From humble beginnings as a young up-and-coming athlete from Bain Town all the way to the top spot of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC), Mike Sands has come a long way in his athletics career, and is now looking forward to making inroads for Bahamian track and field, and on a wider scale, the entire region, from the NACAC presidency.
Sands was voted in as NACAC president on July 2 in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico – a day after his 66th birthday. As president, he is now in one of the highest sports administrative positions ever held by a Bahamian, and it comes with an automatic seat on the council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) – the world’s governing body for athletics.
Sands said he is humbled by the vote of confidence reposed in him by the member bodies of NACAC and is looking forward to getting to work on behalf of The Bahamas and all 31 federations in the region.
He sat down with the Nassau Guardian yesterday and gave an initial assessment of the task at hand and some of the issues he intends to tackle immediately with the help of his administrative team. More than 50 percent of the new executive team are women, with Catherine Jordan of Barbados being elected as vice president, Stephanie Hightower of the United States being voted in as treasurer and Cydonie Mothersill of the Cayman Islands, Calixto Sierra of Honduras, Evelyn Farrell of Aruba and Howard Cornelius of Antigua & Barbuda all being elected as members at large. The new board will serve for the next four years.
In the final round of voting for the president’s chair, Sands prevailed over the incumbent treasurer of NACAC, Alain Pierre of Haiti, 14-12.
“I’ve been in the business of sports for many years – first as an athlete and then as an administrator. I felt that the next step in my sports administrative career was to seek the office of the presidency of NACAC. I made application through the BAAA (Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations) for nomination for this position, and I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity,” said Sands. “Obviously, I’m humbled and very grateful to the BAAA for providing that opportunity to me. I’m also very grateful to the member federations throughout the region for their confidence in me and to the persons who would have assisted in campaign funds. I have huge shoes to fill and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a huge step for me, and I’m proud to be the first Bahamian to serve in this capacity. I will always carry The Bahamas’ flag proudly. Notwithstanding that, I have to be mindful that I serve a wider community, and that wider community has to be without prejudice. I have to administer a balancing act to ensure that all of the member federations are treated with equality to the best of the ability and resources of NACAC.”
Sands’ scope of responsibility will cover track and field giants such as the United States of America (USA), Canada, Mexico and Jamaica just to name a few. He succeeds Victor Lopez of Puerto Rico who didn’t seek re-election. Sands said he dedicates the victory to his friend and mentor, the late Dr. Bernard Nottage, who was a pioneer administrator for The Bahamas in track and field in this region. Nottage served as president of the Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (CACAC) during his sports administrative career, and was the lead spokesperson in the “one nation, one vote” agenda that was passed in at the IAAF Congress in 1987.
“Obviously, I would owe a lot to Dr. Nottage. He paved the way for up-and-coming administrators like myself,” said Sands. “When you look at my campaign, I would say that it was a very interesting one. It was relatively expensive and for the most part, it was self-funded. There were some stalwarts who are giants in the field. Alain Pierre of Haiti has been around for a number of years, and as you mentioned, he was the sitting treasurer of NACAC. He was also an interim president of NACAC and he has served in various capacities. There were also Dr. Warren Blake from Jamaica and Ephraim Serrette from Trinidad & Tobago as well as Claudia Perez out of Mexico. It was a dynamic field.
“I took a different approach – one that I felt would work to my advantage. It was more of a personal campaign where I took the time to individually speak to each member federation, whether through telephone calls, WhatsApp messages or e-mails, or even face-to-face in person. I did a lot of personal visits – going down to Central America and the countries in the Caribbean a few times. I was constantly communicating with them, sharing my vision for NACAC with the hope that the member bodies would buy into my vision, and fortunately, most of them did. Now, the work has just begun.”
In terms of that vision, Sands said that there are a number of things that need to be addressed immediately.
“There is a big challenge for us ahead,” said Sands. “There are some concerns about the IAAF ranking system and there are some concerns about the number of meets that are happening in Europe as compared to the number of meets that are happening in this region. One of the things that we are going to address very quickly is how can we get more meets on this side of the world, whether they are area permit meets or competitions in general. At the end of the day, we might not be able to get some of the top tier athletes but there is a second tier of athletes who need competition. It is my intention and the intention of my administration to develop a circuit in our region to ensure that our athletes have as much competitions as possible.
“Here in The Bahamas we have shown that we could put on world-class meets. The Chris Brown meet is a perfect example. With the support of all hands on deck, we could do it again. The idea is to make all of the meets more palatable for area athletes to compete in. There are some meets that are in place now that we will be reviewing. The idea is to revive those meets and make those meets more attractive, because we are in the business of promoting track and field.”
The Chris Brown Bahamas Invitational (CBBI) was a one-day track and field extravaganza that attracted some of the best athletes in the region to the shores of The Bahamas. It was held near the beginning of the outdoor athletics season in 2013 and again in 2016.
As far as the relocation of the NACAC office from Puerto Rico to The Bahamas is concerned, Sands said that is something that will have to be discussed in consultation with others, and something that will require the support of the government of The Bahamas.
“It is traditional that the office of NACAC resides in the domicile of the president, but it would only be natural that we take an economic and constructive look at the relocation of the office,” said Sands. “There is currently staff at the office in Puerto Rico, and I will do a visit there in short order to do an assessment. There are certain concessions that the government of Puerto Rico has given NACAC in relation to the office being in Puerto Rico.
Obviously, I have a responsibility to first have a discussion with my minister and my government to first of all, determine the way forward and to share with them my vision for NACAC. That will be done with the view and expectation that we will form a partnership that will make it very palatable for all of us in the best interest of The Bahamas and the NACAC organization.”
Sands has been involved in track and field for over half of a century, either as an athlete, an enthusiast or an administrator. Following his retirement from sprinting in 1981, he moved into the administrative sphere of the sport, starting out as public relations officer for the former Bahamas Amateur Athletic Association, now Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA). Sands eventually ascended to the position of BAAA president where he served two consecutive terms. He also served as a vice president of the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) and as a vice president of NACAC.
Sands was forced to step down as a vice president of NACAC in 2015 after Pauline Davis-Thompson was re-elected as an IAAF Council member, as two persons from the same jurisdiction cannot sit on the NACAC board at the same time.
Davis-Thompson’s position as IAAF Council member automatically gives her a position on the NACAC board. With the Bahamian legendary athlete having served for 12 years on the IAAF Council, the executive board of the BAAA decided to approve the application for the NACAC presidency of Sands this time around, and he was successful.
“Pauline has done The Bahamas well as an athlete and as the first woman of color on the IAAF Council. She has served us well and I wish her nothing but success in her future endeavors,” said Sands. “We all have our wishes and our aspirations, but unfortunately the constitution clearly states that no two members of the same federation could serve at the same time. My focus was on the NACAC office as it was in 2015. I was successful in being voted in as a vice president of NACAC in 2015, but unfortunately for me, I had to bide my time with Pauline serving on the IAAF Council. I gave it another shot this year, and I was successful. It just so happens that this position automatically comes with a seat on the IAAF Council. It’s the way it is and I accept it with grace and humility.”
Of the six regional area associations of the IAAF, NACAC is arguably the most prolific athletic community, usually generating the largest medal count at both the world championships and the Olympic Games. Sands would directly oversee athletics in the North American, Central American and Caribbean region. Sands would also secure tremendous influence for The Bahamas at the regional and international levels.
The Bahamian trailblazer said he is honored to be the first Bahamian to serve in this capacity and is looking forward to continuing the legacy of NACAC.
Education: College of The Bahamas, Associates in Accounting