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An interview with the Honorable Anil Roberts who was first elected to the House of Representatives on Monday May 24, 2010 as the Member for D’Abadie/O’Meara. He was appointed Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs on May 29, 2010, and subsequently the Minister of Sport from 27 June, 2011 to present.
Q: What is your best memory of Fatima College?
A: One of my greatest memories is actually before I entered Fatima. I entered in 1980 but in 1979, Fatima won the North Intercol Championship and the National Intercol Title. My brother, Ronald Roberts entered in 1979. Fatima played three men in defense long before the world understood this diamond-shaped playing. Fatima did it with Garnet Craig, Graham Rodriguez, Corneal, the Netto Brothers, Kenwin “Bum” Nancoo…it was incredible.
The game had to be played over three times. The first one, Fatima lost in the Oval 2 – 1 but the referee had played too much time, then they went to CIC ground and they were leading 3 – 1 but John D managed to come back in the last 20 mins to draw the match 3 – 3. Eventually we overcame them 2 – 0, and then beat St. Augustine in the national final 2 – 1.
That was one of the greatest memories. Obviously getting into Fatima on the first day was a great memory. Within the first week, I had a good fight with Scott Rodriguez who has since become my number one friend and the godfather of my daughter.
Q: How many children do you have?
A: Two: Rebecca-Marie and Adam Martin Roberts who is now at Fatima.
Q: Were Fatima days the best days?
A: Best days! Greatest days! The greatest friendships! The best attributes that I have, came from Fatima. I do not reach late for anything. If I am late, I will call you ahead and let you know that I will be 7 ½ minutes late or 8 minutes late. That came from 1987, when we were playing for the first eleven and Scott Rodriguez and I were striking. Colin Murray was the coach and we were about to win the North Zone with three games to spare and we had a big game on Fatima ground against Mucurapo Senior Comp. I was sick that day and I called my mother who was an attorney and she said that she will come home and bring me. I said “listen, Colin Murray don’t like people reaching late so I would travel”. She insisted that she would come…to cut a long story short, I reached 13 minutes late and ran into the form six block where the team meets before going across for home game. Of course, I apologized, “Colin! Coach Coach, I sorry!” and I had started to dress and put on my boots.
He started to write the team from the goalkeeper come up. So he wrote Christopher Saga, come up…Sean Ramdoo was our captain, through the midfield. He went to the forwards and he put S. Rodriguez and then after I expected to see A. Roberts. I saw an ‘A’ and I relaxed and continued to fix my boots, but by the time I looked up, I saw A. John. So, I was walking across to the field. The students lined the driveway, straight across the road and I walking across the field with one boot tied and one boot untied, one shin pad on, one shin pad off in a state of total amazement that in this major game this coach had the audacity to bench me. There were students shouting to me “Roberts we want two today!” They didn’t know that I got benched. They started the game and I stood up. I didn’t sit on the bench.
Mucurapo were playing all around us. I think they went up 1 – 0 before the half. When the team was in the changing room, I went in but did not sit down. I was jogging and sweating, hoping that the coach, having made his point would see that I was ready. After the 15-minute break, he decided that he was going back out the same way. He benched me again. The crowd was saying, “put on Roberts” and of course I was encouraging them to shout and say it. This Colin Murray…madman, with the team down 1 – 0 and the first North Zone title at stake since 1979 refused to put me on with the time ticking down. Eventually, with 12 minutes to go, he told me to warm up. I retorted, “I warm!” He put me on. The ball was gone and it was a throw-in on the riverside (east side). As they put me on, I sprinted across and won the ball, knocked it to Scott and he knocked it back. He screamed out, “Don’t Shoot!”
