Olympic medal better than money - Things that Matter Column

We must plan long term if we are serious about making a mark in world sport.

The consistent success that Trinidad and Tobago so dearly crave and desire will not happen because we wish it. Not only must there be a long term plan but with it we must have discipline and patience.

To be the greatest of all time, to be an Olympic champion is an undistilled passion for thousands of sportsmen and women around the world. Here in T&T, we do have sportsmen and women who carry dreams of greatness in their hearts.

Even as I made the announcement 16 months ago that our Olympic target is 10 or more gold medals by 2024, there were no illusions that such a declaration would meet with unanimous acceptance. There would be varying responses. Positive, negative, scornful or dismissive. It didn't really matter. Nothing can be achieved unless it is first spoken.

Striving for excellence is a core Olympic value.

An Olympic gold medal has far deeper significance than just the trappings and financial rewards and the adulation.

Winning an Olympic gold medal and becoming a champion is a process, attitude and mindset.

Luck? Destiny? Purpose?

There are many opinions based on individual perspectives and experiences.

Love it, hate it, embrace it or resent it.

Being an Olympic champion has been a cherished achievement for over 2000 years.

Myth, truth, legend or mere tall tales—the pursuit of Olympic glory and victory has always gone hand in hand with producing decent honourable men and women who are deeply and unwavering patriotic.

The quest and enduring romanticism of an Olympic gold medal has surged deep within the human psyche a stirring for Olympic gold, it is the ultimate achievement for many sportsmen and women. The dream and vision of standing on the top of the Olympic podium with the gold medal around your neck and hearing your country's national anthem play and watching the national flag raising is something that words cannot describe. Not even money can adequately replicate or represent the emotions of such an experience. Priceless and invaluable memories.

Last week I attended along with other presidents from various Caribbean national Olympic committees a Rio 2016 preparation forum hosted by Carlos Nuzman, president of the Brazil Olympic Committee.

Brazil shared their vision for Rio 2016 and beyond. Their aspiration and intention is to finish in the top 10 of the Rio 2016 medal count.

Their strategic map and vision has been many years in the making. No matter the stumbles or failures, the Brazil Olympic Committee is focused on achieving their target.

At this particular point in time, they have around 700 athletes in their Rio 2016 programme. Their expectation is that just around 400 will be selected for Rio 2016.

There will always be arguments surrounding the social issues in Brazil. But it is undeniable that sport plays a significant role.

Olympic gold medals don’t guarantee social justice or a more equitable distribution of national wealth.

But as many athletes in Brazil set sight and focus on Rio 2016. The Olympic Games is a symbol of their country’s effort to achieve its full potential.

Here, our present and future Olympians are just as determined and focused on achieving their best in Rio 2016 and beyond.

We may not have the resources of a Brazil but I have no doubt that we can match any country in respect of determination and will power.

Rio 2016 is very much in focus and on the radar.

Last week’s visit to Rio as a guest of both the Brazil Olympic Committee and the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee was a timely reminder that the margin for error is razor thin.

Rio is in a race against time but they aren’t alone. Many other countries will themselves be leaving no stone unturned in the push for Olympic glory.

Brian Lewis is the president of the T&T Olympic Committee. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Olympic Committee.



Translating belief into support for sport | Things that Matter Column

Public and media opinion seem to be squarely in the corner of T&T sport. Everyone appears to agree that sport can do wonderful things for this country.

Opinion surveys will probably show that public sentiment and mood is that our sportsmen and women and national sport organisations must be financially supported. Nowhere is there anything but overwhelming support.

No matter where you go, the prevailing opinion is that sport can play a major role. No argument. As far as the majority is concerned, there is a vision for the role of sport in T&T. Why isn’t that strong vision and overwhelming support not translating into financial support?

Some have argued that sport here is suffering from a lack of respect for process and structure. In the absence of a systematic disciplined way of doing things, there is no way a coherent implementation plan can be put in place.

How can there be oversight responsibility if every chief, cook and bottle washer run in different directions all hell bent on doing their own thing?

How do we build respect for process and structure, develop more organised structures and work within guidelines? It cannot be done helter skelter.

There are a number of groups and organisations doing excellent work within local sport. Loads of money appear to be floating around. So why is sport struggling to attract funding? Is it a perception or a reality?

