It has become a habit for Ministers of Sports in the region to remind the youth of the importance of sports to their holistic development. I cringe whenever I hear these speeches because they sound so hollow, and at times so insincere. The reason is that such advice falls far short of explaining why sports are much more than friendly competition aimed at avoiding negative conduct. Sports are a war of wills, guts, and determination, upon which proud nations stake their national flags – even their politics. It is more than a means of getting the youth off the streets, avoiding entanglement with the law.
How many young persons have been impressed that the idea of international sporting competition is about excellence at the level of Nobel Laureates? How many appreciate that every step from age three to forty three, (depending on the sport), is about taking control of one’s mind and body, using these to strive for international excellence? It has been said that international sports competitions are the highest form of peaceful engagement for which nations prepare assiduously. Such competitions were (and are), aimed at challenging a man’s strength and stamina, in order to judge how closely he approximates to a Greek god?
Take the sport of cricket. It has long been held that cricket may be the mother of all civilizing sports. Now focus for a moment on the task of an opening batsman. His is more onerous than that of his team mates partly because facing the new ball taxes every faculty, character, mental and physical strength, that a batsman is forced to employ. Included in his dexterity are agility, bravery, concentration, application, skill, speed, technique and intelligence.
After he has mastered these an opening batsmen has one more hurdle. He must learn to cope with the name calling, the taunting and the provocation from his opponents especially bowlers and close-in fieldsmen. Sometimes the ragging can descend to crude racist remarks aimed at undermining his confidence, and getting him out cheaply. Such unprovoked conduct is an important weapon in the arsenal of some cricketing countries. The harsh language of half drunken spectators inflicts more verbal abuse.
A realistic coaching package for Caribbean cricketers must therefore include the management and response to such provocation. In addition, it should teach cricketers (and other sportsmen), to keep calm and in control of their emotions at all times. Every West Indian cricketer must know that this is still a bigoted and racist world ready to take down icons at the top of their game. Gayle should have known better but instead allowed his adrenalin the better of him. His failure is also reflective of the West Indies Cricket Board.
These sentiments have been prompted in part by reports from Australia that Chris Gayle, a former West Indies test opener, playing in the ‘Big Bash,’ T-20 cricket was chastised and fined due to remarks he made to a female reporter after a game. Let me say up front, that many sincere fans of West Indies cricket have difficulty liking Chris Gayle. They see him as a spoilt brat and major part of the problem with West Indies cricket. It is widely believed that the disunity, disrespect and poor performance during the first Mandela series in South Africa would have been unimaginable in the era of Worrell, Sobers, Lloyd and Richards and company. Back then the men played for pride, honour and for the maroon flag. Today, the neophytes are paid handsomely to do a man’s job and fail miserably.
The disenchantment with West Indies cricket extends beyond Gayle. It includes the board, selectors, coaches and players alike. These people do not seem to realize that in the narrative of international cricket competition no West Indian gladiator faces more hostility and scorn and racism. Gayle did not make life any easier for West Indies cricketers like Darren Sammy and others during the earlier period of his misbehaviour.
Sadly, he was supported by certain politicians and territorial boards who put politics and cronyism before West Indies cricket. After Brian Lara left in somewhat controversial circumstances, it was expected that Gayle would have steadied the team by example and performance. Instead he was joined by others who felt that they were more important than the game or the fans. Only Darren Sammy and one or two others had the humility to try and repair the damage that had been inflicted on West Indies cricket. But Sammy was opposed from within and without. The president of the Players Association in Trinidad used every weapon imaginable to undermine Sammy and the Julian Hunte Board.
Some Ministers of Sports in the Caribbean (and prime ministers too), seem to think that international sporting competition between one country and another is not political. Leave them in their stupor. The history of the Olympic Games (and football World Cup), over the last fifty years should awaken them.
Cricket is no different. Its long history and tense battles between peoples of different cultures, races and histories have provoked more analysis and commentary than any other. In recent times however, all one seems to hear in reference to West Indies cricket teams are platitudes lost in translation and flimsy excuses. There is widespread fear of calling a spade a spade.
The sycophants who came after the conquering titans of West Indies cricket (after decolonization), seemed to have missed out on the history of the Caribbean, at school. The battle between arrogance and greed of these sycophants compared to the professionalism and humility of the titans should form an integral part of the Caribbean education curriculum. Today, pay disputes and contract negotiations and contretemps surrounding these have taken precedence over winning international cricket matches.
The problem may well be the increasing large egos which new money from international T-20 cricket has created. Those bastards and vagabonds bask in the glory without a cursory glance back from whence they came and the many who sacrificed to get them where they are today. In addition, the minds of those morons on the board need harsh medicine to purge them from West Indies cricket if the region is to regain its sanity and success.
Cricket needs new medicine in the form of new legislation to lift it to a seat of prominence within Caricom and UWI. New law should demand that member states contribute equally to those desks. The West Indies is tired of being lost in platitudes and excuses from those who run West Indies cricket.