A little over six months after being elected to the highest position in athletics in this region, Bahamian Mike Sands had his moment in the sunshine yesterday, as the headquarters of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) was officially opened at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium here in The Bahamas.
New NACAC President Sands, and The Bahamas in general, stands tall in regional athletics. It’s the first time that a Bahamian is at the helm of the NACAC organization in its 32-year history, the first time that the NACAC headquarters will be stationed in The Bahamas, and once again, a Bahamian is serving on the council of the world’s governing body for athletics – a position that automatically comes with the presidency of NACAC which is one of six area associations of World Athletics. It started with Alpheus “Hawk” Finlayson being elected to the council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), now World Athletics, in 1999, and continued with Pauline Davis-Thompson serving in that capacity from 2007 to 2019. Now, it’s Sands’ time on the council as NACAC President.
On hand for the historic moment yesterday was none other than World Athletics President Lord Sebastian Coe. Also present were Sands’ predecessor as
president Victor Lopez of Puerto Rico, elected NACAC council members, local and regional federation heads, Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) executive members and family and friends of Sands.
Representing the Government of The Bahamas was Minister of Youth Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle.
NACAC is the youngest of the six area associations of World Athletics and arguably the most productive at the world championships and the Olympics. The 31-member region usually accounts for about 20 gold medals at global outdoor meets. At last year’s Doha World Championships in particular, athletes from the NACAC region won 20 of the 49 gold medals that were up for grabs. In the mix was Bahamian Steven Gardiner who won the gold medal in the men’s 400 meters (m) in a new national record, going down in history as the sixth-fastest of all-time. Athletes from NACAC also established seven world records last year.
“Today is a historic day for The Bahamas,” said Sands who has been involved in track and field for over half of a century. “I just want to thank the membership for reposing their confidence in me to lead this body over the next several years. This is just the second time that the headquarters of NACAC will be in an English-speaking country with the other being under the presidency of the late Neville ‘Teddy’ McCook of Jamaica. The Bahamas is one of the smaller members of the NACAC family, but it’s not the size of the country that matters, but the genuine commitment of its people who hone their talents in pursuit of excellence in their athletic endeavors that allow The Bahamas to be recognized as a global power in sports. Bahamians are true lovers of sports. The entire sporting fraternity of The Bahamas stand in solidarity at this moment.”
An emotional Sands recounted the contribution and role of others, particularly that of his mentor the late Dr. Bernard “BJ” Nottage, that eventually led to him ascending all the way to presidency of NACAC. He said through the continued backing and support of World Athletics and the membership of NACAC, he and his administration will continue to plot the way forward toward sustainable growth of the sport of athletics in this region. The new NACAC board has staged a number of meetings over the last three days alone.
“I’m very appreciative of the commitment of the Government of The Bahamas in their presence here, and also through the provision of this office space at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium which I believe is one of the best stadiums in this region,” said Sands. “I’m very thankful of the support of World Athletics led by Lord Sebastian Coe. NACAC will continue to support you (Coe) and the council at World Athletics as we move forward to new strategies and pathways and continue the work of those before us in this noble undertaking.
“The athletes are the entire focus of our sport and will play a major role in the future of our area. Our coaches and technical officials will receive due attention and women will continue to be equal partners of our work. We have to continue to build on the rich legacy of those who came before us who paved the way. It’s going to be challenging, but I am satisfied to know that I have the full support of persons in this organization. I am excited and delightfully proud of achievements of NACAC athletes on the global stage. We will continue to follow the footsteps that have been set for us and we look forward to continued support.”
Bringing remarks, Coe said any organization that doesn’t account for its history properly is an organization that has little or no future ahead of it.
“Our history is important, and the history of NACAC is important,” said Coe. “For me to be here as the president of this great sport, and to be in a part of the world that is so fundamentally attached to our sport, and with all the passion that our sport engenders is something that allows me to sleep easy at night. The athletes in this region have been extraordinary. People always ask where is the next Usain Bolt coming from. I just say go to the CARIFTA Games and you will see. That’s a sign that our sport is vibrant and is strong but to be that way, it needs well-structured, talented administrators. As president, this is my first visit to a continental body association in this decade, and I can’t think of anywhere that I would rather be at this moment than here opening the NACAC Headquarters.