There are those who suggest that within sport, funding is not going to the people and groups doing the best work with a proven track record. How do you separate fact from fiction?

What can’t be denied is that sport in T&T is in need of funding.

Where is it going to come from and who will provide it?

If you want an excellent example of a sport programme that most people feel deserving of support, the Eddie Hart Football League is one.

I attended the opening of the Eddie Hart League at the Tacarigua savannah on Sunday. The League is celebrating its 48th year.

The enthusiastic gathering included Member of Parliament for Tunapuna and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Winston Dookeran, chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation, alderman Edwin Gooding and deputy chairman Esmond Forde and justice Sebastian Ventour.

The gathering highlighted the power of sport to cross the divide, be it politics, class, social standing, race and religion.

The vision and energy of the league’s founder remains undiminished, notwithstanding the fact—as he alluded to in his address—that there are many obstacles and tribulations.

That Hart has championed the cause of the League for 48 years is a reflection of his indomitable will and passion for sport, the community of Tunapuna, football, the young men and women and children who participate in the league.

The presence of the Police and Prison bands and steel bands created a patriotic Trinbagonian ambience.

The march past had a variety of displays, some more creative and precise than others. The exhibition match between two Pro League teams Massy Caledonia Aia and San Juan Jabloteh signaled a message that sport has no borderline.

However, one couldn't help but sense an undertone of frustration at the fact that the League is still in an annual struggle to attract the funding and financial support that is needed.

It no longer makes sense to ask why.

The real question may well be: Why do we tolerate and accept these contradictions in our society?


Sports and athletes the big losers again - Things that Matter column

Pressure...real pressure and stress. I’m blindsided by the scale and enormity of what is unfolding in the public domain.

Many people involved in sport in T&T are feeling uncertain; some despondent, with their trust betrayed.

Two years away from the Rio Olympics—new Minister, new Permanent Secretary, new deputy Permanent Secretary, new SportTT CEO and Board.

The saving grace is that national sport organisations (NSOs) charged with governing, managing and administrating their respective sports are still fairly stable and must now step up to the plate and ensure that the negative aspects are calmly navigated.

The current debacle highlights the importance of the Ministry of Sport and the Sport Company of T&T understanding that their role and responsibility isn’t to run sport and assume the role and responsibility of the national sport organisations.

The NSOs are the sport leaders and sport managers. Many have asked, “Where do we go from here?”

There is no choice but to face the pain, difficulties and hardships. Cast aside all the hindrances and the past imperfections.

The beauty and power of sport as a force for good will live on after the trouble and distress; the difficulty and pain of betrayed trust.

We need a fresh start for sport. Clipped wings can grow again.

It is always darkest before daylight. There is a silver lining behind every gray cloud.

On the grayest of days there is the gleam of sunlight.

To overcome shame and remorse requires courage and rebuilding of trust.

Cast aside all regret, trials and tribulations and press on to the summit.

Sport is a positive force for good.

No weapon formed against sport will prosper.

Our youth and young people who possess God given athletic talent and potential must have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

The positive power of sport will not be defeated. A fresh start for sport in T&T is imperative, because in adversity, failure and disappointment can be found the seed of opportunity and progress.

The clouds will clear.

Be resilient, persistent; be of good courage.

The power of international achievement on the Olympic and world stage is respected and recognised. T&T benefits from the positive global publicity it receives from the sporting achievement of our athletes and national teams.

Sport can make a positive and transformational contribution to the sustainable social and economic development of T&T.

Temporary setbacks don’t define the true potential; the positive, progressive and constructive reality of sport in T&T.

Integrity, honesty, fair play, courage and determination are essential and core values of sport.

Stem the tide. Be a part of the solution. Live those values. Rise up and move forward.

Don’t evade responsibility for what we do, protecting ourselves from being held accountable for the consequences of our behaviour by deflecting attention onto others.

As we walk in the dark valley fear no evil. Positive actions will change the headlines.

Leaders entrusted with the responsibility of stewardship and service in difficult times must have the answers and the action plan to navigate rough seas and danger.

Fortitude, perseverance and an indomitable spirit are the qualities required to overcome adversity.

Fear not! T&T sport shall overcome. God bless.


