Hand me that ball! Caribbean sport myopia

When I started work as a central banker, my first boss said “We didn’t hire you because you have the answers; we expect you to ask the right questions.” I was watching an NBA game on Christmas Day with a group of young men. The ball flew around the court. The men soared and dunked. They dribbled the ball and passed. Most of the players were black. Nothing really special about that. I thought about young people I knew and sports they play. Why don’t they play handball? I asked myself.Olympics Day 15 - Handball

Tradition is at the root of many things that help and hinder. Here is a game that is all about athleticism. It’s fast, furious, full of aggression: I think of it as being like rugby in a hall. It’s not a game for those who cannot take knocks: handball players are allowed an unlimited number of ‘fouls’ (faults). Good to watch. Fun to play. Sure, the sport is very popular in Europe, where it’s played usually in indoor halls.That poses a few problems for Caribbean countries because we do not have many such facilities. But, guess what? It doesn’t have to be a real constraint. The sport can be played outdoors, in grass fields or on beaches. Hello! We have some outdoor spaces that could work? I think so. What holds us back from getting involved with sports that are not part of our tradition, other than ignorance? We let our ‘love’ of our traditional sports to just trundle along.

Cricket? Goodness, am I tired of the backward-looking of that sport! ‘The good old days’ are gone. Want them back? If we really admire the heroes who made the region feared and respected, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT MAKING THE PLAYERS BETTER. Make some genuine changes in how the sport is played and administered or get it off my newspapers and my television. Cheesh!

Netball? I love it that Jamaica has some great players, but I would love to see some of those athletic women try their hands at basketball or something like handball. Oh, yes. It fits a social ‘stay in your place’ to have women and girls going daintily around in skirts and not having too much contact. But, we have lots of strong and aggressive women, and while soccer has been an outlet for some, they have few real alternatives that defy the standard images of ‘girls’ sports’. Whenever I’ve coached girls, they have never been short of aggressiveness and desire to get down and dirty, even downright scary once they realised that hitting people is part of the normal activity.

We have young people who need and want activities, who are not interested in these sports, or don’t want to be another sprinter. Maybe, they have some of the skills that are easy to translate to a sport like handball.

I can understand why we don’t produce great swimmers, even though I think that is a generational problem that is in the process of changing. But, I don’t understand why we do not produce great handball players, or volleyball players, either. We have a regional mind shift to deal with, but that shouldn’t be a real constraint.

Why can’t we get some coaches to come and start to sow the seeds? I’d love it if the smaller Caribbean islands were like Cuba and putting athletes in almost any and all international sports.

We talk a lot about what we want, but don’t back it up with actions that suggest that we want to do something about it.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)