Let’s get one thing straight ok: I am in no way affiliated with the People’s National Movement at all. I even flipped through the United National Congress’ nice little digital magazine to see what plans they had for sport (it even made flip page noises; very authentic and magazine-like). I didn’t find any. So, we’ll just have to stick with what the PNM has to offer. Make sure you go out and vote come August 10th. Follow Covid-19 protocols. Think about our essential frontline workers. Remember those who were lost in the pandemic and think about those families who’ve been affected the most.
So the PNM’s plan for Sport Tourism is part of their post-COVID 19 recovery project which obviously seeks to help get the economy back on its feet. It also finally gives Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to build and become THE sport destination of the Caribbean and it’s been something I have been clamoring for years now. I’ve always believed that our country was a prime destination to hold sporting events. We have the facilities, we have tourist attractions for both visiting athletes and fans. It’s just that Trinidad and Tobago just doesn’t market themselves as the sporting hub they should be.
The first thing that jumped out to me is their plan to start a Sporting Calendar, which would help to highlight different sporting events throughout the year. It’s supposed to help promote maximum turnout at events as well as to eliminate clashes for that maximum turnout. It’s a start to help promote local sport viewership but the PNM would also has to find ways to market local sport and make it attractive enough for people to come see these events in person, because we could always watch it from the comfort of our own homes (that is, if local media houses are broadcasting these events that is).
It’s also a welcome site for me personally as a freelancer. Now I have a go-to source to see what events are coming up and when they are going to be, and I wouldn’t have to pick and choose what events to cover. I could go to all and support and report on as many events as I can. Hopefully the calendar also has event information such as the venue, price of admission etc.
Also in the manifesto, they want to go about identifying and planning new and upcoming sports that have high interest and would attract locals, as well as bring visitors and foreign teams to Trinidad and Tobago. Might I suggest a few sports. Some relatively new, others we’ve had competed in before:
- Handball: The Trinidad and Tobago Team Handball Association have made strides in their development of the sport over the past few years, introducing the sport to various primary and secondary schools across the country, having open screenings for athletes looking to join the sport, as well as attending different handball competitions in the Caribbean and the United States. They also played host to last year’s NORCA Beach Handball Championships, where the women’s team finished 3rd and the men’s team finished 4th.
- Futsal: Futsal is undergoing a bit of a reboot with a new National Governing Body, new people in charge and a 5 year startup plan to grow and develop the sport of Futsal. They have school tournaments, Futsal festivals, local leagues and competitions in their future. It’s also smaller-scaled version of football. We already love that, so this should be easy for the Government to push.
- Aquatics: Trinidad and Tobago has hosted a number of aquatics events over the years at the relatively new National Aquatics Centre in Couva. From the UANA (Swimming Union of the Americas) Cup in and Central American and Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation (CCCAN) Championships 2017 to the Pan American Youth Water Polo Championships last year, Trinidad and Tobago’s aquatics community has been active in participation of events locally, regionally as well as internationally. Participation outside of the aquatics community would do the sport some good as well.
- Netball: It’s been a while since Trinidad and Tobago has enjoyed international success in Netball. Since our only trophy at World Netball Championships in 1979 (in front of our home crowd too). Since the beginning of the 90s, Trinidad and Tobago hasn’t finished in the Top 5 at the World Championships. I, personally, also don’t hear a lot about local netball and there isn’t a lot of interest in the game amongst the youth. I just believe that netball should be given new life, get the new generation interested in the sport again, and hold school tournaments and have netball events broadcasted on local television. Also, men play netball too. Get boys interested in the sport as well.
- Basketball: Jonathan Hamilton, a 7 foot basketball player coming from Rio Claro, whether he knows it or not, is THE ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago basketball. His performances in Turkey and in the G-League in 2018 have been such a pleasure to watch, and with him joining Fenerbahçe this season, his talents would be displayed on a bigger stage in this upcoming EuroLeague season. Only problem is, not a lot of Trinbagonians don’t know a lot about him. He is one of a handful of Trinbagonians representing our country in basketball in international competitions (Kyle Rowley, Leston Gordon to name a few more). Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world and for me, personally, I would love to see Trinidad and Tobago be able to compete in basketball tournaments regionally and internationally. The Government can also show Hamilton some love by identifying him as our Basketball Ambassador and help market the sport in T&T.
To the actual promotion of our country as a sporting destination in terms of commercializing and branding, it’ll be interesting to see how the PNM would go about doing this. How would Trinidad and Tobago be known as “the home of ‘SPORTAINMENT'”? What specific imagery are they going to use that will brand the country as a sporting venue? How can the PNM encourage local sporting TV stations to cover events that could reach both local and foreign markets?
One thing that the PNM could do is promote what they already have. We already boast a number of facilities: 5 stadiums, 7 indoor sports facilities, 6 community swimming pools, 2 aquatics facilities, a couple cycling velodromes, 2 cricket stadiums, a field hockey arena, a tennis arena in development, and a number of golf courses, not to mention Skinner Park is getting a much needed renovation. Of course a lot of these facilities are due for some renovations as well (looking at you Ato Boldon Stadium). But with Trinidad and Tobago still set to host the Youth Commomwealth Games in 2021 (Covid-19 pending), getting these renovations done before then should be a given; and with the Youth Commonwealth Games, it already puts us on an international spotlight, giving us a prime opportunity to showcase our facilities to international markets.
Another proposal for the PNM is to follow the model of the Caribbean Premier League: make sporting events into a big party. Let’s face it: Trinbagonians love a fete, a big lime, to celebrate. So why not make every sporting event into a party atmosphere. Introduce halftime entertainment featuring our local artistes. Have pre-game/post-game activities. It gives us opportunity to showcase our culture during sporting events as well. Now granted, you don’t want the non-sports activities to take away from the attention of the actual sporting event, but it makes attending the event live and in person more inviting than watching the game from home.
Their proposal for every sport to establish an e-presence and to develop a national IT Hub keeps with their theme for creating a digitalized society going forward after Covid-19 leaves us alone. The vision I have for this, or at least what I expect from this from the e-presence standpoint, is for national sporting bodies to be very active on social media promoting their respective sports. Some already do, regularly sharing content like highlights, events etc., but I believe they can do more. They can host virtual events, stream training, practices and games that they may be competing in. Take us behind the scenes of how they go about business. The National IT Hub sounds like a place where they would have information from ALL of the NSBs in one concentrated location so that information would be easily accessible. Very interested to see how these measures would be implemented.
Lastly one of the things I wanted to touch on was the easy access to the facilities that they would allow local teams and players. I would like to know if that would apply to recreational players as well. Obviously I wouldn’t expect people to rent out a whole stadium for a Saturday night sweat, but what about more casual spaces for recreational sport? We have areas like Ball Park, but we could do with a lot more easily accessible and safer spaces to play sports in Trinidad and Tobago.
So that’s about it. I’m glad that the PNM is taking the initiative to use sport as a way to boost it’s tourism appeal. It has potential to put us in the regional and international spotlight as the top destination to hold sporting events in the Caribbean, bring in a lot of sports fans into Trinidad and Tobago, not only to enjoy the sporting events, but also the natural beauty of our island, the culture, the food and everything else that would contribute to enhancing the experience for tourists visiting our country. Of course, we would also want to see our national teams be victorious while hosting the potential tournaments here, so that the home fans have something to root for. Once we bring together a winning culture from our national teams and the atmosphere of the home fans, together with the beauty of our island, marketing Trinidad and Tobago as a sport tourism destination would be an easy sell for foreign sporting bodies and markets.