Realizing the importance of getting Bahamian athletes qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games, Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) President Romell Knowles said this is not the time to be reducing subvention for elite athletes and funds previously allocated for sports.
In the latest national budget that was passed in June, subvention to elite athletes was cut by almost $300,000. Sports in general received more than a $5 million reduction. Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle stated in the House of Assembly that given the changing circumstances, more specifically the effects of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19, and the limited financial resources within the country, a portion of the ministry’s funds had to be reallocated. She highlighted that sports still consumes 15 percent of the ministry’s budget.
Sports personnel and enthusiasts still felt like the cuts were unevenly dispersed throughout various government ministries and departments, and in comparison to other commodities, they feel that sports was adversely affected.
With the Olympics being pushed back to 2021, set for July 23 to August 8, still in Tokyo, Japan, Knowles said it is imperative that athletes are compensated to maintain certain fitness levels, pay coaches and pay for supplements and attend training camps, among others. The qualifying period for athletics for the Olympics resumes on December 1.
“It’s so unfortunate that we haven’t been able to meet the competent authority or his representative so that we could collectively work together to see how best we could mitigate the reduction in athletes’ subvention,” said Knowles. “Due to the presence of COVID-19, athletes are entering a pivotal period when their training must be at an ultimate level. They are at the point where they are incurring an additional year of expenses, which is very challenging for most of our athletes. At this time, we want to make an appeal with the competent authority to sit down with us and discuss our concerns.”
Knowles said the athletes are doing as best as they can given the circumstances, but would undoubtedly experience challenges in their preparation for 2021. He is again calling for a meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and Minister Rolle, or a representative, to see how best they could supplement subvention for athletes for the 2020-2021 fiscal period.
“The elite athletes need that money to continue training – there is no way around that,” said Knowles. “Additionally, we are very concerned about our college athletes – those who would have to come home because they are not attending classes on campus. That college training is vital to their development and success. There would be a significant change in their training routine with them being so close to their coaches. Also, coming back home and having to supplement their own training, their cost would no doubt escalate.”
Be that as it may, Knowles said the BOC remains steadfast in assisting athletes not on subvention or Olympic scholarships through its welfare commission. The current Olympic cycle has been stretched to 2021, but moving ahead into the 2024 period, Knowles said they are working aggressively and will announce the first wave of scholarship recipients in short order.
“We’re moving ahead despite what is going on with COVID-19. Sports must continue,” said Knowles. “For this period, we remain optimistic that our athletes will perform at a very high level. When it comes to representing the country, I can tell you that they are excited, motivated and they are going to give it their all. We’re not pressuring them at this time, but rather to do the best they can and represent the country as best as they can and if that lands them on the podium in Tokyo, then obviously we’ll be excited for them and excited for the country. Once the all clear is given and we could get back to some state of normalcy, I believe that you will see our athletes put in the work and they will rise to the occasion.”
So far, just six Bahamians have qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games – all in athletics. They are Shaunae Miller-Uibo in both the women’s 200 and 400 meters (m), Steven Gardiner in the men’s 400m, Tynia Gaither in the women’s 100 and 200m, Samson Colebrooke in the men’s 100m, Pedrya Seymour in the women’s 100m hurdles and Jamal Wilson in the men’s high jump. Laura Morley and Joanna Evans have achieved “B” cut qualifying times in swimming in the 200m breast and 400m free events respectively.
The postponed Olympic Games is now about a year away.