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Raffique Shah


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Sports benefits more than just World Cup

June 11, 2006
By Raffique Shah

With the country gripped by World Cup fever, it's a good time to raise some issues that, while they have no direct bearing on our team or on football, are of importance if we are to continue to take the world stage in major sporting events. Firstly, though, I wish our Soca Warriors good luck in this elite tournament: they will need it. While I am Trini to my soul, I am also a realist, especially when it comes to sports. We face a formidable challenge to get past the first round. But I also know that in sports, what counts is performance on the day. On paper, and maybe on the ground, the teams we come up against are superior to ours. But all it takes to win a game is our boys clicking in one of three matches, and our opponents either underestimating the Warriors or themselves having a bad day, which can happen to any team-even the mighty Brazil.

There is no doubt that sport more than anything else has put us on the world map. Our cricketers, for example, from as far back as the legendary Learie Constantine to current West Indies captain and master batsman Brian Lara, have given Trinidad and Tobago world recognition. In athletics, we have long been a force to reckon with far beyond the size of the country and its population. From McDonald Bailey through Hasely Crawford, Ato Boldon and now Marc Burns and Darrel Brown, with too many more to mention, they have impacted on this country's image across the world in a way our politicians must envy.

But sports must not be seen only through the rose-tinted lens of galas like the World Cup or the Olympic Games. Its many disciplines are vehicles that, if used wisely, can bring us more than glory on the world stage. In fact, I think these other benefits are what should dictate the government's policy in sports. As a first step, among our very young children, there is an urgent need for all stakeholders in education to balance the rigours of academic demands with nurturing healthy lifestyles through involvement in sports. Many years ago, it was almost imperative for primary school students to participate in some form of physical activity to complement our academic work. That era produced some of the finest, well-rounded individuals who went on to serve the country not only in sporting arenas, but also in the academia, as professionals, and even ordinary citizens who could be deemed exemplars.

Sports also promote discipline. This is sorely lacking at the secondary school level, hence the high level of dropouts and such institutions being deemed recruitment centres for the young criminals who now stalk the country. If only we could channel the energies of these young ones in activities that demand discipline and teamwork, I feel certain that we can make a significant dent in the crime spiral. Again, because curricula at this level are so heavily weighted in favour of academics, sports fields hardly exist. And where they do, they are ghost fields after the school bells are rung, or at best, they cater only for those who show talent for cricket and football.

Gone are the days of inter-house competitions in athletics, cricket, football, hockey, basketball, chess, draughts oh, I can go on and on. Even at university level, where the authorities have installed some of the finest facilities anywhere in the country, student participation is minimal. We must act urgently to change the mindset among all stakeholders that sport is a low-priority activity. So many parents believe that if their child cannot be a Lara or Burns or Serena Williams, then forget it. Hell, not everyone can be a champion athlete. But everyone can benefit from participating in sports.

Besides instilling discipline among the wayward, the major benefit from sports is good health. With eating habits dramatically altered, it is even more important for the government to place emphasis on sports. And building a few multi-million-dollar stadia will not help: except for elite athletes, the general student population and the public have no access to these facilities. The focus should be on upgrading all recreation grounds, on creating jogging courses, and yes, Minister Colm Imbert, on installing cycle lanes along as many roadways as we can.

I should add that cycling and walking are fast becoming the physical activities of choice by those who seek to lead healthy lifestyles. But with our traffic-clogged roads, there is little room for these activities. The government should look at it this way: an investment of, say, $1 billion in these facilities will save us many billions in health bills in years to come. So as we enjoy World Cup matches from our couches, get outside there and walk or jog afterwards. It's good for us, and also a good example for our budding Latapys and Yorkes.