Pan Am gains no mask for sport ills ...says head of the Olympic Committee

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Success at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, which ended at the weekend, should not be used to mask the failing systems that exist in sports, says Brian Lewis, president of the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC).

T&T secured eight medals, three gold; three silver and two bronze but Lewis said the country should not be conned.

Lewis said: “I don’t want us to use that to cover the shortcomings and gaps that exist in the sports system in T&T. Much more have to be done. I do believe the best is yet to come.”

While medals were being won at the Pan American Games, said Lewis, many sporting disciplines in T&T, still did not have access to the country’s sporting facilities. Further, so-called sport fans were not committed to their preferred sport and the athletes that specialise in it, until the athletes were engaged in a do or die contest.

“We are building a lot of facilities, but there has to be a stadium use policy because as much as we are doing, a number of sportsmen and women and a number of national teams don’t have access to the facilities in the volume and times that they need,” he said.

Lewis described as “interesting” recent developments in the sports sector related to public/private partnerships. He has been paying particular attention to remarks by sports minister Brent Sancho who was on record declaring that sporting facilities must earn revenue and ultimately pay their way.

The TTOC officials and the line minister were at odds on this issue, however.

“I don’t know what the context of that is, but that needs to be very carefully thought through and discussed. If it is a Government policy and they make sport one of the key pillars of national development, then they will see the investment in sport as just that, an investment rather than as expenditure. From a policy perspective, I don’t see anybody saying that schools must be revenue earners; that health facilities must be revenue earners; that the national security facilities–the fire stations and the police stations–must be revenue earners,” said Lewis.

He added: “I am saying if sports facilities must be revenue earners in and of their own right, you are really telling me that you are not giving sport the same consideration and prioritisation that you are giving health, education and national security. I firmly believe that sport is an important aspect of national development.

“We see countries such as Singapore and Qatar and Brazil that have made sports a key part of whatever big vision they have for their sustainable development. We really need to get the policy makers and the politicians into that head space where sport is concern.”

But despite those issues, Lewis said the TTOC remained athlete focused and described the efforts of his executive and the initiatives to be achieved, as work in progress.

“As far as I am concerned, there is much more that the Olympic Committee can do and must do and I also think that the Olympic Committee cannot do it alone. Even in the context of ten or more Olympic gold medals by the year 2024, it must become more than a TTOC goal. It must become a national goal.

“There are gaps, there are weaknesses, there and short comings and short falls in the sports system in T&T and we need to address them, because if we don’t address them we are not going to be able to help our athletes push on to their full potential.” Lewis said.

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