Sports

Elite athletes asking for jobs, subvention

The financial cesspit in which the country found itself in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic and on the tail end of Hurricane Dorian, certainly had its effect on sports as that ministerial allocation received one of the biggest cuts of the 2020-2021 national budget, suffering more than a $5 million reduction. Subvention, in particular, was reduced by about $300,000.

Feeling the effects, and also with a job shortage in sports, a number of athletes are voicing their displeasure with the current state of affairs.

Wesley Neymour, 32, said he isn’t even looking to be placed back on subvention at this time. He simply wants a job in sports to facilitate his transition from track and field into the workforce. Neymour has represented the country regionally and internationally for 11 years, and has won many medals. He has personal best times of 21.27 seconds in the 200 meters (m), 45.54 seconds in the 400m and 1:50.56 in the 800m, and has represented The Bahamas as high as the world outdoor championships.

“We’re just asking for them to take care of their people – to take care of the athletes who represented this country for so many years,” said Neymour. “I’ve been writing the government through the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, trying to get a job for the past three to four years. I’ve represented the country for over a decade and now I need help. I’m giving it my all and trying my best to make it work but at the end of the day, I have a family to support.”

Neymour, who is still actively looking to represent The Bahamas at this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, said he applied for a sports officer position in the ministry but to no avail.

“It’s frustrating, but I’m hanging in there. I’m training and trying to stay focused. I’m dedicated to my country and have been for a long time. I would just like some type of support,” he said. “With the sports director (Timothy Munnings), he used to be an athlete, so I would expect him to do a better job in looking out for the athletes because he knows what we went through. It’s just unfortunate that they are not appreciating the athletes at this time.”

Unfathomably, Stephen “Dirty” Newbold was taken off subvention at a time when he was looking to make one of his biggest breakthroughs in track and field. He came up through the system as a promising junior athlete who flourished locally, regionally and internationally. He is still looking to realize his full potential on the senior side, but was a member of The Bahamas’ Olympic team in 2016, winning a bronze medal as a part of the men’s 4x400m relay team. To date, Newbold holds the junior national record in the 400m, a time of 45.94 seconds at the 2013 CARIFTA Games in Nassau, Bahamas.

“We knew that this was going to be a rough year because of the pandemic and all of that, but when you have Olympic athletes being cut from subvention, recurring medalists, that’s a serious problem. Just to be sent a letter telling you thanks for your service and your achievements over the years when you feel like you’re still in the prime of your career and still able to contribute, that’s a major blow,” he said. “There is a sports policy that is not being followed. Additionally, what is that saying to the youth of the country who aspire to follow in our footsteps? They pay attention to how we are being treated. This is the reason why a lot of young athletes quit the sport – we are losing a lot of them.”

Newbold, 26, said he was never given a reason for being cut from the subvention program, and it was particularly discouraging for him seeing that he worked so hard to get to that level. During this Olympic cycle, Newbold has represented the country at the Commonwealth Games, the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), now World Athletics (WA) World Relays.

“I just want my subvention back because there really is no reason as to why I was cut in the first place, and even with the subvention I was getting, it was just at the first level after winning an Olympic medal,” he said. “Us athletes, we’re just looking for better treatment – that’s all. We’re not asking for any handouts or special favors. We represented this country for a number of years and just want some support at the end of the day.”

Newbold, who has personal best times of 10.99 seconds in the 100m, 20.76 seconds in the 200m and 45.80 seconds in the 400m, said he will continue to train hard and go out there and represent The Bahamas as best he can.

“I’ve already experienced blood, sweat and tears for this place and there’s no way I’m going to give up just like that. We are warriors and we will keep it going no matter what,” he said.

Jamal “Maaly” Wilson is still an elite high jumper not just here in The Bahamas but around the world. He is one of just six Bahamians to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Wilson matched a personal best height of 2.30m (7’ 6-1/2”) outdoors last year, and set a new personal best of 2.33m (7’ 7-3/4”) indoors.

Wilson, 32, is calling for more support for sports in general across the board. 

