CARIFTA put kids on the right track

People were begging me for tickets
as I approached the Truman Bodden Sports Complex on Easter Monday, the last day
of the CARIFTA Games.

Some women even pleaded to come in
with me as their new best friend or sweetheart. The stadium was heaving and the
5,000 capacity could have been filled twice over.

Perfect sunny weather, the music
and carnival atmosphere generated mostly by the large Bahamian contingent and
backed up by the cheery Caymanians and Jamaicans, made the stadium incredibly

Chantelle Morrison’s gold medal in
the girls Under-17 100 metres on Saturday night also helped stir interest.

Had the Million Dollar Run not been
running a couple of miles away at Public Beach, the crowds would have been even
more expansive.

Added to that was the fact that the
whole three days of CARIFTA was televised live across the region which made it
even more appealing to attend. It was also being streamed online for the first

Millions were tuned in but only a
few thousand were fortunate enough to be watching the action live in a pristine

No wonder Rayle Roberts, president
of the Cayman Islands Athletics Association, had plenty to be pleased about.

He said: “I think hosting CARIFTA
was something that we can be really proud of. It also shows that sports tourism
is sustainable here in Cayman. Not only in track and field but other sports if
we get support from our sponsors and government.

“It shows that Cayman people have
heart and we have the facilities to get things done and bring it to the world.”

So what’s next for Roberts, besides
a nice, long rest? “I don’t know, you really don’t know what it is going to
transpire into. I really hope that it encourages more young people to get into
the programme.

“We need more volunteers and more
coaches in specific disciplines. I think right here in Cayman we have a lot of
athletes that rival the ones we saw.

“I think what we have done is raise
the standard of CARIFTA also and raised the standard of the sport at this

“I’ve just been told that we had
1.5 million hits on our website over the last three days. People are calling me
and saying that they’ve seen me on TV. All of those are firsts and it happened

“We also have an awesome track. It
gave us seven CARIFTA records in the first two days.

“The government has done what it’s
needed to do to get us where we need to be and hope that it continues to put
money into the sport, all sports, because I’m not just advocating on behalf of

“I think that every sport if money
is put in has a way of helping our youth, giving them a better option and
allowing them to grow from there.”

Roberts believes Cayman can produce
not just a few world class athletes but enough to rival neighbours Jamaica and
Cuba whose populations run into millions.

“We actually have a huge pool. If
you look at the primary schools and the talent we have there, I think we have a
lot of great athletes we can pool from, they just don’t continue in it.

“These are athletes that get pulled
into different sports or in their mid-teens they’re dealing with peer pressure
and opt out of sports altogether.

“If the programming is there and
it’s something you encourage people to be a part of you’ll see the programme

“It’s great to be a Jamaican
athlete. That’s what we need to build in Cayman. We want to see athletes
continue in the sport and make us proud like Chantelle did.”

Roberts has a point. Small
countries like Jamaica and Cuba produce world class athletes not just in track
but a variety of individual sports including boxing, martial arts and many team

Quality coaching and excellent
resources are the key, tangible things Cayman needs to attain success.

“What we have produced on minimal
input compared to the rest of the world, I really think that we can rival
anyone,” added Roberts. “Our blood comes from the Cubans and the Jamaicans, so
we’re the perfect mix.

“We have the strongest athletes
here, we just don’t have the social encouragement to keep them in the sport and
the cultural encouragement to make them feel that they’re on top of the world.

“What happened with Chantelle is
going to transpire throughout the Caribbean and throughout the Caymanian community.

“Now they can know they can feel
that elated just from practicing a sport.”


Travis Webb brought local support out.
Photo: CFP