New Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg, now three weeks into the job, has vowed to a greater focus on the Family Islands, in particular as it relates to coaching and facilities, during his time in office.
Bowleg said it’s through the diamonds in the rough in the islands, and Family Island sporting programs, that the true potential of The Bahamas as a country would be realized. He said we have already seen a semblance of that with the elevation and matriculation of athletes such as World and Olympic Champion Steven Gardiner.
Bowleg was on hand when Gardiner signed a $100,000 deal to become BTC’s latest athletic promoter of its “super-fast” broadband services and the ambassador of its “Elevate What’s Next” campaign last week Tuesday. He’s looking to facilitate the development of Family Island athletes through various programs and initiatives, and also put in place programs that will encompass all three units of the ministry.
“Sports is a lifeline as it relates to developing the youth for the future. What we have to do is get our coaches well-trained and certified in the various techniques in their particular sports. Once that happens, we will be able to get our athletes to perform at a very high level. We have to be able to get high school and club coaches certified and make sure they have the tools that they need. If that doesn’t happen, we will not be able to sustain what we have,” said Bowleg.
“Also, we have to get our facilities up to par, particularly on the Family Islands. That is what is going to help us excel and develop those ‘diamonds in the rough’. We have to put more incentives in place that will allow coaches to go to the various islands and we will do that, and also get facilities there to allow the student-athletes to want to stay there. When we do that, will have more talent coming from the islands.
“With no sports going on, this is the time now for us to get the coaches certified. Once we open back up for competition, then the coaches will be better prepared and able to train the athletes while being certified.”
In three short weeks, Bowleg has been making the rounds, touring and visiting facilities on Grand Bahama, traveling to Miami, Florida, for Mike Strachan’s game with the Indianapolis Colts against the Miami Dolphins, and making a presence at Gardiner’s contract signing.
With an extensive background in basketball, he is obviously passionate about the development and progression of the game here in The Bahamas. Bowleg served as Bahamas Basketball Federation (BBF) president for three years before entering politics and running for the Garden Hills constituency for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), being elected to Parliament, and subsequently being appointed as minister of youth, sports and culture. He said he was saddened by Jonquel Jones’ decision to pledge allegiance to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and play for that nation in international competition.
Jones made headlines this past season in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), winning the coveted Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award among other accolades.
“It was a financial decision and I was BBF president at that time and was responsible for signing that letter that would release her. It was a bittersweet moment but I understood where she wanted to go in her career and what she wanted to do,” said Bowleg. “As a country, we have to make sure that our athletes are treated as best as they can be treated. We have to look at revamping our subvention program, so that they could feel appreciated prior to their success, so that eventually, they would want to stay home and represent their country. We have to do whatever it takes to ensure that our athletes remain prideful and want to stay at home despite the funding that is being offered to them.”
Financial details of the historic signing were never released, and Jones has said repeatedly that she still considers The Bahamas home. She said she is still the VAT-paying, conch-eating Bahamian who everyone knows and has grown to love.
“The European passport allowed me to propel myself financially and competitively, with the only stipulation being that I would no longer be able to play for the Bahamian national team,” said Jones. “I hope that everyone will understand and respect that. I implore the government of The Bahamas to realize, stress, and invest in sports in our country. I challenge them to create an infrastructure that will allow our kids to do it at home.”
Sports tourism is high on the agenda of the new sports minister, and one of the competitions that he is looking at is the world relays. The World Athletics (WA) World Relay Championships was taken from The Bahamas after the government at the time opted not to commit to the price tag that came along with the hosting of the two-day global meet. Bowleg said there has been discussions of possibly bringing the world relays back to The Bahamas.
“The NACAC (North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association) president, Mike Sands, is here in The Bahamas, and one thing that we are all on one accord with, along with the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC), is the hosting of the world relays. We want to these world relays back to The Bahamas. We felt that it was beneficial and a signature event here in The Bahamas, and now we have sufficient time to put the funding in place,” said Bowleg. “I’m sure that the organizers know that the time spent here in The Bahamas was great for them and I believe they will be willing to bring them back once the government commits to hosting it.”
The first three editions of the world relays, in 2014, 2015 and again in 2017, were held at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium here in Nassau, The Bahamas. The 2019 World Relays were held at Yokohama International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, and the 2021 World Relays were held at Silesian Stadium in Chorzów, Poland.
The 2023 World Relays are set for Guangzhou, China.