WHAT is the value of athletics, or an Olympic Gold, to a nation? And even further, why do we even value participation in international competitions like the Olympics? I think the answers to these questions both challenge our conception of Guyana’s identity and our perception of how far Guyana’s athletics can go. They ask us to dig deep and really look at the journey ahead.
In businesses, the concept of blue sky thinking describes opening up your mind to the best possible situation, even if that might not be possible right now. So maybe the real question is what’s the best possible situation we can envision for Guyana’s athletics. It could be gold medals like Jamaica, some football success like Trinidad and Tobago or even a continuation of Guyana’s successes in Caribbean and international cricket.
It’s not for us to single out some idea of the ultimate Guyanese performance in any particular area because it’s important to recognise the validity of the many sports we play. Maybe qualifying for and performing well at the football world cup counts as success, maybe a West Indies victory in the cricket World Cup would, or a number one test cricket ranking. Time will decide what path we follow if we keep an open mind and let our potential unfold.
But what’s a bit different about Guyana’s long term thinking as oil revenue gradually rolls in, is that whereas before it seemed rather unlikely we could reach the heights wealthier nations could, now these may eventually be in sight. In the next ten years we can see many more synthetic tracks built around the country, football grounds having floodlights, and cricket training facilities increase five-fold.
This should similarly be the experience with coaches, as potentially higher wages will attract more skilled personnel. Many other areas of sports not given the fullest attention should also become far more robust due to such improved standards of coaching. Good nutrition, sleep and a generally healthy lifestyle are all elements of the life modern athletes must embrace to get the most from their bodies and good coaches play a big part in communicating this to them.
More than mere capacity, however, thinking big about athletics asks us to imagine what Guyana’s international image might be. The little engine that could, like Jamaica? A bastion of diversity like the United States? Or maybe a symbol of discipline and consistency like China? Hopefully, we never project the image the Russian Olympic team has, which is unfortunately one of systematic doping.
Instead, let us ask ourselves what a thoroughly successful Guyana might look like, and how that would be reflected in our national athletes. Guyana one way or another can lay claim not to universal success but near universal opportunity, as what national successes we do have tend to range right across the racial and economic spectrum. What if this was magnified tenfold due to this better sports infrastructure? What might that say to the world about us?
The final manifestation of Guyana’s identity will remain an engrossing mystery as we hurtle forward, navigating the pitfalls of the oil economy. It is a journey we must courageously embrace and it certainly seems that the result of this odyssey will be reflected in the quality and nature of our athletics, at least to some extent. Raise your flag high, Guyanese athletes; help the world understand what Guyana is really all about.