In the recently concluded London Olympics, the youth from the English speaking Caribbean made the region proud. Irrespective of what nation one is from, most people were proud to hear the anthem, and see the hoisted flags of Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and The Bahamas at relevant medal ceremonies.
The success of athletes like Jamaica's Usain Bolt, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Yohan Blake, and Grenada's Kirani James, is even more astounding because these athletes were mostly trained in their homelands, by local coaches. Long gone are the days when Olympic success for Caribbean athletes came via sport's scholarships to North American colleges. Back then, an athlete who did not excel academically was greatly disadvantaged in honing his skills.
The Beijing and London Olympics have shown there is no longer the need to send Caribbean athletes offshore for training and development. The successes have indelibly revealed that the training facilities and personnel in the region are equal to, and in some cases, exceed international standards.
The success reveals a new, realistic opportunity for Caribbean youth, one that must be grasped and developed immediately. For some time it has been recognized that organized sports can be a major area of growth for youth development, but for various reasons there has been hesitation by respective governments to place strong focus on the youth development component of organized sports.
Traditionally, Caribbean youth seek to acquire a "good" education by passing primary and secondary courses at high standards, and possibly seeking a tertiary education to attain the required qualification to land choice jobs, or embark on successful careers.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with this tradition but there are real alternatives for young people who do not excel at academics. Those gifted and talented at various sports should be able to realistically target a fulfilled career, with help from the private and public sector.
In the case of track and field athletes, the World Championship Games, or the Summer Olympic Games are not the only venues for success. While Bolt and Fraser- Pryce now have the potential to earn millions in endorsements, they and other ranked international athletes also have the potential to make significant earnings from appearances on the international track and field circuit.
Phenomenal as the success of Caribbean athletes has been at the Olympics, this success is only at the periphery of the potential successes that can be attained. For example, Caribbean swimmers are knocking at the door and with the right development can also rank with international swimmers. Our track and field athletes are also knocking on the door of other events like the men and women 800 meters, shot put, discuss, long and triple jumps, and a soccer team should be able to qualify for the Olympics.
In order for this development to take place, a joint venture between governments and private sector is needed to structure competitive organized sport development from the community level, through parish to national levels. Such a structured system will open opportunities for youth threatened by hopelessness while creating jobs for personnel involved in the development of the various sports. The ultimate goal is for these athletes to succeed, make a name for themselves and their country, and earn substantially.
The successes achieved at the London Olympics indicate involvement and achievement in sports but is also a means of solving the social and economic problems militating against the region's youth.