In my mind, I remembered that clearly and I thought that he had to be mad. I let go one bullet, straight up in the ‘V’. One-all. I picked up the ball and put it back. With 6 minutes to go, Scott Rodriguez crossed the ball to me and I headed it straight into the corner, 2 – 1; we won. I scored those two goals within 12 minutes. When that final whistle blew, I ran across by Colin Murray to rub it in his face, “look boy, you can’t bench me…look what happen! I am the man!” When I was done, Colin Murray looked at me very calmly and said, “you shall never be late in your life again” and so said, so done.
Q: Did you play any other sports at Fatima?
A: Table-tennis, swimming. I was on the National Swimming team. Mr. Harry Ramdass could tell you about the major fights he had with my mother. I used to have to go football practice from 3 o’clock to about 5.30 and then do swimming from 5.30 or 6 o’clock to 8 pm. That lady would sit down in her sari and watch me train and if I lapsed, slowed down, missed a repetition, there would be no more football. Sometimes I would have cramp in both legs but I’d just keep going because I would refuse to let that lady say no more football. She would argue with the under-14 football coach, Mr. Ramdass and say in her Malaysian accent, “If my son get injured, I would deal with you.”
Q: How instrumental was Fatima in creating the person you are today?
A: Absolutely! Whatever good there is in me came from Fatima – the passion that we know, the caring about people, the willingness to help. I think the maxim, to whom much is given, much is expected, comes out of Fatima. The brotherhood and the camaraderie are absolutely phenomenal.
Q: What did you pursue after leaving Fatima?
A: I left Fatima in 1985, went and did A’ Levels in Millfield School, Somerset, England, then returned in ’87 to do Form 6, where I took another A’ Level, Accounts and repeated Economics and played football. My parents were trying to save my swimming career in England and I ended up being the only athlete that ever swam for the first team at Millfield School and played football. I ended up giving up the swimming and playing football out there, then returned to Fatima because I had missed out on two years of playing First Eleven.
Q: How did your mother feel about you not going forward with swimming?
A: Well, even though I was in swimming, I had my passion for football. Eventually, after my mom saw that Fatima football went well, and that I was really passionate about it, she accepted that. I ended up getting a scholarship for football, playing for the National U-19 team. Same thing with law…I eventually stopped doing law after pursuing my first degree and decided to become the first professional swimming coach in the English speaking Caribbean. She obviously thought I was mad, because swim coaching had no money in it but eventually after a lot of fighting, she said that if you are doing that, you have to become the most qualified and the best in the world. So, in 1995, I got a level 5 Senior World Swim Coaches Association accreditation and an American Swim Coaches Association Level Five Senior accreditation, becoming the first English-speaking coach in the Caribbean to get that. My mother was the kind of person who will fight you but if you going to do something; she will support you 100%.
Q: Did you pursue anymore academic qualifications?
A: I did my Masters in Business Administration from Herriot-Watt University, which is another funny story. My mother had signed me up for this through SBCS in about 1998 and we had a big fall out because I wanted to know why she spent her money when I insisted that I was not going to do it. Quite funnily, some years later I was on radio and TV doing Spalk, on Power 102 and writing for the Guardian when I decided that I wanted to do a little extra. I went quietly and signed up to do my MBA and when she found out, you saw the pride and happiness she got. It was a good decision to do it, because being a Minister and a Member of Parliament now it is very useful. I would say that I finished and graduated right on time. I had my graduation ceremony in April, when Manning called election. By May 25th, I was an MP and by May 28th, I was the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs.
Q: Were there any teachers that impacted you in Fatima?
A: Plenty! Harry Ramdass…he sent me for lix three times in five minutes in Form 3. He was there with me in Football and Cricket. I didn’t play cricket much but when Lara was training and we finished training for football, he would call us over to help us bowl at Brian. Brian would stay in the nets 4 hours straight. Normally, Harry would usually say to the cricketers to bat 6 overs and come out but Lara was coming out only if you out him. He would bat whole evening. Harry would let us pelt the ball at him and all without bowling action. It was madness.