“Now is the time to look at sports more seriously. This is a means to bring value to the country because sports is so vast and one of those commodities that really benefits the country,” said Wilson. “For me, personally, if it wasn’t for track and field, I wouldn’t have gone to college to get an education, so I have sports to thank for that. I don’t want to be one of those athletes who sit back and be comfortable because there are so many opportunities out there through sports. I’m blessed to be in the position that I’m in, but there are too many sad faces walking around the track and we could fix that. We always think of it from a money standpoint, but when you look at the resources, we need access to the stadium, the weight room, ice baths, and just have ways to get ourselves recovered. Elite athletes, more than anyone else, need the weight room and the and ice baths on a regular basis.

“Also, there are a lot of young athletes who deserve to be on developmental status. Instead of adding money to the pot, we are taking it away. These are the young athletes who are going to be running the country in the future, so we have to show them respect and show them that we appreciate what they’re doing.”

Wilson, who has been competing internationally for 16 years, ever since he was a junior athlete, is one of the fortunate athletes to still be in the government’s subvention program. His results truly speak for themselves, tying for the best jump in the world indoors and the third-best jump outdoors a year ago.

“Even now, we are still highly underpaid and underappreciated,” he said. “To receive word that I was going to be cut after jumping a world lead, really puts it into perspective. Thankfully, I didn’t get cut, but at the same time, just to hear that makes you wonder what am I fighting for. I’m just looking forward to 2021, trying to win an Olympic gold medal and start a business venture that could set myself up post-track and field and and also to help develop young athletes, so that they could be prepared for the future. I just want to do my part to keep myself and others secured.”

Echoing their sentiments, former National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Champion in the men’s 400m, indoors and outdoors, Andretti Bain, said it’s unfortunate the current climate surrounding sports in the country and wishes for a speedy resolution. A number of developing and elite athletes have been dropped from the subvention program this budget cycle.

“This is disappointing and it’s been happening for some time now. I would definitely like to see more support for the athletes, those who are still competing and those who are ending their careers and are transitioning for life after track and field,” said Bain. “We have a lot of talent, and a lot of that has wasted away because of a lack of support. I experienced both sides, but I have never complained. I’ve always stayed true to my beliefs and not allow anyone dictate or determine my outcome. These athletes out there, they need that support, even if it’s a career opportunity for when they transition from the sport. These guys have a lot of talent and lot of knowledge and experience. Even if their times are done as athletes, they could provide motivation and inspiration through coaching.”

Bain, 35, was removed from the subvention program nine years ago, and after a three-year hiatus from track and field, he is fully recovered from an Achilles injury he suffered in 2017 and is looking to make this year’s Olympic team.

“I was still going out there making teams and winning medals, and I found a way to start a business, so that I could keep my career alive. A lot of these guys are not in that same position, so I’m trying as best as I could to support them,” he said. “A lot of these guys devoted their entire youth to representing this country. Some never had the opportunity to go off to college and get degrees, but yet they were on the track representing The Bahamas at the highest levels. If you believe that you still have that fire and are still able to go out there and compete, then go out there and just shock everyone. It’s all about getting back on the track and performing.”

Bain tore his Achilles at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2017, right after the third edition of the world relays in The Bahamas.

“I didn’t get any support from the federation and the government after I tore my Achilles. I took on my own medical expenses,” said Bain. “I’m finally back this year and trying to make a return for the Olympics. What kept me going was the support I was getting from my teammates, and also Coach Miller (Shaun Miller from Bahamas Speed Dynamics) and Coach Cash (former track athlete Demaris Cash). They always encouraged me to go back at it.”

Bain said it’s obvious that funds are available in the country but they are being disbursed elsewhere as opposed to athlete subvention and sporting programs.

“Sports does so much for the country. I see where funds are allocated to different organizations and different programs, which don’t bring back nearly the returns that sports does,” he said. “With sports, that is marketing on a global scale that the country really can’t pay for. Also, sports is something positive and healthy for a lot of the youth. We’re in a time when things are rough and the way out for a lot of athletes is through sports. We just want to see sports compensated. We would like to see the government putting more emphasis in promoting sports because sports is not funded on the level that it should be. The government could do a lot more.”

The sports ministry was one of the hardest hit in the budget allocation for the 2020-2021 fiscal period. Whereas, a major reduction was expected given the nature of Hurricane Dorian and the ensuing global disaster of COVID-19, sports personnel and enthusiasts felt like the cuts were unevenly dispersed throughout various government ministries and departments. In comparison to other commodities, they feel that sports was adversely affected.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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