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An interview with the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC). He was elected to this post on May 7th, 2013.
Q. What year did you enter and leave Fatima College?
A. I entered in 1971 (he says with much gusto). Boy, I would never forget that year! And, I left in 1976. I came from Belmont Boys’ primary school. The year I passed for Fatima, there was a batch of us from Belmont Boys’ – such guys as Brian Aitchison, Carl La Borde and Noel Babb.
Q. Tell me about your memories at Fatima – pleasant or non-pleasant.
A. At Fatima, I had many great memories. (He jokingly says) “2B or not to be that’s the question”. You must ask them about that ‘2B’ class. Back then, when I was in the Form 2B class, we had a teacher by the name of Mr. Jadunath, who taught us mathematics. You know, how young boys will be young boys – always, playful and noisy. And, one day in particular, the 2B class was quite disruptive and noisy while Mr. Jadunath was teaching. Mr. Jadunath spun around from the blackboard and exploded, “All yuh wasting my time, all yuh wasting time in Fatima, all yuh go sell nuts for a living.” I could tell you none of us are selling nuts today (he muses). For me, Fatima days was all about socializing. Yes, you must study hard, but holistically speaking, it was an enjoyable experience. My best friends Ian Kalloo, James Camacho and I have forty three (43) years of friendship to this day. They all attended school in my time. Fatima is the best school in the country!
Q. After leaving Fatima, what university/college did you attend?
A. I didn’t attend any university right after school. After I left Fatima, I attended St. Anthony’s College for one (1) year. I am the eldest of four (4) children and my mom was a single parent. Attending university back then was a luxury, so as a way of contributing at home, I sought employment. My very first job was working as an office boy, where I earned $50 a week. I remember the guy who hired me, was quite surprised I took the job. I guess he thought a past student of Fatima asking to work as an office boy rather strange. I told him ‘Man I just want to work”. Then, in January 1978, I began working in the oil field. When my friends were in university, I was off earning a living and assisting my family.
Q. I take it that you must hold sport very dear to your heart, seeing that you are currently the President of Trinidad & Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC). What sports did you play at Fatima?
A. In school days, I played many sports. I was quite active. I tried to play football, and I dabbled in athletics. However, the sport that I truly fell in love with was rugby. I picked that up after I left school. I played that a lot. When I was young in my twenties, while playing rugby, I damaged my knee. I had my knee in a cast for about a couple of months and the rehabilitating period took about nine (9) months. I remember at the time during the recovery process, my doctor would give me injections to assist in the rehabilitation phase and to ease the pain. And, I remember one time, my doctor told me “Listen, this knee here, it go be alright but, you see when you enter in your forties, those same old injuries will come back to haunt you.” Let’s put it this way, my doctor didn’t lie (he laughs).
Q. As the President of TTOC, I would imagine you have an extremely busy portfolio. What is your normal day like?
A. Firstly, I must make mention that this job is a voluntary one. I have been an insurance broker for the past thirty (30) years, and I recently got demoted in my position. My wife Sandra is now the boss (he chuckles). Apparently, she thinks that I am diminishing the family treasury because I am more focussed on my new portfolio and spending less time as an insurance broker (he laughs).
On an average day, my day starts at 2 am. So, I will get up at that time, and begin sending emails from my smart phone. Then, I would take a break around 4 am and go walk Lady Chancellor Hill. I would arrive at the Olympic House office at 8 am. By the time, I get to work I would have already put in about six (6) hours of work. Now, there is a reason for me starting my day at 2 am. Because, sport is voluntary, and I am involved in so many things, I have to make my day longer. Currently, TTOC is evolving. We are trying to be more market driven, brand conscious and implement changes on how sport is viewed publicly in our society. So for example, a lot of the conversations TTOC would have with other international federations and international Olympic committees would take place in Europe and in Asia.
So if I am having a telephone call in London around 8 am, because of the five (5) hour time difference, it would be 3 am TT local time. And, with Asia, who is twelve hours ahead of us, it would be 8 pm and so on. Therefore, whatever time I go to sleep, I am normally up four (4) hours afterwards. Fortunately, in the era of the smart phone, I am able to multi-task a lot with the portfolio of Presidency of TTOC and insurance brokerage.
