On Saturday 14th October 2017, history was created when the T&T women volleyballers became the first team from the English speaking the Caribbean to qualify for the World Volleyball Championship which will serve off on September 29th in Japan.
The former president of the T&T Volleyball Federation - Mushtaque Mohammed - must have been the proudest and happiest man on the planet when the team qualified. I had gotten to know Mohammed quite well as my former company had sponsored all aspects of volleyball; we realised at the time the sport was growing and the entertainment value was an excellent link with the company's products.
Mohammed was extremely passionate about the sport and kept indicating that he had a ten-year plan for T&T to qualify for either the Olympics Games, the World Championships or the World Grand Prix when he hired Cuban Francisco Cruz as the T&T coach some 12 years ago. His decision to go out and hire a foreign coach was met with severe criticism from all involved in local volleyball, but luckily, the gamble taken by him has paid rich dividends which are there for all to see.
T&T completely dominates Women's volleyball in the region. They captured the Women's Volleyball Championships right after Cruz took over for the second time, and they have not lost in the tournament since, capturing their sixth consecutive title in July 2017. They now find themselves being able to compete against the likes of Mexico and were victorious against the Costa Ricans in three straight sets to book their plane tickets to the World Championship.
At least, so the players and officials thought! However, what we have been reading of late is the team members are keeping their fingers and toes crossed as the Volleyball officials are yet to receive funding to pay for airline tickets as well as other meaningful pieces of equipment that are needed to ensure the preparation of the team is what is required for them to compete at the prestigious tournament.
Now, I fully expect that between the Ministry of Sport and the SporTT Company, the situation ought to be addressed and the team will receive the necessary funding. I saw where Mohammed got the support of the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) to sponsor the uniforms for the players at a cost of US$6,000. Imagine, we can't find that money here to sponsor our own team's uniforms.
It remains inconceivable that in 2018, our sportsmen and women continuously find themselves in these positions with a lack of proper funding. When one thinks that all the hard work is done and all that is needed is the right type of preparation to go out and compete on the world stage and make the country proud, we have to read about lack of financial support from the Ministry and from SPORTT and nothing on how the training and preparation work is progressing.
Let us not fool ourselves, we may never win the World Championship in Japan, in Turkey or in Timbuktu but athletes must be given every chance to go out there and compete and make the people of Trinidad and Tobago proud. No amount of work done by the Ministry Of Tourism can compensate for our sports personalities putting the red, white and black on the world stage. We have many examples of this; just earlier this year, our hockey boys qualified for the World Indoor Hockey Championships in Berlin and from all reports we were the 'Cinderellas' of the tournament. Not only do we compete intensely, but we have the Caribbean flair that is the envy of many countries worldwide.
How come a team ranked 34th in the world and which qualified for a World Championship tournament in October of last year is now struggling for funding? Do we apportion blame to the T&T Volleyball Federation? I would have expected that on Monday 16th October 2017, the volleyball officials would have been knocking on the doors of the goodly Minister boasting and bragging about their achievements and what they have done for the country. So Good Heavens, why do we once again find ourselves in this position where a national team is scraping the barrel for funding?
If in fact, the officials did go early with cap in hand to the Ministry, why has it reached crisis proportion? Did they drop the ball in being tardy as claimed by the Ministry, or was the request not properly presented to them? I totally understand the Ministry has a budget to work with and has to stay within that budget. However, whatever the situation, when a national team qualifies for a world tournament they should be looked after immediately to ensure their preparation is the best that can be afforded to them and to be honest, I truly feel it for these Women Volleyball players.
But it also takes two hands to clap. All local sporting associations must get up and start helping themselves with various fundraisers. I know the times are hard and corporate sponsorship is not what it once was, but if the various associations try and help themselves they might be surprised at the help they are able to receive.
Good luck to our women volleyball team! Go and make T&T proud of you!