The Importance of continuing investment in sports

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There has been so much talk of sports in the air over the past few weeks, so I feel it important and timely to share a few thoughts on sports in Turks and Caicos Islands.

But first, I must say congratulations to all the athletes, with a special shout out to those who won, medaled and broke records during recent competitions. I wish also to congratulate the sporting bodies and coaches who recently represented TCI at home and abroad.

Kudos to Rising Stars for a successful basketball tournament in Providenciales, to the Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association for their girls’ win on USVI soil and for the men’s success, to the swim associations, with a special shout out to Jayden Davis and his coach Lenny who is certainly a national gem, and to our TCAAA for the representation at the 49th CARIFTA Games in Jamaica, with a special shout out to Wooslyn Harvey.

The excitement brought to the country by the CGA led by Godfrey Been during the sojourn of the Queen’s Baton here in TCI. I also wish the Rugby Association well on their upcoming competition overseas.

I wish to then thank the “still newly” re-established Sports Commission which manages sports in TCI on behalf of government. It is important to acknowledge the UK’s agreement to allow for its re-establishment, given the past reasons for dismantling it many years ago.

The Sports Commission is no longer another government department, but rather, it is what we call a quasi-government agency or statutory body with its own ordinance and board members which allow for quicker decisions and other benefits. It is important to note, though, that like government departments and other statutory bodies, it is required to follow central government’s financial and procurement procedures.

I remain excited with the energy that director Garret Forbes (who joined the team in 2018) and his team (which includes two former directors) bring to the new approach to sports. The board has been constituted differently from how it used to be, in that no one actively serving as an executive member in a sporting body can sit; and only persons with certain disciplines/qualifications are allowed to be appointed to the board.

The structure, though, brings all sporting disciplines together through the various federations and associations. The minister appoints the board and can give general policy direction which, like any other statutory body, must be approved by its board and Cabinet. We saw this when the last administration commissioned a new sports policy which included the recognition of elite athletes, grants to athletes and sports scholarships.

It is important to note that the current administration has returned sports to the ministry with responsibility for education and it is customary that governments do show to carry out its strategy.

Under the last People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) administration, the move from the ministry with responsibility for education to the one with responsibility for health was done to force that important bond and much needed working relationship. The focus was two-fold. Given the high levels of non-communicable diseases/life style diseases which create a huge financial burden on the government and which accounted for over 70% of TC Islanders death a few years ago, and secondly, the new approach to trying to engage adults in a healthier lifestyle, we thought it strategic to marry health and sports in one ministry.

We believed the shift aided the intended cultural mind shift among adults that sporting programs are not just limited to school children. But truth is, wherever sports is placed, it requires the minister, government and country’s full support and attention, as there are a myriad of benefits.

The Sports Commission is indeed making big waves with the investment made over the past years. We see well-qualified and passionate staff being recruited, more sporting events and much more visibility for the commission.

The investment in sports was an easy decision, as the benefits will be felt for many years to come. There was a conscious effort to build and repair community and national facilities. And we were able to do just that.

My government was able to allocate monies to the ministry for renovation of two courts in Grand Turk, one each in South Caicos, Bottle Creek, North Caicos, Five Cays and Wheeland. We also were able to build a bathroom and carry out renovations work in Kew under the Premier’s Office so that boys in Kew no longer had to go all the way to Bottle Creek.

The work on the Parade Grounds in Grand Turk continues, with the installation of lights following the new turf lay, new grand stand, fencing and sports office. The purchase of the National Stadium, finalized in 2020, and agreed to be named the Corena Capron Walkin Stadium, was a serious testament of real investment in sports.

Since its purchase, we have seen remedial works carried out with a brand new beautiful new track. This acquisition and subsequent investment, remains one of my greatest memories and achievements and I am quite excited to see the beautiful facility in use!

The Gustarvus Lightbourne Sports Center also saw major works undertaken and unused spaces developed to create the promised high performance sports center. The ball lights on the turf at the back created excitement for those who frequently use the grounds. And we must not forget the efforts of Carnival representatives together with The United Way in partnering with TCIG to erect a purpose-built shelter for Grand Turk which we determined will double as a sports center. With millions of dollars in investment into facilities, there is much still to be done. Let me hasten to say that all stakeholders must make every effort to take care of them. I believe this qualifies me to share ideas, as when given the opportunity, I have supported sports from the highest level.

I wish to share a few plans that were discussed with the hope that the new government would invest in them. First, on purchasing the National Stadium, discussions were had on the purchase of additional nearby lands for parking and for an Olympic-sized pool. I clearly recall the meeting with Myrtha Pool representatives and the advocacy of coach Lenin Hamilton for a national pool where there is fair, regulated and equal access for swimmers. I am even more convinced that TCI can make even bigger waves in regional and international swim competitions if our swimmers were to see this level of investment.

Additionally, 400m tracks were super-imposed on the islands of North Caicos and Grand Turk, where land was identified with the hopes of developing it. There were difficulties for the island of South Caicos, but there is an urgent need to cost a project to remove and replace the existing turf with proper sporting turf as there have been injuries already. It is a government’s prerogative to spend on its priorities and that is the greatest privilege of those who are elected, but I can say that the investment in sports was endorsed by our young people when former Minister of Education and Sports Karen Malcolm held a national youth listening tour.

I mentioned earlier the benefits of sports and I will elaborate a little as I close. I believe that the health benefits should really be a national focus. We are a people plagued with lifestyle diseases (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, renal failure, heart disease) which negatively affect the individuals’ quality of life, their level of productivity and results in a financial burden on the government through its treatment abroad program managed by the National Health Insurance Board, its social services support and increasingly on the National Insurance Program with applications for disability.

We see life expectancy not necessarily cut short in large numbers, as we see quality of life reduced due to improper diets and lack of exercise. Successive governments must therefore do everything in their power to stem the tide and to create policies (including nutrition) that will change the lifestyle of our children (and those adults we can still save) towards the creation of healthier generations to come.

Aside from the obvious health benefits, the discipline that sports bring is undeniable. Athletes commit to a regime that calls for commitment, whether it is to training, practice, and diet. The way conflicts are resolved is also a life lesson taught well in sports. And the third benefit I wish to highlight, is the camaraderie that sports bring to the participants. This camaraderie and team spirit actually lend to the spectators many more times than we care to say and celebrate. This camaraderie results in community and national unity and pride that I have only seen sports bring.

If we are able to complete basketball courts in the various communities to host community competitions, I am certain that we will see the community spirit and pride come alive in areas where we see no evidence today.

While some sports are seasonal, our attention and support must not be.

Turks and Caicos Islands stands to benefit from the assured myriad of benefits from sports; healthier individuals which will translate into a healthier nation, disciplined and engaged youth, greater camaraderie among citizens at the community and national level resulting in a national pride that only sports can bring when we are on one accord.

Sporting bodies in TCI suffer too often from a lack of volunteers and participants. I appreciate the Move It TCI initiative and trust that our people will find ways to keep moving. Let us see how we can change our individual and family lifestyles, and then let us see how we can support or continue to support sports in Turks and Caicos Islands.

* Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson is a trained attorney-at-law, former Premier of Turks and Caicos Islands and a retired politician.