It was clear, since Saturday’s surprise win in the javelin throw by Keshorn Walcott, that this year’s Olympic effort would merit special attention. And there’s no question that it’s well-deserved. By any critical measure, the 2012 Olympiad was one of T&T’s best outings in international sport for some time. The Trinidad and Tobago contingent rose in ranking to finishing efforts in an unprecedented ten final rounds of competition, winning one gold and three bronze medals. The surge of pride that citizens felt on hearing the country’s national anthem played at the Olympics—the first time it’s been played since Hasely Crawford’s astonishing run in the 1976 Olympiad—should prove a compelling incentive for young people to pursue their dreams, all the more so since Keshorn achieved his landmark throw at the age of 19. But is a national holiday—and a hastily arranged one at that—the best way to honour the years of hard work that brought this nation’s best athletes to this special place? The holiday, announced via national broadcast at 7.40 pm on Sunday night, destroyed appointments, plans, work rosters and business meetings scheduled for the following day.
The ensuing chaos for employers, consumers and the general public will, ultimately, be felt most on an individual level as companies responded to the news by making adjustments on shockingly short notice to manage their operations and citizens tried to make sense of their schedules. Appointments with doctors, the passport office, consulates for visas, government offices and more, many of which must have been set months before, will now have to be rescheduled. People affected by the floods in Diego Martin, Glencoe and Maraval on Saturday—a calamity so devastating that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar would declare Diego Martin a disaster area after touring there—had to wait one more critical day to get access to hardware supplies and workmen, whether private or public, to address their needs. Those who have lost personal documents, such as bankcards or ID cards, that urgently need to be replaced, or who planned to visit insurance companies to start filing claims, are simply out of luck as a result of this impromptu long weekend.
For them, a national holiday could not have come at a less appropriate time. It’s hard to set aside the notion that a day-long party in celebration of the considerable achievements of our national athletes, giving national morale a quick boost and changing unpleasant national conversations, had more political than practical value for this country. While it’s true that the regrettable tradition has been to down tools to celebrate any such major success on the international stage, it really is an absurd custom we should be ready and willing to grow out of by now. The UK, China and the United States carted home dozens of medals, and while towns and communities in those countries will plan celebrations and commemorations for their returning heroes as well, no one has the effrontery to suggest that their entire national economies grind to a halt for a day to honour even those impressive wins.
Grenada, celebrating its first gold medal at an Olympics, indeed, its first medal at the games ever, partied hard at the news but officially gave only a half-day to recognise Kirani James, their successful 400-metre sprinter.
In giving the nation Monday off, did the Government really consider what it was saying about the country with the gesture? An Olympic gold medal won in T&T’s golden jubilee year of celebrating Independence is certainly something special. But the time has come to think about marking such achievements with a national recommitment to discipline, tolerance and production, rather than using such good fortune as another excuse for an impromptu all-day party.