Investment in grassroots, infrastructure, yield 'best year' in T&T sports

Darryl Smith and Dexter Simon

The year 2017 will go down as one of, if not the most successful year in sports for Trinidad and Tobago.

From the historic success of their men’s mile relay team at the IAAF World Championships in London in August and Akeem Stewart’s historic world record and gold medals at the World Para Athletics Championships, to winning the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championships for the first time and topping the CAZOVA Zonal Volleyball Championships, T&T has had a stellar year in sports.

The twin-island republic has also had success in water polo, beach soccer, scrabble and chess, which Minister of Sports, Darryl Smith, attributes to his government’s philosophy of investing in development and clear plan to build sports tourism.

“Part of the government’s policy is developing the grassroots of sports,” Smith told in an exclusive interview.

“Focus on development in primary and secondary schools, focus on sports tourism, focus on women in sports, focus on the handicapped.”

He said a big chunk of his TT$ 300 million budget has been invested in primary and secondary school leagues and non-traditional sports.

“We started back tennis for the first time in almost 10 to 15 years, badminton started back a secondary school league, and we are seeing success in both sports,” he said.

"We won the most medals ever in CAREBACO (Caribbean Badminton Championships) and we have been doing well in other non-traditional sports.

“Beach soccer is a new sport, for the first time we went to the Bahamas to those Games and we won a gold medal and a silver medal. The women did well in rugby. We have been seeing women’s sports doing well, we have been seeing other sports doing well like bodybuilding with Dexter Simon, and Sambo.”

Not all the money has been invested in development, however, as there has also been significant investment in infrastructure, which the sports minister said, is all part of a plan to boost sports tourism on the island.

“(This was) not only the most successful year in sports but it has been the most international events, we have ever hosted in our history and the highest level of international sports because we have a sports tourism drive. So we are doing our part to make sure people come to the island to enjoy the good weather with the new facilities. We are also the only country to open so many international world-class facilities in one year without hosting an Olympics and a World Cup,” he said alluding to the construction of an aquatic centre that hosted CCCAN, a racquet sports centre and cycling facility.

“We hosted CCCAN for the first time and won it. For the first time, we entered diving and won two gold medals in diving.  We are working with the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ASATT) to make it a satellite office for swimming. The Prime Minister and I met with the president of FINA and he likes the facility and he wants to make it a satellite training centre for the Western hemisphere where we are seeing again, a boost for tourism,” Smith revealed, adding that there are similar plans afoot for cycling.

“The president of the International Cycling Union in his recent acceptance speech announced he is going to utilise the Caribbean as a satellite training centre which will be us. So it’s been fantastic for sports tourism. The highest level of hockey, the highest level of tennis, the highest level of volleyball, we have hosted golf tournaments for juniors, rally, this has been a phenomenal year for sports."

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Trinidad and Tobago: Minister of Sports Darryl Smith