Volunteer, amateur no excuse for shoddy work - Things That Matter column

How do we encourage operational discipline within the national sport organisations and other sport stakeholders given that sport in Trinidad and Tobago is and will remain volunteer based and amateur?

It’s one thing to say you want to do something; it’s another thing to get it done. The fact of the matter is setting goals and having plans are just one aspect. After the goal setting and planning phase, you have to put structure in place to make it happen. That means having the resources, organisation, and processes you need to execute your strategy.

What are we doing to encourage operational discipline? The question is asked against the background that being a volunteer or an amateur is not an excuse for shoddy or inept work.

How do we put the right team in place, one with the skills, knowledge, and capabilities to accomplish the goals or objectives that are set?

Have we critically analysed our strengths and weaknesses? What are our blind spots? There are a number of things be they attitudes, mind-sets, habits, and norms that inform how we think and behave. Some of these are part of our culture but if we are to be honest, they may not necessarily be in our best interest. How do we attract the very best people and expect greatness from them?

How we develop and retain people is fundamental to sustainable success in sport. When you get your team right, you’re going to get results.

What’s working? What’s not? Is our approach the right one?

Are we building a firm platform?

There is no room for complacency.

If we want to create a culture of sustainable success we first have to appreciate that a great culture doesn’t just happen. It must be built deliberately and it’s the job of every single person within T&T sport to create a culture that says excellence.

What do we really stand for?

When people in T&T look at their sport leaders what do they see? Do our actions match our stated intentions?

Things change. Priorities change. The economy changes. The business and social climate changes. It’s important to let an organisation’s culture change too so that it doesn’t start to feel static and irrelevant to people.

It’s not easy but when something is not right we have to grapple and come to terms with it. There are changes taking place and to remain relevant national sport organisations must embrace the changes and be proactive and integrative in their thinking.

It will take a collective approach even though some of us would wish that things remain the way they were when our society was simple in the way it was structured.

The hard harsh reality is that we must adapt the timeless values and principles of sport and Olympism and make it relevant to modern society if sport is to have a bright future.

It’s not a question of selling out or adopting an approach that suggests that the end justifies the means or by all or any means necessary.

It’s about getting the right people in the right place working as a team.

It’s not only about winning medals but about helping people live better.

Sports people have the energy, ideas, creativity and above all the dreams. What we offer to T&T is an experience to be lived. We want to inspire people to improve their lifestyle and to strive for excellence in all areas of their lives. But for some reason the message is getting lost or not getting through to people.

It isn’t enough to throw up our hands in frustration and say that’s the way it is. There are no easy answers but we must certainly have the will and determination to keep searching.

I wish to extend sincere condolences to the family, friends and associates of Bertrand Doyle for his unwavering service, dedication and commitment to national life in the spheres of insurance, religion, education and sport. He made a positive difference and contributed to the development of T&T. RIP Mr Doyle.


David Owen: Ten things we learnt at Lausanne - and one salutary reminder

This was one of the busiest International Olympic Committee (IOC) gatherings I can recall – though it will be nothing on the Session in Buenos Aires in September.

As we return to our various corners of planet earth, here is a summary of what I think we gleaned from these long days beside Lake Geneva.

● Thomas Bach will dominate the remaining weeks of the IOC Presidential campaign.

Like him or not, and even his supporters exude more admiration than warmth when discussing his qualities, the man from Tauberbischofsheim can boast a truly formidable Olympic CV.

A tireless networker, a capable, if far from inspirational, public speaker and now author of a detailed, carefully thought-out manifesto, he looks a certainty to finish either first or second in the six-man race.

But he does not yet look invincible – if support coalesces eventually around one of his five rivals.

This anointed anti-Bach challenger could, in effect, be chosen by the other candidates themselves, if they are prepared to strike deals ahead of the September 10 vote.

Or he could be chosen, more haphazardly, by the electorate, as successive rounds of voting whittle down the field.

The problem, from the anti-Bach perspective, of waiting until the last minute, is that the German looks capable of getting close to a majority relatively early in the poll, leaving him needing to coax votes out of only a few more of his IOC colleagues to push him over the line.

The longer opposition to Bach remains divided, the harder it will be, barring the unexpected, for any one of the other candidates to stop him.

● Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah has underlined his status as a front-rank Olympic powerbroker.

Prior to the 2018 Youth Olympic vote, I was told on several occasions that Sheikh Ahmad had put his weight behind the Buenos Aires bid.

It follows that the South American city's victory in a poll it did not go into as favourite, will be widely interpreted as a strong sign that the President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) and chairman of the Olympic Solidarity Commission is now a man of real influence in the Olympic Movement.

This was a very good meeting for him.

● Relations between the IOC and SportAccord President Marius Vizer are at a low ebb.

This is the almost inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the absence of the International Judo Federation (IJF) President's name from a list of nine individuals nominated in Lausanne to become new IOC members – particularly as the list did include the President of the National Olympic Committee of Romania, the country where Vizer was born.

Vizer's SportAccord manifesto included the introduction of a new united World Championships, which could easily be seen as a fledgling rival to the Olympics.

Nonetheless, he would be a powerful enemy to make: this year's World Judo Championships take place in Brazil just ahead of the IOC Session in neighbouring Argentina; Vizer was joined last year at the London 2012 judo competition by Russian President - and Honorary President of the IJF - Vladimir Putin.

● The use of mainstream political leaders to help out bids, though it can be highly effective, is fraught with risk.

This was underlined in Lausanne on at least two occasions.

Medellín's efforts to win the Youth Olympic Games for Colombia were buttressed by the presence in Lausanne of Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian President.

He duly contributed a dignified, Presidential speech to a lively presentation.

Some observers were clearly startled, though, when he alluded, in a subsequent answer, to a peace process in Cuba involving his negotiators and the guerrillas.

I doubt such an off-the-cuff remark would actually have cost Medellín votes, but I also doubt it was something Colombian bid directors planned for.

Tokyo 2020 had added Deputy Prime Minister Tarō Asō, a skeet shooting competitor at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, to its Lausanne team.

An engaging character, all was going well until he mistook the word "lobbying" for the word "doping" in a question from media and launched into a rambling reply.

This was trivial in itself (though not for the poor media handlers and bid advisers); IOC members were in session elsewhere.

But it followed a sub-standard media roundtable the previous day; this is not a good time for a bid to be developing an accident-prone reputation.

● There is still life in the Istanbul 2020 bid

After a dispiriting month, a bad session in Lausanne could just about have sealed the latest Istanbul Olympic bid's fate.

But, led by the irrepressible Hasan Arat, bid chairman, the Turkish team kept its head, raised its game and unveiled a new star in the shape of Ali Babacan, the youthful Deputy Prime Minister for economic and financial affairs.

I still think some immensely stressful times lie ahead – not least if, as seems likely, it is judged necessary for Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to be present in Argentina (see comments on mainstream political leaders above).

But, whatever may be happening in the rest of the world, inside the Olympic bubble there is emphatically no recession.

If this bid is to be tripped up, I still think it is more likely to be on concerns regarding security and/or project management prowess than because IOC members judge its relatively high cost to be out of keeping with the spirit of the times.

● Tokyo must find a way of regaining momentum quickly

For all the Japanese team's efforts, for all the bid's manifest qualities – of which a Mount Fuji-sized $4.5 billion (£3.1 billion/€3.5 billion) cash mountain is far from the least – I still detect scant excitement among IOC members at the prospect of returning to Tokyo after 56 years.

In Switzerland, I got a sense of growing frustration that the message just does not seem to be getting across, which might account for the slightly Keystone Cops flavour now in danger of enveloping the bid.

In practical terms, Tokyo desperately needs a convincing anchor speaker to bring to its final presentation precisely the passionate gravitas that Seb Coe summoned up eight years ago for London 2012.

In this context, I wonder whether August 11, 2012 may come to be seen as a key date in the campaign.

This was the day Koji Murofushi, a gold medal-winning hammer thrower was disqualified from the IOC Athletes' Commission election.

Murofushi, a commanding stage presence, with good English and a relaxed yet dignified demeanour, could potentially have delivered that almost mystical Olympic edge that Coe gave to London.

Though the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) concluded eventually that Murofushi's reputation and integrity as a sportsman remained completely untarnished, it is hard to see how Tokyo 2020 can make much use of him now.

