It takes something special to stand out in the Olympic games, where more than 11,650 of the world’s best athletes have converged to compete.
But stand out is exactly what T&T athlete Tyra Gittens did when she competed in the Women’s Long Jump. Apart from her athletic prowess, and beauty, what drew the cameras to Gittens was her personality.
Gittens laughed, danced, and smiled when the cameras were on her as she waited to compete.
Even her competitor, Tara Davis from the United States, fell under Gittens’ magnetism during the Group A qualification round.
“She’s so funny,” Davis told the camera.
But it was not all fun and games for Gittens, because when it came time to jump she was all business.
When the sand was settled, Gittens placed in the top ten in the world in Women’s Long Jump.
The thing is the long jump is not even Gittens’ true athletic love.
That pride of place in Gittens’ heart is the heptathlon.
So with all those elements in place you would think sponsors would be pounding down Gittens’ door.
But, unfortunately, this may not be the case.
“I really hope Tyra Gittens gets some kinda sponsorship/endorsement after this she’s ,” her fellow T&T Olympian Michelle-Lee Ahye tweeted.
Even before Gittens competed in the Olympics, coach Antonia Burton had tweeted something similar.
“With T&F (track and field) starting soon I just want the T&T public to know that Tyra Gittens is most likely going to make the finals of the women’s long jump and she’s going to be challenging for a medal. If you not following her yet (and if you’re a company with money to endorse) do so now,” Burton tweeted.
Unfortunately, the issue of funding does not affect Gittens alone.
Gittens’ fellow T&T athlete Portious Warren who placed just outside the top ten in the Women’s Shot Put took to social media to lament her financial struggle to reach the Olympics.
“For those who know me personally you know of the many roadblocks I faced on my way to becoming an Olympic finalist. From coming out of pocket for all of my meets, making sure I did therapy so that I will stay focus and keep my mental health in check,” Warren posted on her Instagram page.
“Sometimes I won’t know how my bills were going to be paid but I always found a way. Not only because I have always dreamt about it, but to give the youths of my nation the hope, the faith, and motivation they need to go after what they want and never limit themselves despite the difficulties,” she posted.
Despite these challenges both Gittens and Warren have committed to work toward the Paris 2024 games.
But financial challenges are not limited to T&T athletes only.
Even Olympic legend Usain Bolt spoke of the lack of corporate funding for Jamaican athletes.
“A lot of athletes sought support from corporate Jamaica in their preparation leading up and heading to the Olympic Games and got NO HELP. Athletes know your worth/power now that they all want to jump onto your brand/image for free,” Bolt tweeted when the Olympic Games ended.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert, during his budget presentation last October proposed an increase in the tax allowance from $6 million to $12 million for companies that sponsor sporting activities or events or sportsmen or art and culture.
This measure took effect on January 1, 2021.
But while athletes from T&T and Jamaica athletes may have had similar experiences with corporate sponsors, other countries put their money where their mouths were.
India saw their investment pay off when Neeraj Chopra captured gold in the Men’s Javelin.
Chopra is the first track and field athlete from India to become an Olympic champion.
The Sports Authority of India is reported to have invested US $650,000 in Chopra over the last four years, following a strong showing in the Under-20 Youth games in 2016. It is not to say that T&T does not understand the benefits of investing in our athletes.
“To attain excellence in sport and increase participation in major sporting events is dependent on the creation of high performance athletes,” the 2008-2009 progress report for the Vision 2020 Operational Plan stated.
In November 2006, Cabinet approved the Elite Athletes Assistance Programme (EAAP) policy guidelines to provide financial support for the preparation and continued development of national athletes who attained the international qualifying ranking, as determined by the International Sporting Federations.
The EAAP funding is intended to meet expenses such as training schedules, coaching fees, nutritional and medical expenses, travel expenses for training, sanctioned competitions and pre-games tours, accommodation for training and professional expenses.
In April, Dylan Carter, former sportsman of the year Jereem Richards and Nigel Paul were presented with cheques totalling $450,000 from Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe.
In February, five other athletes Andwuelle Wright, Machel Cedenio, Kyle Greaux, Sparkle McKnight, and Jerod Elcock also received funding as part of the EAAP.
According to the criteria, athletes ranked in the World Top 10 positions qualify for the EAAP’s current maximum sum allocation of $250,000.
While athletes ranked in the World Top 11-40 positions will benefit up to $187,500 (75 per cent of the maximum sum).
And athletes who medal in the specific Games and Championships may benefit, on a case-by-case basis, from up to $75,000 (30 per cent of the maximum sum).
