: Newsday : Narissa Fraser : 01.04.2023
PROMISING athletes are slipping through the cracks in Trinidad and Tobago.
President of theÊNational Association of Athletics Administrations (NAAATT) George Comissiong lamented this on Friday and called for local schools to play a bigger role in helping identify young talents in a similar way to how it is done in Jamaica.
Comissiong, Sport Minister Shamfa Cudjoe and Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly are in Jamaica as bilateral discussions on sports - especially at the school level - continue.
The TT officials attended the 2023 ISSA Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Championships in Jamaica this week. Held annually, the athletics meet - commonly called Champs - sees Jamaica's national stadium filled to capacity and many foreigners visit to witness it as well. Students come out in their numbers to support their schoolmates and many alumni also attend, proudly wearing their former school's colours and their old school ties. This year, the competition is being held from March 28-April 1.
In a post to his social media pages on Wednesday, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the meet is a "flagship event and a staple in our calendar each year as talented young Jamaicans show off their athletic prowess.
...This year, we were happy to welcome Dr The Honourable Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Education and Shamfa Cudjoe, Minister of Sport and Community Development in the Government of the Republic of TT...
He said the meet will bring "tremendous enjoyment" for local fans and international visitors.
On Monday, Cudjoe noted that many people in TT say there should be something similar to Champs in TT.
But she said most schools in TT no longer have annual sports days, so champions of the various schools cannot be chosen to then compete in a major inter-school competition.
The way we operate needs to change.
On Friday, Cudjoe posted to social media saying she led a TT delegation of sport and education to tour Jamaica's national stadium and attend the meet.
She said, "Champs is one of the longest-running school sports competitions in the western hemisphere and can serve as a benchmark for the development of our sport and education programmes."
Gadsby-Dolly told Newsday it has been "instructive to see how their (Jamaica's) ministries of sport and education, state agencies, as well as volunteers, teacher, principal and alumni associations and corporate entities have co-operated over many years to implement sport development."
Speaking with Newsday on Friday, Comissiong said Jamaica has a school-based system when it comes to providing a pool of young athletic talent in the country, "when compared to us, we have a club-based system."
When it comes to TT's Secondary School Championships, Comissiong said, "We are not able to capture all the secondary schools and, therefore, we looking to see how we could get more involved with the schools, which would widen our talent pool."
He said annual sports days are culturally mandated for Jamaican schools, and because this is not so for TT, "It is possible to miss athletes who have talent that could be nurtured."
He said through this "marrying of athletics and academics," track and field can improve throughout the country.
"It requires closer collaboration between the ministries of sport and education, the NAAATT and the Secondary Schools Track and Field Association, so that we develop a product that would encompass and include as many students as possible. Ideally, we want as much talent as much as we can identify.
If we relying on a club-based system and clubs don't have access to all the schoolchildren, then you're at a disadvantage."""
Last year, the Prime Minister said he and Jamaican Holness had discussed and agreed to receive in Jamaica, "firstly some administrators from TT, persons who are engaged in the administration of athletics to learn from the Jamaican organisers who organise the world-famous Champs programme.
"I promised him (Holness) that TT will take up the offer. The children who are scheduled to take part in the Champs programme will be invited here.
"We can learn from a Caricom neighbour. Jamaican youngsters will come here and compete and out of that arrangement talent will flow from here to the international stadium and we can create more opportunities."
In a press release later in the afternoon, Gadsby-Dolly said the visit will allow the delegation to "explore Jamaica's sport development architecture which extends into the schools from the ECCE to secondary levels.
"This is a unique opportunity to see how sport development is positioned and fostered within the school system but supported on a national level."
She praised the collective effort made by Jamaica to "provide the majority of funding for sport development through schools, with successful Jamaican athletes also giving back to their schools and communities to boost developing athletes. "Schools also do their fundraising to support their athletes, who must maintain a certain average to participate in Champs. The school pride and spirit are evident, and drives high levels of teacher, principal and alumni association volunteerism with principals heavily involved, on a voluntary basis, in the process."
She said good coaching is also important in this process.
"Principals hire coaches who are then exposed to professional development from the Institute of Sport, an agency under the ministry of sport or from tertiary level institutions such as UTech and GC Foster.
As TT pivots towards the development of a national sport pathway in collaboration with Jamaica and its sports stakeholders, the visit provides direct insight into the successful development of sporting programmes, in particular track and field, in schools. It also allows for the TT delegation to observe the pre-event planning and well as post-event evaluations for critical take-aways. ""The ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys' and Girls' Track and Field Championship will act as model for TT as it prepares to host secondary school track and field champions from across the Caribbean."""