“I’m delighted to formally recognize the work of Mike and your predecessors. The discussions have begun and they have been detailed and challenging. The best decisions are made at the local level, with local expertise and local experience. I challenge you to make some fresh pages in the history of this great sport and in a region that has contributed so much to the history of track and field. Your history is our history.”
Coe said that he is delighted to be in The Bahamas for this historic occasion, and for it to be supported by the Government of The Bahamas through the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. His first visit to The Bahamas was in 1987, and he has been a regular visitor ever since.
“I thank you for doing what you have been doing and for doing it consistently and for being passionate about supporting our sport,” Coe said to the minister. “We want to be a sport that is always placed at the service of governments. There is no other sport better placed than athletics to serve as a great policy for education, health, economic stability and social cohesion.”
Coe further said the progress of athletics is heavily reliant on governments around the world and their partnerships with local and regional sporting bodies.
“I have met with this minister on a number of occasions in the past year, and she has been so helpful and is visionary and we are grateful to the powers that be that allows us to open this facility in The Bahamas,” said Coe. “Through NACAC, we want to engage and reach out to hard pressed communities and at least be a helping hand to many of those intractable issues that exist today. Sports does it in the most profound way. We are the most potent social worker in any community, and if used properly, sport can play an extraordinary and central role.”
Having served as an International Softball Federation (ISF) vice president, BOC President Romell “Fish” Knowles said that he understands how important it is for The Bahamas to be on the world stage at the decision-making table and wishes Sands and his team of executives the ultimate success. He said that the NACAC board has the full support of the Bahamas Olympic Committee and he looks forward to a great working relationship in the future.
Minister Rolle said the World Athletics family, through NACAC, has opened many doors for The Bahamas, and in return, The Bahamas is a grateful nation.
“We consider the opportunity to have the office here not only an honor but an esteemed privilege. It is our commitment to provide any assistance possible to ensure that NACAC under the leadership of Mike Sands accomplishes great results. Mike Sands is a trailblazer, a trendsetter and a door opener. I am confident that his tenure, and by extension, the tenure of his administration will reflect his individual legacy of producing great results not only for our country and athletes but also for the benefit of our brothers and sisters throughout the region,” said the minister. “This speaks to the unequivocal fact that The Bahamas is not only accomplishing great things on the track but we are continuing to set records in the development of sports throughout our region and indeed around the world. The Bahamas is known for reaping great athletes, and from those athletes, we continue to reap great results.
“NACAC is the arm of World Athletics for this region and with that your hands are full. While the presence of the office here will serve to promote and inspire our athletes and officials locally, it is my hope and trust that the establishment of the NACAC operations here in The Bahamas will allow us to further demonstrate our capacity and ability to produce world leaders in the sport of athletics. The Bahamas has a deep pool of sports leaders, business professionals and administrators capable of producing great results on the world stage, and we expect no less than greatness. As you pursue your mandate to promote the sport of athletics in this region, we invite your use of our stadium to assist you in accomplishing your goals. We in the ministry have similar goals which is to facilitate the development of sports. We thank you for reposing confidence in our country, and on behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, we wish you every success in 2020 and beyond.”
Sands is elected to serve as NACAC president for the next four years. He won the presidency last July over four other highly qualified candidates from this region – Alain Jean Pierre from Haiti, Claudia Perez of Mexico, Ephraim Serrette from Trinidad & Tobago and Dr. Warren Blake of Jamaica. Sands prevailed over Pierre in the final round of voting, 14-12.
His executive team includes Catherine Jordan of Barbados as vice president, Serrette as treasurer, and Cydonie Mothersill of the Cayman Islands, Calixto Sierra of Honduras, Evelyn Farrell of Aruba and Howard Cornelius of Antigua & Barbuda as members at large. American former world record holder in the men’s triple jump Willie Banks is an ex officio member.