Backed into a corner financially, the governing body for track and field in the country is making a desperate plea for anyone under the scope of their words to assist them in sending off three teams this summer.
This athletic season, the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA) set an aggressive budget of over $800,000, a significant amount which was earmarked for three regional meets this summer: the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) Age Group Championships; the NACAC Under-18 (U18) and Under-23 (U23) Championships; and the Pan American Under-20 (U20) Athletics Championships.
BAAA President Drumeco Archer said that, with little assistance coming in so far, they are left with their backs against the wall. According to Archer, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture has not agreed to meet with them as yet, following a public outcry during a Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) press conference a few weeks ago.
“We are here to empower the athletes to be the best that they could be. I want to say thank you to the BOC for taking the lead in coming to our defense, but I can’t say that things have gotten better,” said Archer. “After about two weeks into a new administration, we formally communicated with the ministry, asking for a courtesy call and we’ve not gotten that meeting with the ministry as yet. I have an archive of correspondence that I would have communicated to the ministry, and I have not received a proper and promising response with a view to forming stronger relations. The BAAA cannot survive without proper partnerships, and the BAAA certainly cannot survive without the support of the government. We have an obligation to ensure that teams travel. Every time a Bahamian crosses the finish line and throws his or her hands in the air, The Bahamas’ name is featured. Everywhere in the world, they talk about The Bahamas. This country cannot survive without sports. The government is our friend, but they should understand that there are obligations on both sides.”
The Bahamas will send a 19-member team to the NACAC Under-18 and Under-23 Championships in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico, this week. A 15-member team will travel to the Pan American U20 Championships next week, and at the end of the month, The Bahamas is set to be represented by an eight-member team at the NACAC Age Group Championships in San Salvador, El Salvador. Also later this month is the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, which actually comes under the auspices of the BOC, but the track squad is supported to a minor degree by the BAAA.
“We have no money to finance these teams. In spite of all of our appeals, everywhere we have gone, including our government, we have not gotten an audience to have a conversation about the way forward,” said Archer. “Let us remain optimistic. Let us continue to talk about where we are as a country, and let us continue to talk about the power of sports, and at the same time, let us not ignore the big elephant in the room. It is clear that there are those who are not happy with some of the decisions that have been made, but this is our federation and it is our will to make it as great as it has ever been before.”
Archer said that the BAAA is still reeling after spending more than $70,000 to send two relay teams to the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Relay Championships. He said that the decision to send an additional team for the men’s 4×400 meters, and at that price, was based on a directive received from the ministry.
“We sent out a communication in February, stressing to the government what our financial needs were for the year,” said Archer. “We provided them a comprehensive budget of what our expenses would be, and we requested that the government consider funding three primary events for us: underwrite the cost for the CARIFTA Games for which they provided the charter and we thank them for that, underwrite the cost for the world relays because at that time funds weren’t readily available, and the NACAC Under-18 and Under-23 Championships. That added up to about $312,000. As far as the world relays [are] concerned, we were told that if money was the reason why we couldn’t carry more people, don’t let that be a hurdle for us.
“If we don’t take what we do seriously, people will not respect us. I do not want the federation to be the subject of public exposure negatively, but I have no choice. I believe that not only is it unfair for us to write the government, it’s more unfair for us not to get a response. It is totally unfair of any government to deny these athletes an opportunity to pave the way for their careers.
“Using Guatemala as an example, they receive one million dollars that is earmarked for track and field. Guatemala has never won a world championships medal or an Olympic medal, but that one million dollars is the value that they have placed on track and field. The country likes the glory of us winning, but no one sees the importance of making a contribution. We have requested $312,000 to cover those three meets, and all we have gotten so far is the $25,000 grant and the provision of the charter for the CARIFTA Games.”
At one point, the government of The Bahamas’ annual grant to sporting federations was at $80,000. It has trickled downwards from there. Be that as it may, Archer said that they will do what they can to ensure that all of their teams travel to their respective meets this year. The biggest meet for the BAAA this year is the 17th IAAF World Championships, set for September 27 to October 6, in Doha, Qatar.
“Every athlete who qualifies, someway, somehow, we will find a way to make sure that they get to the respective meets,” said Archer. “There was $70,000 earmarked for the summer meets: the NACAC Under-18 and Under-23 Championships, the NACAC Age Group Championships, the Pan-Am Under-20 Atheltic Championships and to a smaller measure the Pan-Am Games. We tried to secure an overdraft, but the overdraft policy has changed. The bank is now requiring three weeks for an approval to take place, and we were made aware of that late, so we missed that. Let me just say that we are indebted to a number of people. One partner, in particular, lent us money for tickets for the NACAC Under-18 and Under-23 team.
“All I ask (of the athletes) is that you carry the banner and agitate for respect for yourselves, your sport and your country. There are people out there who are out to get us, motivated by their own selfish reasons. We can’t allow the chain to be broken because of that. The BAAA should be the ones advising the government, as opposed to those who are anti-BAAA. This government belongs to us, and I hope that they understand that we belong to them as well. This partnership is inseparable. It has always been my vision for The Bahamas to be the basis of a new plan for track and field in this region, and in the world, and I think that we are well on our way.”
Archer said that they are exploring a number of options including staging a live, remote fundraising campaign with the hopes of soliciting funds from the Bahamian community.
He concluded by congratulating Mike Sands and Philippa Arnett-Willie on transformative initiatives this coming week. Sands is one of five candidates running for the NACAC presidency this week, and, if successful, would be the first Bahamian to represent the country at the regional level as NACAC president. Arnett-Willie recently accepted an invitation to be an announcer at the NACAC U18 and U23 Championships, making her debut in that capacity on the international stage.
Of the six regional areas of the IAAF, the NACAC region is arguably the most prolific athletic community, usually generating the largest medal count at both the world championships and the Olympic Games. Sands was forced to step down as vice president in 2015 after Pauline Davis-Thompson ascended to the office of IAAF Council member, as two persons from the same jurisdiction cannot sit on the NACAC board at the same time. With Davis-Thompson having served for 12 years on the IAAF Council, the executive board of the BAAA has approved the application for the NACAC presidency of Sands.
Should Sands win, he would become an automatic council member of the IAAF and would secure tremendous influence for The Bahamas at the regional and international levels. The NACAC Congress is set for today and tomorrow in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico, and the election of officers will follow.
Education: College of The Bahamas, Associates in Accounting