The games are coming

As world-class athletes from around the region gather to compete in the region's biggest meet ever, James Fuller is there at the starting line

  • Trinidad and Tobaqo's Olympic silver medallist Richard Thompson prepares at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Photograph courtesy Caribbean Games 2009

“We want a repeat of the Beijing Olympic 100 metres final right here in Port of Spain – minus the Americans of course.” laughs Francis Williams-Smith. CEO of the Caribbean Games.

Williams-Smith, himself an enthusiastic road-runner, is the man at the tiller of the first ever multi-discipline

regional sporting event, in which athletes from 26 Caribbean countries will compete in athletics, boxing, tennis, volleyball (indoor and beach) and netball from July 12 to 19.

“Caribbean athletes had tremendous success in Beijing, and that has acted as a springboard for this, the inaugural Caribbean Games. It will be a true showcase of Caribbean sporting excellence and it’s the biggest regional sporting event in 2009.”

Among the 1,500 athletes expected, regional powerhouses such as Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico will, alongside hosts Trinidad and Tobago, field teams over 100 athletes strong. But equally important, says Williams-Smith, are those nations such as the Turks and Caicos. Montserrat and Anguilla, which will send ten or fewer.

“This is a story of the Caribbean coming together, it’s about regional integration, and I think historically we’ve seen that the two biggest unifying factors in the Caribbean are sport and music.”

He wants this year’s games to set the benchmark for future events, which will run in a four-year cycle in the year after the Olympics.

“We want to set the standard and the parameters: sporting excellence,  friendly service, comfort levels for the athletes, break-even on the whole exercise, excellence in the administration and execution of the games.”

Cuba and Jamaica are in line to host the 2013 and 2017 events. “The facilities already exist in those countries, so that bodes well. It also allows time for other countries that might want to host in the future to build facilities.

“The key is to keep the games within manageable proportions. There are three core sports, but, depending on the host nation’s existing facilities, they can add to those. The focus is on the athletes, not the building of structures. That way the question of money for new facilities will not be as prevalent as it is with an Olympic Games.”

Even so, this year’s event, which is being staged under the auspices of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee and hosted by the country’s Ministry of Sport, will cost around TT$ 50 – 55 million.

It’s being held at venues throughout the country including boxing at the Woodbrook Youth Facility, indoor volleyball at UWI SPEC, St Augustine, beach volleyball at Saith Park, Chaguanas, and tennis at Shaw Parle, Tobago.

Williams-Smith said there were both legacy and community-outreach elements to this approach.

“We’re leaving a legacy so that, for example, the Chaguanas facility will become volleyball’s home and somewhere to develop the sport at a regional and international level.

“The community-outreach aspect is also something we ‘re emphasising. This is not just happening in Port of Spain: we want the communities to get involved and buy into their particular sporting event. We want people to be excited about this and get into the whole spirit of it, because the Caribbean Games really is something more than just a sporting event.”