Mr. Romero…I think I still have the record. He beat me three times in five minutes when Harry sent me. My hand was burning so much, I had to open the metal door handle with my elbow because I couldn’t grasp it. We were the second year of streaming in form 3 and I think that because of us Mr. Moore was considering stopping it. Every report card I received from Form 1 to Form 5, every teacher would write that I was too talkative or a bit too talkative. Well I could tell you that the talking really helped me out. If I couldn’t talk, I wouldn’t have been doing so well on radio, Spalk and even in Parliament. They tried to get me to shut up but they still haven’t succeeded up to now.
Other teachers that impacted me are Mr. Sunderji, Mr. Garcia, Mrs. Hubbard, Mrs. Marin, Mr. Roach, Mrs. Humphrey, Mrs. Camps, Mr. Niles, Mr. Marquez (Coach), Mr. Moore as
principal and Mr. Pantin. Mr. Pantin’s legacy was very powerful at the school even though he had alreadyhe had already retired.
Q: What is your proudest moment (both at Fatima and period)?
A: My proudest moment was completing my MBA in record time and Olympic 2004 Bronze medal for George Bovell.
My proudest moment in Fatima…hmm…I could tell you the most disappointing moment. It was after destroying Dwight Yorke and Colvin Hutchinson at Shaw Park in Tobago, 1987 in the big seven and then only requiring a draw against St. Mary’s College who were last in the big seven while we were at the top. After 5 games, with only one game to play, after beating Signal Hill 2 – 0 in Tobago, where the Tobagonians ended up shouting “Fatima” and singing our song because we really performed. Over-confidence took over throughout our team. We went out on St. Mary’s grounds and Kona Hislop proceeded to pound four on us and Barry Roach scored the fifth. We lost 5 – 0, handing the National Big Seven Title to Dwight Yorke and Signal Hill, who beat us by one point.
Q: As you mentioned those harsh memories, are there any unfinished items on your bucket list?
A: Plenty…Olympic Gold…not for me as an athlete but as the coach.
Every few months, I still have a little niggling desire to go and do the Law. It doesn’t hit me all the time but once every quarter, so one of these times I might do it because I know that would really please my mother.
Q: What is your typical day like?
A: Get up at 4 o’ clock, coach George Bovell, 5 – 7 am when he is here. Hit the office; go through all these files (pointing towards a large stack of files on his desk) with Mr. Keller, my adviser. I have countless meetings…as you found out; sometimes I have to keep people waiting. I would like to have a little exercise started back and take a sweat with the boys three times for the week. I try to go to the constituency every Tuesday to meet constituents. We might meet about 128 of them every Tuesday, then every Saturday, I try to take a walk-about to ensure the projects are going and so on. I have my cabinet duties on Thursdays and Parliament on Fridays. Of course, I love the Parliamentary debates. I think Fatima prepared us very well for debating.
Q: What led you to getting involved in politics?
A: I was born into it. Law and politics are always intrinsically linked. My parents were involved, whether it was the Tapia movement of the 70s or PNM. My father was a PNM and my mother was originally a Tapia who converted to the PNM and just before her death in 2008, she was on the verge of converting to my party, the COP. My father, Al Roberts and my mother, Patricia Roberts were two brilliant attorneys, then my older brother Ronald and my younger brother, Shastri are also lawyers. If you sat down in our porch at home with them and were unable to debate and present a point-of-view, it was best you went to sleep, because debates used to be furious, fast; point after point you had to have evidence and be factual. No ole-talk. We used to discuss things into the wee hours of the morning…all 3 o’clock 4 o’clock in Newbury Hill debating.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up first in Maracas Valley from 1972 to 1980 but when we came down to Fatima, to ensure that we could do our morning training, we moved to Newbury Hill in Glencoe, Pt. Cumana. Coming down from the East had become a bit too much.
Q: What is your vision for your current portfolio and how are you going to make positive change in our beloved country?