Q. Trinidad & Tobago national athletes have just returned from the recently completed XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Are you satisfied with the recent showing of the national athletes at the games?
A. Encouraging. Yes, the target would have been to achieve gold medals, and, the athletes gave it their all, and fell short this time around. However, I am confident that next time around, we will be bringing home gold medals. I don’t know any athlete who plans or goes with the intention of deliberately performing badly.
Q. Newsday recently published an article on Saturday 9 August, 2014 entitled “Homeless After Glasgow”, in which at the time, the daily newspaper was referring to the two-time Trinidad and Tobago 110 metre hurdles Olympian Mikel Thomas being evicted from his Florida apartment and forced to abruptly end his 2014 competitive season due to the unavailability of the Elite Athletes Assistance Program (EAAP) funds from the Ministry of Sport. Would you care to clarify the situation with respect to Mr. Thomas and the Ministry of Sport?
A. Now, there are specific guidelines to the Elite Athletes Assistance Program (EAAP) that must be adhered to. An application requesting funding for specific athlete(s) would come to the National Sport Organization (NSO). There, the NSO will go through the applications to ensure the application met the Cabinet approved guidelines; and, in turn, the NSO would submit this application to TTOC to have it endorsed.
Here, TTOC will go through the application to see that the person(s) name is on the application, and who is applying for the funds, how much funds they are asking for, and if they previously received funds, before this aforementioned application is submitted to the Ministry of Sport for approval and disbursement of EAAP funds to said athlete(s). In recent times, for whatever reason, this due process was not being complied with. And, the applications were being submitted directly to the Ministry of Sport without NSO and TTOC’s endorsement.
In the absence of the endorsement of the TTOC and relevant National sport Organisation it is impossible for the TTOC and NSO to monitor the situation. We are in the dark as to who receive, who applied and what funding was received. This is not in accord with the Cabinet Guidelines. For Transparency and Accountability the Guidelines must be applied.
So, either, there was a breakdown in communication with the athletes and the Ministry of Sport or the athletes, who were requesting the funding, were unaware of the elite athlete assistance guidelines. It is almost impossible for an athlete to train at an elite standard minus funding. As life would have it, I not too long came back from the ministry this evening. The Ministry has submitted a number of forms for the TTOC to approve in order to rectify the problem as soon as possible.
Q. Do you think that the lack of EAAP funds may have contributed to the unsuccessful showing of Mr. Thomas at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games?
A. Sport is very emotional. It is unreasonable to expect that, this unfortunate situation would not have had an impact on his mind. Adversity and challenges, in different forms and fashion, affects different people in different manners. One person may use this as a motivating factor; another may be affected emotionally, which is understandable.
Q. How can athletes, National Sports Organizations (NSOs), and the Trinidad & Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) work together on preventing future occurrences of such unfortunate experience?
A. In my humble opinion, I believe that in life, there are two (2) important things. Firstly, focus on things you can control; and secondly, the serenity prayer. The assumption people make is that all stake holders have the same objective. I have always found it difficult, when dealing with politicians and politics. Under normal circumstances, the focus of a normal politician is to get elected into power and remain in power. Not all the time, when a person says he has a shared vison, that so-called shared vision, is one of the masses. I hold sport, music and culture in the same bracket. They are the soul of the people.
Somehow, sport does not get the recognition that it deserves. I honestly don’t believe that T&T is serious about sport as we say. It’s part of our culture. Sport always appears to be a past time. I don’t think the society has understood that. So often, we, as a people say that, we are very passionate about sport, but confuse past times and the actual sport itself. Some countries spend US $150 million on their elite sport athletes. I don’t expect T&T to spend that kind of money. But we have to spend a substantial sum of money if we want to get that publicity, implement proper training institutions and ultimately, reap the achievements as a nation. We can no longer see it as an expenditure item. Other countries see it as an investment.
I don’t ever recall on my travels, anyone in the world asking me about the honourable Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader. I could tell you the amount of times I get ask about Ato Boldon, Hasley Crawford and Brian Lara. In India, Brian Lara is the next thing to a deity. How could we pay for that as a country? How do we produce another Hasley Crawford or Keshorn Walcott?
