Guyana to host prestigious CARIFTA Games for the first time

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PRESIDENT of the NACAC, Mike Sands

,,, 50th edition confirmed by NACAC

By Ras Wadada

PRESIDENT of the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) Area Association of World Athletics, Mike Sands, sees a big opportunity for Guyana as host for the 50th edition of the Caribbean’s Premier athletics championship – CARIFTA Games.
The Athletic Association of Guyana (AAG), despite being a guest member of the 36-nation NACAC, has been given the greenlight to stage the event which has evolved to become the most looked-forward-to Junior Athletics showpiece of the world.

The annual pride and joy of the Caribbean which began with 11 countries in Barbados in 1972 continues to be the platform for lots of world famous athletes, chief among them the fastest sprinter to have graced a track, Jamaican Usain Bolt.

And while there is continuous moaning and groaning as well as cancellations and postponements of proceedings due to the current Global Pandemic COVID-19, AAG can smile with a sigh of relief since the Games have now been pushed back to the customary Easter weekend by a year. The staging of the 49th version is now, tentatively, set for next year in Bermuda and the 50th here, at the Leonora Track and Field Stadium in 2022.
The two-time Bahamas Olympian (1972 and 1976), Sands, who was voted in as the head of NACAC last year, visited Guyana earlier this year and confirmed that he is satisfied with the accommodation and track facilities though he hinted that his only concern is the warm-up track at Leonora on the West Coast of Demerara.

Thirty-one countries have got voting rights as full members of NACAC while five, including Guyana, are Associate Members. Guyana is one of four countries that signed the Dickenson Bay agreement on December 15, 1965 to establish the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), with Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago being the other signatories.

Seven years later CARIFTA became CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and as part of the transition, the-then president of the Barbados Athletics Association, Austin Sealey, his Trinidadian counterpart Dr Jesse Noel and his compatriot Rawle Raphael birthed the idea of the Junior CARIFTA Games to mark the occasion.

“We cannot dismiss what the Games have done for the region and NACAC taking over the organising and responsibility of the Games is the best thing that happened to the Games as we make financial contribution to each edition of the Games which was inaugurated in Barbados, April 1-4, 1972 and from that time it has been held every Easter weekend.

This is the first year the Games, which caters to age categories in Boys and Girls U-17 and U-20, has been postponed and regrettably so I must add. These Games are now considered as one of the best organised sporting events in the world and some of the greatest athletes of the world announced their arrival at these Games including Jamaican Usain Bolt”, the 65-year-old Sands, who is a graduate of the Penn State University, told Chronicle Sport via WhatsApp.

“The Global Pandemic has had a very negative impact on the games and continues to have a negative impact simply because there is such a level of uncertainty … it’s so unlike a storm which you know will not last forever and you know you will get back to normalcy, but the problem is that this current storm has such a devastating effect that you can only plan in theory and the question is how do you rebuild since all meets and athletes’ preparations are affected and when it’s over you still don’t know what travel restrictions will be like … it’s a long process getting back to normalcy and all we can do now is plan on paper,” Sands explained.

“The question of lifting the age barrier by a year for the postponed 49th edition is coming up more and more and we have not addressed it in its entirety. There is a school of thought by some that we make an exception for this one time and there is also another school of thought that it will create problems.

“My position is that we are in the business of promoting our sport and not trying to disenfranchise any athlete so we have to carefully await the decision of the executive and the NACAC membership.

“It will have to be addressed and I assure you because the question is coming up by member Federations and the press so it has to be a matter to be addressed in its entirety and we have to weigh the pros and the cons because every action has a reaction; but we have to make sure at the end of the day that the membership understands what they are being asked to consider.

“It must be clear as it is like amending a constitution whereby you have to understand what you are doing because you do not want to set a precedent you cannot maintain even though this is an exceptional circumstance. Hopefully it will be settled in an amicable way where all are satisfied,” Sands explained.

“There were sentimental reasons for Barbados to host the 50th but they declined and Guyana offered to host and we will be working hand-in-hand with Guyana and the LOC to ensure we have a successful 50th. They can rely on us for the necessary support as this is a big edition of the Games and I am sure Guyana will be up to the task of making it happen.

“We visited the track and the only concern is the warm up area which we will work on and we are also pleased with the accommodation available. We are partners in this to make sure we have a high quality 50th Games in Guyana. We will provide a Competition grant which is not a lot but we will sit down with the AAG after the budget is ready and work closely with them.

There is big economic boost for the country because you are talking over 700 athletes, families and friends and lots of International coaches as well. I will encourage all to get on board and become partners with the AAG since it is hosting for the first time and a lot of people will be coming.

The Games have firmly established that lots of US College coaches attend to offer scholarships and recruit athletes. These are just some of the positive ways the country stands to benefit as Guyana will be showcased to the world. Definitely a positive economic impact the Games will bring to the host country; so it is especially important for the partnering among the Government, sponsors and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) to make this a success,” the NACAC boss stated.

“There is only one 50th Anniversary so there should be a collaborative effort by all and sundry to make this the biggest edition. This is the biggest Track and Field sports event of the Region and Guyana has the ideal situation to exceed the expectations of the people.
“It is a very significant milestone and we at NACAC will be giving all the necessary support to make this a memorable one. I feel this is an opportunity for Guyana to propel the sport and inspire the next generation of athletes but it must be done holistically,” Sands advised.

“I always look at the silver lining in a dark cloud and must admit so far my tenure at the helm is like a baptism of fire. It’s like you have taken charge of the ship and then there comes a storm which was never on the radar. But guess what? The hotter the battle the sweeter the victory and so I am optimistic Guyana will be a good host,’ a confident Sands told Chronicle Sport.

The 11 countries that participated in the inaugural Games are: Barbados, Bermuda, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Jamaica, The Lesser Antilles, St Kitts/Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

Guyana finished 6th with 5 medals, including its first gold won by Gladstone Hopkinson, who clocked 4:08.8 secs in the 1500m while Olympia Abrams captured a silver in High Jump and there were bronze medals for Aubrey Wilson in the Long Jump, Roxanne Sills in the 100m and Joy Renville in the Javelin.