A: We would do the infrastructure development. In my opinion, that is very easy and basic, although nobody has done it. We have the aquatic centre, the cycling veledrome, the tennis centre; we are going to put an auto sport facility, continue to improve the regional centres: there are nine that are going to be completed in the next fourteen months. We have one hundred and five recreation grounds. That is the easy part. That is the infrastructural works.
The legacy I would like to leave is (1), the Life Sport programme, a crime-fighting initiative which captures the young people who were not captured by the Fatimas and the Primary Schools and Secondary Schools. It is aimed to bring them from the outskirts into mainstream society and make them productive. I must commend the Prime Minister and Larry Howai for seeing the benefits and pumping the funds through the Sport Company and Life Sport Committee to ensure that that leaves a long-lasting legacy for Trinidad and Tobago.
The second thing is to improve the intellectual capital of the country in Sport, in coaching, psychology, sports medicine, sports science, sports management. We only have to hope that a great Fatima athlete comes up; that a Brian Lara comes from Santa Cruz and through Fatima is the world’s greatest, that Ato Boldon comes from Fatima and gets four Olympic medals and a World Championship gold, that George Bovell went to Fatima. You knew George Bovell went to Fatima? Yes, passed common entrance for Fatima and after Form two, he left and went abroad. We have to stop hoping that by parents and by fluke, Trinidad and Tobago can get success. We need to have the coaches at different growth and maturational stages who know how to identify talent, develop it correctly and ensure that children can fulfill their dreams. We are moving to certify coaches across the board, working with both Public and Private Sector.
We would also like to diversify the economy. You would notice that for the first time sport was mentioned as a critical area in the budget. That’s like where in Couva, we are creating a growth pole, where we have the Balmain cricket centre, the Ato Boldon track and field and football stadium. We are putting the aquatic centre, the cycling veledrome and the auto sport facility right there. That will engender the private sector to invest and put hotels, restaurants, banking facilities. It will develop the area and provide opportunities. There’s also Sport Tourism. We would like for there to be Sport Fishing in Tobago for example. We would expect that sport would be able to contribute at least 2% to the GDP within 5 – 10 years.
Q: What have been your major challenges since being in office?
A: Oh gosh, plenty! Dutch disease because of oil and gas. Lack of value for money. Sometimes it would seem like I’m having a fight with one or two of the associations. It is not a fight. Once everybody follows the rules, procedures, account properly for funds and can show that the development programmes are working, that the money is being spent properly…simple.
Another challenge is the way the wheels turn slowly. We are solving the problems though. We have some good people around the Ministry and the Sport Company now. We have accountability. We have the audit reports done now, the AGM. All these things weren’t done. The last audit before this Gov’t came in was done in 2005. We just recently completed the audit reports from 2005 to 2010. 2011 is coming. There weren’t AGMs. There weren’t Articles of Association. It was absolutely ridiculous. We are very happy we are doing this now so that we can account for people’s money. Another thing Fatima has thought us is to never play the fool with what is not yours and tax payers dollars are not ours, therefore there is no friend in dealing with the people’s money…not with Anil Roberts. You must be able to account for the people’s money.
Q: Do you miss Spalk?
A: Boy, I miss it. I wish I could do it right now but they say you could only be a Minister. Anyway, I don’t plan to start it back but I’m looking for somebody who could start it up because I expect this Gov’t to be in power for 25 years. Maybe I’ll do Grandpa Spalk.
Q: Does the Fatima motto inspire you when you are having your challenges?
A: Of course! That is what we are about. We don’t ever give up. Anytime you think about giving up, you suck it up and be a man and move forward. You always have your friends and your support system and listen to people. That’s a thing you learned in Fatima. You don’t ever know everything. As a coach, even though I have achieved great success, I do not know everything. I will listen and learn from anybody, even the most junior athlete or a young child. Whoever says something, if it makes sense, you move to suit.
Q: Any closing comments?
A: No! Fatima is the greatest!