Q. So often, you hear athletes complaining publicly that there is a lack of proper sponsorships or funding to assist in their national and international endeavours. How do you think sports in Trinidad & Tobago can be properly marketed to acquire the necessary funds to assist athletes in their respective sporting discipline?
A. It is up to the NSOs, sport managers and sport leaders. We need to stop the dependency syndrome. Although, I just made the argument of requesting a substantial amount of funds to be dispersed to the sports in this nation, I am saying that, we as a nation should strive to build the brand of sport and advocate for it nationally. Sport administrations and leaders have not done that well in the past. We have to be more creative in our approach.
Q. Your election as TTOC President was the first contested election for 12 years. What’s your take on that?
A. It’s a democracy. In the year 1997, Douglas Camacho invited me to run on his team. I accepted and was elected as an Executive member; I then served as assistant secretary general and Secretary General. All TTOC elected officer holders are subjected to a term limitation with the exception of the Secretary General who has no term limits. But, because I believed in that principle of term limitations, I decided that I was going to step down as Secretary General. What therefore were my options? (1) I could have said thanks for giving me the opportunity to serve and leave or (2) run for the position of president. Mr. Richard Young, who is a well-respected banker and businessman, had the support of Douglas (Camacho) and Larry (Romany), two very good friends of mine who attended CIC (he chuckles). Being a Fatima boy (he laughs), I welcomed that challenge, and here we are today having this interview.
Q. What do you hope to achieve before leaving the office of President of TTOC, in terms of your legacy?
A. As president, I would like to have contributed in making Trinidad & Tobago sport a sector that contributes to the national economy. Furthermore, I would hope that this sector would allow and afford young people, who have the talent and dedication for sport, an opportunity to have a career and be sport entrepreneurs. Around the world, sport is a billion dollar industry. I don’t see why sport as a sustainable, dynamic and viable business sector can’t be developed right here in T&T. For example, we could have a thriving professional football league and so on.
Moreover, I hope I can be the catalyst that sparks this change. Most times, citizens view sport as a past time or a hobby. I would like to be a part of the group of sport leaders that change the way people in T&T view sport. We need to move it from being seen as a past time to be seen as a vibrant and dynamic sector in our national economy. I intend to contribute to putting in place the infrastructure, programmes and systems that will see Trinidad and Tobago win 10 or more Olympic Gold medals by the year 2024.
Q. Do you think you can contribute to the development of the school given your current position?
A. Anytime, Fatima is in need of something, I have no hesitation in offering or volunteering my services. I hold dear to my heart, the belief in principle of giving back. It could be of monetary value or as simple as in service. And, more people in our society should adopt that mantra. It would make our country an even better place. Every year, I enjoy preparing dishes for the Fatima Old Boys’ Cookout. So, this year expect a dish as usual! Hear nah man you could ask Dr. Roger D’Abadie. Whether I am in the country or not, I will ask my wife to drop off my dish (he laughs).
Q. You seem to have a vast knowledge of marketing and branding. If you weren’t the President of TTOC, what field would you see yourself in? (Marketing or maybe Foreign Affairs?)
A. (He laughs) Well, I am insurance broker. I love the idea of helping people. I am passionate about sport because of the powerful difference sport has made in my life. I must admit, growing up without a father, there were some challenging issues for me. In that case, sport became a surrogate father for me. Especially, the men who coached me during my school days became influential in my upbringing. Sport provided that discipline, that a father would have normally provided. I sincerely believe that if it was not for sport, I would not have that direction in my life. I may have succumbed to the temptations I was exposed to as a young man. I made a commitment to God that I would give back through sport and use that avenue to make a positive difference outside of business. And, I am doing that today.