In any event, he is not an IOC member – a fact underlined when Danka Barteková and James Tomkins, two of the four winners in that controversial election, played a small part in formalities for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games vote.

● Madrid is on a roll

Buoyed by the boost that fate, in the shape of the recent protests in Brazil and Istanbul, has handed them, the Spanish bid took full advantage in Lausanne, serving up crisp, no-nonsense sound bites for the media and a royal superstar - Felipe, Prince of Asturias - for the IOC.

Just about the only thing that could have gone better was the Thursday morning event in the majestic Palace hotel, when the three 2020 rivals exhibited their bids for a few hours in adjacent rooms named after prominent local personages/institutions.

The Spanish capital was allotted the Salon Sir Peter Ustinov for this task, while the Salon Olympique - clearly the most apt title - went to Istanbul.

Prince Felipe and his colleagues have not won yet, though: their "realistic bid for realistic times" will come under more scrutiny now - and I am still not convinced that the low-cost option will hold quite as much appeal for IOC members in their comforting cocoon of sponsorship and broadcasting dollars as some think.

● Mike Lee has still got it.

Buenos Aires's win added to the British bid adviser's lengthening list of Olympic victories.

His company Vero's input was just one of a list of ingredients contributing to the Argentinean city's recipe for success.

And this was less high profile a campaign than some of the Summer/Winter Olympic, and for that matter World Cup, bids Lee has been involved in.

I think, nonetheless, that I detected his influence at work at certain key junctures, not least when the Argentine Olympic Committee (COA) was quick to distance itself from a controversial advert featuring the Falkland Islands in the run-up to London 2012.

"It was the right bid for the city at this time," Lee told me after the vote, heaping praise on all elements of the bid and those responsible.

But the bear hug between him and COA President and IOC member Gerardo Werthein after the result was announced spoke volumes about how much his contribution was valued.

● These are strange days for IOC insiders.

They know, clearly, that change is on the horizon, but cannot be sure what form it will take.

This made for an odd atmosphere in Lausanne, the Olympic capital.

Whether this is direct cause and effect is unclear, but the bureaucrats seem to have fallen back on an instinct for privacy that would not look out of place in the British civil service.

Not only the 2020 presentations, but also the speeches of the six men vying to become the next global figurehead of the Olympic Movement were behind closed doors, for reasons that not even IOC members seemed able to articulate.

This would be fine in most private clubs, but the IOC shows every sign of revelling in its unprecedented international prominence.

As some Presidential candidates at least appear to appreciate, this stature imposes what should amount to an obligation on the IOC to foster maximum transparency as it goes about its business.

The ninth IOC President will need to look and sound convincing on camera.

I am baffled as to what was to be gained by keeping the cameras at bay as the Presidential contenders made their first formal pitch to IOC colleagues.

● Recession, what recession?

We have heard plenty in recent weeks on how Big Sport needs to come to terms with the new realities; I may have been responsible for some of the preaching along these lines myself.

But, actually, whenever you enter the cushioned corridors and geranium-fringed walkways inhabited by the real movers and shakers, the trials and tribulations of everyday life start to appear impossibly remote.

While much of the rest of the world suffers, it is worth remembering that Olympicland will have its activities funded, in large part, over the next three years by the fruits of commercial contracts inked before the boom turned sour.

Has the IOC been shaken into curbing its recent appetite for grandiose projects?

I am less persuaded of this than I was a week ago.

● A salutary reminder

Seeing the pain and disappointment in the eyes of the Glasgow 2018 Youth Olympic bid team after their elimination served as a jolting reminder of the heavy emotional toll this unpitying industry can take.

They had not put a foot wrong that I could see, but in the Olympic world, as elsewhere, you cannot push water uphill.

This was just not their time. Nothing they might have done would have changed that. End of story.

The good thing is that, not only will they have lifted their city's stock of goodwill for next time, whenever next time is, but they were able to fall back on the good offices of British IOC vice-president Sir Craig Reedie and wife Rosemary to ensure that they spent a memorable day in the Olympic citadel even so.

It was typical of the Reedies that they should set aside their own disappointment to do this.

Such gestures, from people whom you would not blame for adopting a much more high-handed attitude, help you remember that, when all is said and done, we are better off with the Olympic Movement than without it.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012.