Apart from this a total of 12 athletes were selected for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Solidarity Scholarship Programme which commenced from January 1st 2018.
Each athlete was scheduled to receive a total of US$ 500 per month, once they complied with Olympic Solidarity contractual obligations.
The selected athletes were: Khalifa St Fort, Kamaria Durant, Sparkle McKnight, Michelle-Lee Ahye, Machel Cedenio, Jereem Richards, Nigel Paul, Michael Alexander, Nicholas Paul, Aisha Chow, Kelly-ann Arrindell and Dylan Carter.
Ahye was eventually removed from the scholarship due to an anti-doping rule violation. Additional support was offered to a few athletes for preparation towards the Olympic Games 2020 —and medal bonus payments for top finishes at the Pan American Games 2019 held in Lima Peru.
“Each year, National Olympic Committees are given access to a Funding Grant to support athletes to reach their maximum potential through sport, which is all geared toward the Olympic Games. In an effort to support TeamTTO athletes, funding support is strategically allocated to TeamTTO athletes for the opportunity to train, prepare and achieve sporting excellence,” the T&T Olympic Committee stated in its 2019 annual report.
“In 2019, 100 per cent of the PASO Support Grant was used across 8 sporting disciplines to support 32 athletes and their NSO’s, either towards their preparation for the Pan American Games and or the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and qualifying events related to either event. Funds provided to NSOs were utilised for elite athlete programmes, such as training camps, coaching, medical support and travel to international competition,” it stated.
In May, the Sports Ministry contributed over $2.7 million towards Team TTO’s participation in Japan.
The TTOC was originally working with an overall budget of $4 million but only requested $2.7 million from the ministry.
Britain made a total investment of £345 million to 31 Olympic and Paralympic sports for the Tokyo Games.
This was £2 million less than the record £347 million allocated in the run-up to Rio in 2016.
“Is it that T&T is willing to spend $3 billion to get medals? The answer to that is obvious,” TTOC president Brian Lewis said.
Lewis said T&T still has a culture that sees “sports as a waste of time and an obstacle to education.”
On the converse, Lewis said Jamaica sees Track and Field as a part of their national identity, and that is why a school competition like “Champs” can draw capacity crowds.
Lewis said some countries take sports seriously and put their money where their mouths are.
Malaysia told them they pumped US$5 million in the cyclists alone, Lewis said. But the Government alone should not be blamed Lewis said. Lewis said if at least 100,000 people in T&T were willing to commit $5 a month that would go a long way. In December 2014, the TTOC launched an initiative called #10golds24. As the name suggested, the goal was for T&T to win 10 gold medals by the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Lewis said this was an “aspirational goal.”
TTOC’s 10 Gold by 2024 Athlete Welfare and Preparation Fund is to be converted into the Team TTO Foundation.
This fund which is fuelled by the TTOC’s annual marathon walk and merchandising to raise funds for Olympic-bound athletes.
“The national sporting organisations that are heavily criticised, with justification in some instances, are all volunteers. I don’t get a cent. The elected members of the TTOC don’t get a cent, don’t get per diems, don’t get stipends, we are an NGO in terms of structure,” Lewis said.
“I am not saying we should get paid. I am saying the people who really impact and drive the thing the athletes, the coaches, the administrators who receive the brunt of the criticism are the ones doing it for the love and the passion and purpose,” Lewis said.
“The sport administrators, the athletes, the coaches they do it because they are passionate about sport, they love sport and they love their country,” he argued.
The TTOC is an independent organisation responsible for providing T&T athletes with resources they need to achieve goals at the Olympics, Youth Olympics Games (YOG), Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC Games), Pan American Games (Pan Am Games), Commonwealth Games and Youth Commonwealth Games.
“The TTOC is funded principally through grants from the Pan American Sport Organization (PASO), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and corporate sponsorship. The TTOC is non-profit and independent of government and government funding other than contributions by the Ministry of Sport to the national team’s representation at International Games,” its website stated.
The 2020 Olympics is the first time since 1992 that T&T has not won a medal.
We had not won a medal seven Olympics before then.
A medal bonus of US$40,000 for gold, US$15,000 for silver and US$10,000 for bronze had been instituted.
A total of 33 athletes travelled to Tokyo which was the country’s largest contingent ever.
“We are a society that wants to reach the destination but we don’t want the journey. We want the end result but we don’t want to endure the process,” Lewis stated.
Lewis said the T&T athletes marketed the country over the 17 days of the Olympics.