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By Neto Baptiste

Student athletes who would have performed at the top of their game throughout their respective disciplines during the various schools competitions stand to benefit, starting this year, from either regional or international trips organised by the Ministry of Sports.

This is according to Minister of Sports, Daryll Matthew, who pointed to an annual trip to Barbados by a combined schools cricket team, adding that this year’s endeavour would have seen that team travel to what the ministry believes is a more worthwhile destination.

“The schools’ cricket team normally travels to Barbados for the Sir Garfield Sobers cricket tournament every summer and we’ve done well in the tournament; I think we won it a few years ago. It’s a three-week tournament that we spend the money to send the youngsters to and I think they get a great experience,” he said.

“We have started to have some discussions amongst myself, the director, the permanent secretary and also the coordinator, about trying to do a little bit more. So, rather than send the children to Barbados repeatedly to participate in this tournament, we were looking for 2020, this year, to send the same team to England, perhaps for a shorter period of time,” he added.

The Antigua combined cricket team would have triumphed at the Sir Garfield Sobers tournament on many occasions but according to Mathew, those charged with putting the initiative together believe that a change in scenery and even a level of competition would be a positive for the youngsters.

“They play against an age appropriate team, maybe two or three games, and they get a different experience, a different exposure. We had reached the phase where a school and a club [in England] had an interest in accommodating this team; we were working along with our high commissioner in the UK. We had the funds, which were the same funds we usually used to send the team to Barbados and so everything was being put in place to send this team to England this summer but we all know what transpired,” the minister said.

“It’s not that we are knocking the tournament in Barbados and saying it’s not a good tournament but we just believe that our student athletes need greater exposure under different environments and different circumstances,” he added. 

The initiative, Matthew said, will benefit all school sports.

“We are looking to do the same thing in other school sports. I know that Mr Knight and the basketball unit had put something in place where they wanted the team to travel to the Bahamas last year to participate in a big tournament there over the summer but there was a problem with airlift and visas and so that didn’t happen,” he said.

“It is what we are encouraging the school coordinators to do, identify international events and regional events where we can send our school children to start getting the sort of exposure that they need to excel on a larger scale.” In a previous interview, Matthew indicated that the coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the ministry’s spending power and that most of the funding allocated to sports could be diverted towards the fight against the virus.

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