth in the new era.”

Two recent editions of the Commonwealth Youth Games have been held in developing countries: Samoa (2015) and The Bahamas (2017).

Cross said developing countries must not be sidelined, but be allowed to show their worth.

“It is about showcasing what these countries can do…In terms of economic GDP, TT is one of the better-off countries in this region. It's got a strong economic profile, but it is also a vulnerable country in terms of its small island developing status. Making sure these countries get some exposure and it is not just the big countries that always get to host and to show what they can do is quite important.”

Sport is about inclusion

Cross said the games will allow young athletes – even the disabled – a platform to kickstart their sporting careers.

She urged the public to come out and support these stars in the making.

“I am very excited for a number of different reasons, partly to see all the young athletes at the start of their careers – because some of these people will go on to be world-class athletes – and to think that we get the opportunity to see these people becoming those sports stars for the future.I think that is quite exciting.”

All athletes will get their moment in the spotlight. as both able-bodied and disabled athletes will be on show.


“We are also looking forward to facilitating contact with people with disabilities. Also, seeing people in other places manage really challenging disabilities, I think is also an eye-opener for the non-disabled as much as for the disabled children.”

Cross said the youngsters who are watching the games will be inspired that one day they can represent their country.

“It is also letting young people know that could be them, seeing role models (and knowing) that 'If I work hard I could also be somebody who is winning medals. It does not matter what background you come from.'

“The fact is that sport is for everybody. Sometimes, if you come from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, they think, 'That is not for me,' that, 'I am not someone who wins gold medals.'

"I would love to think that some of the kids from England might be able to engage with some young people (at the games) and say, 'I had nothing, I came from a family that had nothing, but because there was this community sports club that I played judo for or I did rugby, that helped me see that I was someone who had abilities and I had a value that I could give.'”

More than a sporting event

In the build-up to the games, the TT Olympic Committee and Ministry of Sport and Community development have been holding seminars for youths, teaching life skills, promoting women and girls in sport, and discussing mental health and the impact of social media.

Cross said, “We think about youth when we think about gender-based violence and talking to girls and boys about how they behave, how they understand each other, and to try to prevent gender-based violence in the future. We think about youth when we talk about climate.

“These games are probably less about winning medals than any other games. It is about forming young people…creating long-lasting friendships."

Cross said because of social media many children communicate virtually, but the Commonwealth Youth Games is an opportunity to change this.

“When I was younger, people had pen pals, and now people are interacting with other people all round the world all the time on the internet, but they don’t often actually meet these people. I think it is quite nice that people will build friendships…Some of those partnerships will last all through their professional lives.”

UK envoy Harriet Cross makes a point as she discusses the upcoming Commonwealth Youth Games. - ANGELO MARCELLE

She said the games will facilitate a melting pot of cultures for a week.

“I know all the UK teams are going to come out here and do some voluntary work. I think it is really important for young people to do that as well as to understand how another country lives and to share, (because) it will go both ways. They will learn a lot from what they will encounter, so that will be part of it.”

Tourism exposure

Cross, the UK envoy to TT since 2020, has no doubt TT will be incredible hosts, after witnessing her first Carnival in 2023, owing to the covid19 pandemic.

“I saw it happening this February, and the ability of Trinidad just to turn on and turn off for Carnival is absolutely incredible. The logistics and the culture and the creativity (are amazing). I think all that Carnival expertise is going to go into these Commonwealth Youth Games.”

The games are expected to highlight TT's diverse culture and will encourage foreigners to return, Cross said.

“I think some of that will also generate future tourism revenues. There is an element of tourism revenues in August, because there will a lot of friends and family who will come with the athletes, and there will be some people who will come to watch it if they are not connected to the athletes…

"You have the moko jumbies, you will have your soca, and these people will be exposed to it for the first time ever.”

These games can create a legacy, Cross said.

“I think the legacy is a really important part of the preparation of any games. One thing is the sporting facilities. Obviously you got a couple really good ones here, with the (National) Aquatic Centre and the (National) Cycling Centre. I went to the velodrome a few months back…that is an excellent facility.”

Cross said it is an opportunity for Tobago as well.

She said local facilities must be fully utilised to help develop more athletes.

“If some of the facilities can be maintained and used for young people who might not have gotten the opportunity to have those facilities if the games had not been here, that is one of the important legacies of the games.”


"UK envoy excited: Commonwealth Youth Games to open doors"

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