Q. With your heavy workload, what about family life? – Any hobbies?
A. I usually get about four (4) hours of sleep a day. When many people may be sleeping at times, I am up early in the morning sending out and answering emails. I must make mention of my loving wife Sandra, who I am married to for the last 28 years. She is truly an understanding wife. And, without her, I may not fully be able to focus and carry out my work duties in such a high standard. Sandra is the backbone of our family. My wife and I have two (2) loving children Sanian (26) and Aasan (25). Hobbies – I completed the Trinidad marathon 6 times. Granny Luces beat me three or four times. I am a member of the Harvard club. Normally, I walk to Maracas from QRC, as part of my exercise routine once a month. Over this past Easter, in the space of five weeks I walked it four (4) times. I used to love running. Between, rugby and running my knees can no longer stand up to the stress of running so I have to walk instead.
Q. Favourite sport(s)?
A. Believe it or not, I support Fatima College in all of their sporting activities, whether it is rugby, football or cricket. Also, where international football is concerned, I am an Arsenal fan. And, in terms of rugby, I support the New Zealand All Blacks. Lastly, and certainly not least, I support Trinidad & Tobago in anything. It could be sports, music, anything. Once, any ‘Trinbagonian’ passionately represents the red, white and black, they have my full support. Man, I tell you, if Trinidad & Tobago were in the World Cup, I would have supported Trinidad & Tobago and then Brazil in that order (he laughs).
Q. At Fatima, who were your favourite teachers?
A. In school, I didn’t have a favourite teacher per say. However, there were a few teachers that stood out for me. Mr. Ramdass was ‘Mr. Ramdass’ (he laughs). I don’t know any student who passed through Fatima and didn’t have a story to tell about Mr. Ramdass. I remember just a few years ago, I was having a discussion with Mr. Ramdass and he interjected and said “You know you could call me Harry. I am no longer your teacher nor are you my student”. And, in turn I respectfully responded “Sir, I am very sorry I just can’t come to terms with calling you ‘Aye Harry’”.
The strict demeanour that you had in school, to this day, I feel I have to be on my best behaviour at all times around you” (he laughs). Also, there was the late Mr. Joseph. Back in school, we nicknamed him “The Black Shadow”. You never know when Mr. Joseph will sneak up on you in class – especially, if you were being disruptive in class when your teacher stepped away for a brief moment. Mr. Joseph had a ‘supercool’ demeanour about him. Mr. Joseph would have a certain ‘crawl’ or walk, which of course lived up to his strict yet confident manner. There were other teachers such as Mr. Niles, Fr. Powers, Fr. Cochrane and Mr. Pouchet I all admired.
Q. Did Fatima contribute towards making you the man that you are today? What is the most valuable lesson that you have learnt at Fatima?
A. Fatima has always been a huge factor in my life as being one of my treasured experiences. I remember when Sparrow sang the song “School days are happy days”. That saying stands true today. At Fatima, I was like a pig in mud. Like any life experience, there would be trials and many ups and downs. I remember I use to walk from Belmont where i lived to Fatima. And attending Fatima had an unintended impact. Fatima got me into watching horse racing. In those days when I used to walk to school, I would pass by the Queen’s Park Savannah. Those days I would stop by and watch the horses. So, sometimes I would leave home early and go watch the horses, which was a novelty for me. And, it would give me a good excuse to watch the horses before I head to school.
Q. How would you advise a young student at Fatima, reading this newsletter, who may be interested in choosing sport as their discipline because they may have high ambitions on becoming let’s say the next Keshorn Walcott or Ato Boldon or George Bovell?
A. I would tell the present students at Fatima this. It’s a lot of hard work. Do not take it for granted. One must have a determined mind set, and accept no limits. In order to be very successful in sport, an athlete has to be very demanding. So too is studying medicine and law. And in anything you want to be successful in, you have to be very dedicated. What people don’t realize with sport is that they may see the glamour and the reward. However, those same people don’t understand the sacrifices that need to be made in order to be quite successful.
And, to be a top athlete, you have to be resting when your friends are partying. Literally! Because, today, the life span of an athlete is 10 – 12 years. By the age of 35, if you are so lucky to have reached that age and still successful in sport, your career is over. And, don’t feel it will be easy. The discipline in applying yourself in school studies will be the same discipline required in sports.
Q. Any closing remarks?
A. Strive on Fatima boys, strive on!
Interviewers: Stephen Harris and Paul St. Bernard