June 24, 2001
By Raffique Shah
FOR people in this country who believe in superstition, especially sports fanatics and others who have an interest in cricket and football, there must be a feeling that a bad "blight" has settled over Trinidad and Tobago.
Some might suggest that the only way out of the morass in which our teams and sportsmen have found themselves is through a collective "bush bath" in Moruga, home of the legendary Papa Neeza whose near-magical powers seem to have been willed to that village. But as someone who has an holistic approach to matters of life-including sports-my view is that if we must resort to the "Moruga formula", it should be to stage the ceremonial drowning of the human "blights" that have strangled our sports for much too long.
Last week, when the USA football team all but sealed our World Cup fate in the first 15 minutes of that life-or-death match, patriotic fans were in agony. They felt deceived by officials who had boasted a year ago that our tickets to Korea and Japan had been secured, that the final round of qualifying matches was a mere formality. As the game proceeded (after that second goal was put in the back of our net, and more so the way it got there, I refused to watch the rest of the game), our chances of reaching the World Cup finals receded. And even though our boys played marginally better in the second half, everyone knew by the time the final whistle was blown that we had blown it (not the whistle, that is, but our hopes of going to Korea and Japan).
So who was to blame? Dwight Yorke and Anthony Rougier, because of their pre-match shenanigans? Skipper Russel Latapy, his only sin being that he admitted to having a few drinks on a regular basis? Or should we now tar and feather coach Ian Porterfield and the technical staff for the apparent confusion that reigned during the match with respect to strategy and tactics? Just about everyone had an opinion as to who should be fired, who should be dropped from the team, who should play (or have played) in what position, and other solutions or acts of retribution.
Meanwhile, the architect of our football failure (as I described him a few weeks ago), Jack Warner, was sharpening his cutlass and getting ready to chop heads. It was the classical example of Satan gearing himself to correct sin. Fans who are screaming for Porterfield's head should focus instead on the culprit(s) who brought the hapless Scotsman here, who fired Bertille St Clair (for reasons yet to be revealed), and who influences the composition of the team. Has anyone questioned why the national team looks very much like a Joe Public team? Or why the hiring and firing of officials look like a one-man circus?
I am not suggesting that Warner and the technical and management personnel are solely responsible for the plight of our team. And I am not about to excuse the indiscipline of our players, more so the wealthy professionals. I have been involved in the field of athletics, more specifically road running, for 20 years, and I know only too well how difficult it is to instill discipline in sportsmen. At times you feel like kicking instead of kissing them. But that's where leadership skills come to the fore, when the challenge to mould an individual or a team must be met with experience, with empathy, with the moral authority to demand good discipline.
Instead, in local football we have a dictatorship that has dominated and destroyed the game, and adversely affected the team's spirit and individual players' self esteem. That team lost the match against the USA long before it left for Boston. And I don't know that it will fare any better in Jamaica. Worse than these deficiencies, though, is the fact that so many people believe the crap coming from the camp that "all is not lost". It is time we wake up to the stench emanating from the both the locker room and the executive suite that management occupies. With these people cemented in their positions, I don't know that we can look towards the 2006 Worl Cup!
And as if to rub salt in our sporting wounds, news from Zimbabwe is that Brian Lara is out of the series because of an aggravated hamstring injury. Lara was quoted as blaming the intense training camp the team participated in Chaguaramas for his worsening condition. I fully agree with him. When I saw what our cricketers were subjected to in the two weeks they spent under army training (well, that's what it was), I shuddered. I told everyone who would listen that a grave mistake was being made in the WICBC's bid to improve the fitness of the team.
Let me explain. Cricketers-hell, all national sportsmen-owe it to themselves to keep fit at all times. In order to endure the rigours of five-day Test matches and back-to-back limited overs games, cricketers have to be as fit as footballers or basket players or distance runners. Fitness does not come in one week. It takes up to a year for someone to move from a low level of fitness to what is acceptable at the highest levels of all sports.
Loading up 100 pounds on the backs of young men who are accustomed to carrying nothing heavier than bags with their gear, and worse, having them run up and down mountains that soldiers are trained to do, is punishment, not training. Even the other exercises to which they were subjected were inappropriate for the objective set by the Board.
Qualified trainers know that once you put muscles that are unaccustomed to stress under pressure, the risk of injury increases. The intensity of the "camp" must have induced fatigue as well. So there was much pain but little gain from that "camp".
Individual fitness programmes, and periodic tests to show the results (or lack thereof), would have been a much better alternative. But the WICBC, much like the TTFA, is looking for "quick fix" solutions to problems that have piled up over the years. I am sure if they question ex-stars like Courteney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards and Desmond Haynes, they would find that the secret to their success lay partly in their fitness.
For a nation of our size, we must be realistic, thankful that we have a fair number of world class sportsmen. But we can do much better, if only we can muster the guts to deal drastically with the dictators who led us to this sorry pass.
Copyright © Raffique Shah