Time to decide if Bermuda is serious about sport
Athletics officials believe the time has come for a serious conversation about the nature of sport in Bermuda.
The Island's disappointing showing at the Central American and Caribbean Games has provoked a wide range of emotions, with disappointment and frustration chief among them.
Dai Herman-Smith, the Bermuda women's hockey coach, thinks the Island will continue to fail on the international stage until certain issues are addressed, primarily the question of funding.
Referring to Bermuda as “the poor cousins”, Herman-Smith said that he supported Donna Watson's well-publicised assertion that the Games had not been taken seriously enough.
“I'm not going to disagree with her statement,” he said. “Bermuda is going to go nowhere unless we take sport more seriously, more professionally, and unless Government pumps some money into it.
“This is the abiding thing that I am saying to all the people who ask me how it [the CAC Games] went. To be honest, seriously for the first time, I felt like we were the poor cousins.
“Okay, we were nicely dressed, well turned out, but frankly we are not professional enough, we don't take these Games seriously enough, and we don't have the backing. Every team that we played against was professional or semi-professional. They all have professional coaches, they all went to at least one, maybe two, sometimes three, tournaments before this to prepare.”
Citing the Dominican Republic's hockey team as a prime example, Herman-Smith noted their seven members of supported staff compared with Bermuda's none, and the training camps they held in Argentina prior to the Games.
Having attended several CAC Games over the past 24 years, Herman-Smith has seen attitudes change among other countries in the region, and believes Bermuda is now “way behind in how we approach these Games”.
He is not alone in his concerns. Judy Simons, the Bermuda Olympic Association president, believes there is a need for some serious soul searching among all involved, from Government ministers to the governing bodies of the Island's various sports.
“At the end of the day the bottom line is always about money,” said Simons. “Do we need to sit down with the Ministry of Sport and the Minister and reassess the situation? Absolutely, because it's a partnership.
“It's us, with the Government, and the national governing bodies saying, ‘look, if we are serious about the development of sport and representing this country, what is it going to take to assist all our athletes, whether that is team sports, or individuals, to try to get to the podium?'
“We're going to have to do some serious soul searching, we're going to have to sit down with the Ministry of Sport and say, ‘how can we resolve this issue that we can get the maximum out of our athletes'.”
Financially, the CAC Games are a tricky proposition for the BOA and the Island's various other governing bodies. While they fall under the Olympic Charter, competing countries are not financially supported by it, which means no funds for training before, or participation in the events.
Simons said this put Bermuda “behind the eight-ball straight away”, especially as a lot of events in the CAC Games have become qualifiers for the Pan-American Games — a move that in large part has prompted the change in attitude from participating countries.
“It's very difficult for us, but we do the best we can,” she said.
That is of little consolation to Herman-Smith, who said it was unfair to ask Bermuda's, mostly amateur, athletes to compete on the same stage as their professional or semi-professional counterparts, and expect better results.
“Bermuda cannot expect to medal unless money is put into sport,” he said. “If I'm sounding frustrated it's because I am. My players probably put as much effort into fundraising so they could get there [to Mexico] as they did into training.
“I think other Governments in other countries have realised that now, to get to a tournament like the CAC Games, it's like the Olympics. You can't just say, ‘I want to attend' anymore — teams are chosen on their standings, and individuals on their times and abilities, and so on. It's not like it used to be in amateur sport, you show up and ask if you can run, do this, do that.”
Herman-Smith also believes that athletes largely paying their own way puts coaches in a difficult position when it comes to selecting teams. Leaving an individual who has paid thousands of dollars of their own money to attend on the bench is “not a good position for a coach to be in”.
And while he thinks the Island needs a major rethink when it comes to sport, he still feels a certain optimism for the future, as long as there is a change in attitude among those holding the purse strings.
“The Dominican Republic are a perfect example,” he said. “They won silver [in hockey] this year, six years ago they were nothing. I don't know where their funding is coming from, but I doubt it's a private individual.
“We have got to be more serious about this, if we do carry on as we are, then we are going to fail, again.”