Do we dare to imagine the many positive consequences that can flow from a fully integrated Caribbean team at the Olympic Games?
Can we dare to imagine that team being made up of representatives of the independent English-speaking Caribbean countries, plus French-speaking Haiti, plus Dutch-speaking Suriname plus Spanish-speaking Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic?
Had such an officially integrated Caribbean contingent participated in the 2012 Olympics in London, their performance could have gained them seventh place in terms of the overall number of medals won. This calculation is not based on the quality of the medals won (gold and silver being rated higher than bronze medals), but solely on the fact that, on that occasion, seven of those countries/territories taken together harvested a total crop of 36 medals!
This is not just a matter of greater pride in our region’s athletic successes. What we can foresee is the strengthening of our international brand, converting our prowess in sport into yet another launching pad for our tourism, hospitality, music and food industries. Sports tourism and the use of our year-round coaching/training facilities should also be complemented with the leasing of our facilities for foreign teams needing a tropical venue to prepare for any major competitions scheduled to be held in a warm climate.
Delving further into the tangible benefits of such a united Caribbean initiative, we find a clear path to enhancing the caliber of the athletes we send to the Games. The fierce intra-regional competition to earn a place on the Caribbean team for the Olympics will push aspiring candidates to do better than their best in competing with their Caribbean regional rivals.
There is also the obvious advantage of pooling our financial, technical and human resources to produce the best quality athletes possible: the major benefit of using economies of scale to reduce duplication of efforts and under-utilization of our limited resources.
In such a scenario, it is also easier for higher quality athletes and teams to attract more local and international sponsorship. Private sector engagement will mean more adequate funding in the years of training and preparation before the Games. And after the Games, the more successful athletes will also attract for themselves more of the lucrative commercial contracts to advertise and promote the products and services of the sponsoring companies.
In making the case for the viability and indeed the necessity of our Caribbean team, we can have no better recourse than to the famous and comprehensive Report of the West Indian Commission of 1992, so appropriately entitled “TIME FOR ACTION”.
That Report is still the most authoritative document on the imperatives of Caribbean integration. It disregards the limitations that we impose on ourselves and leapfrogs over such hurdles as the lack of political will, the insularity and the unhealthy rivalry among our countries and territories.
Using the example of the five principles on which the international supremacy of the West Indies cricket team stood solidly decades ago, the Report recommends those same principles for our joint efforts in other sports: confidence in ourselves, commitment to excellence, total commitment, frank and open communication and serious discipline.
Moreover, the Commissioners provided in their Report several examples of the former British West Indies’ joint participation in international sporting events and competitions as one unit, including most significantly the Summer Olympics in Rome when the BWI team as it was then known won bronze medals in the men’s 800 metres and the men’s 4×400 metres.
Most of all, even though the Report’s section on “Sport- Connecting the Grass Roots” focuses on the former British West Indies, the over-arching argument advanced in the analysis and recommendations of the Report is for the creation of one sovereign entity that includes all of the islands of the Caribbean plus Guyana. All of the four language cultures- English, Spanish, French and Dutch- are included in the future success of the united Caribbean.
The rationale for that extensive inclusivity in our future successes in the Olympic Games is neatly summarized in the Commissioners’ incisive quip: “…we do it better when we do it together.”