By Neto Baptiste
Sports minister Daryll Matthew, although agreeing that there is not enough financial support for athletes, argues that a number of factors contribute to, or influence, the decisions of both government and private sector when deciding when or whom to support.
Speaking on the heels of both the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and comments by one popular school principal, Dr. Colin Greene, who accused corporate Antigua of only wanting to support athletes after they have achieved success, Matthew said that although this may be so, sadly, it is simply the norm of the day.
“There are a lot of persons who don’t invest in an unknown entity, or an unknown product, or one for which there is no demonstrated success. Now, can we take the position as government to do that? No, I think not. However, given where we are financially and economically as a country, given that we are a very small economy, and given that we have a very small talent pool, it compounds the problem of financing of athletes,” he said.
“If you want to finance athletics programmes, and I am not talking about individual athletes now, I am talking about programmes, and anybody who is going to be putting money in an initiative like that would want some degree of comfort that this programme will yield results, and produce at least one exceptional athlete, but with a small talent pool, the odds are [not great],” he added.
Matthew, a former president of the Antigua and Barbuda Basketball Association, reminded also that the pool of potential sponsors from within corporate Antigua is a small one.
“So people would go to the Flow, the Hadeed Motors, the Harney Motors and there may be 10 or so companies where every single person goes for everything like the Cool & Smooth, but do these businesses have the resources to support every initiative? No,” he said.
“We are constrained by size, and I believe the National Olympic Committee (NOC) does well with its resources to put towards athletic development and sporting development, but a lot of the onus has to go to the national federations to identify these athletes for whom they think there is the real opportunity, and a real chance of them developing into world-beat athletes, but it is not an exact science and so we are always trying to find that gem, that diamond in the rough, or that one exceptional generational talent where we can now throw all of our eggs in that basket,” he added.
Where it regards technical support, Matthew revealed that the ministry has reached out to regional partners for assistance in this area.
“I personally had reached out again, just before Covid-19 to the government of Cuba for support in terms of cycling, boxing and one other discipline which I can’t remember at this time, where one of two things could be done. Either some coaches could be assigned to Antigua and Barbuda, much like we have the nurses’ brigade, have a coaches’ brigade to send specialist coaches in these disciplines here to Antigua and Barbuda, or to have athletes from Antigua and Barbuda have an opportunity to train in Cuba with these individuals,” the minister said.
Sports in Antigua and Barbuda continues to be hampered by the ongoing pandemic with the hosting of competitions subject to all competing athletes and officials being fully vaccinated.