There has been much hand-wringing and to some extent, Monday morning quarterbacking about the lack of an Olympic medal from our athletes at the recently concluded Tokyo games.
For the first time in 25 years, T&T has come back without anything to show. This is no doubt a regression in terms of our country’s recent performances at the Olympics, but if we are honest and if we looked at the data, the outcome, while disappointing, was perhaps not unexpected.
Let me be clear, I am sure our athletes gave it their all. They left nothing on the track or the field, in the water or the ring, or on the cycling track. For their effort, commitment to country, hard work and never say die attitude, we must salute them.
We must, however, see this as a chastening experience. We must look at the data that shows us these athletes’ performances over the last year, compared to what others in their events were doing, and realise that it should have prepared us for the eventual outcome.
It was unfortunate that there was an injury in the 4x400 metres men’s relay and the disqualification of cyclist Nicholas Paul but, that aside, it was always going to be very difficult if not unlikely that our athletes were going to bring home medals.
The performance of the athletes should also tell us that we need to rely on data to guide our decisions and to temper our expectations.
Had we done so, we would not have expected to medal in the 400 metres men or the women’s 100 metres. It is just where the athletes are at this time in their careers, whether their performances were impacted by injury or form does not matter. The data does not lie.
Similarly, the data on the T&T economy tells us a clear story of an economy in trouble pre-COVID-19 and which has been hammered since.
Since 2015, when the then People’s Partnership Government pumped huge sums into the economy in an effort to stay in power, it has declined for every year that data has been available with the exception of 2018, when the growth in GDP was a mere 0.1 per cent.
In fact, the country’s economy is significantly smaller than it was six years ago and the lack of timely data has left us in a position where we can only guesstimate the extent of the decline and dislocation that has taken place in the last 16 months, where measures to battle the pandemic were implemented.
T&T’s import cover, a reflection of the official foreign exchange reserves, has fallen from 11.2 months in 2015 to 8.5 months at the end of last year, or from US$11.2 billion in 2015 to US$8.5 billion.
The change in the outlook from S&P and the suggestion that there is a real possibility of a downgrade within the next 12 to 24 months, is another sign that this economy is in trouble.
You add to this bpTT’s projection that the country’s largest gas producer will produce up to 15 per cent less of the commodity than it had hoped for and it should tell us that there will be no V-shaped recovery.
As we reflect on the first year of the second term of the Dr Keith Rowley administration, what concerns me is the reluctance to rely on the data.
It is as if, like the Olympics, we are prepared to hope for outcomes that the data suggests will not happen without a change in the variables.
In other words, for T&T’s athletes to perform better and at a sustained level, there must be systematic changes in the country.
There must be a recognition that talent alone is not enough to excel at the highest levels. There are not many Usain Bolts out there and as much as Jamaica is full of talent, it has a proper system to graduate its athletes from primary school to secondary and through college programmes.
Jamaica’s level of coaching is recognised globally and if you look closely at the island, it has increasingly looked beyond just sprinting to middle distances and field events. They have not done as well in field events as yet but they are improving and there is clear strategy.
T&T must introspect and see how it may improve its structure or, some may argue, put a real structure in place to allow for the identification of talent and its harnessing.
We must find a way to recognise that sport requires financial support and the T&T Olympic Committee is right that the Government alone cannot be expected to fund all the requirements for our athletes.
We have the best sporting facilities in the Caricom, bar none, and we continue to under-perform.
The under-performance in sport is not unique. The reality is that our country has not done as well as we could have in so many aspects of our lives because we refuse to do the hard work of driving public policy based on what the data tells us.
How else do we explain some of the things the Minister of Finance has done over the last five years?
How do you square the decision to leave the exchange rate where it is for so long that now, it is all but impossible to have any real benefit from allowing it to float to its real value?
How do you explain Mr Imbert’s decision to put off dealing with the National Insurance System and pension reform in some miraculous hope that we will no longer be an ageing population and that pensions are unsustainable?
How do we explain the country’s belief that the day will not come when the Senior Citizen Grant will have to be touched unless we put things in place to make it contributory?
And how do you explain the seeming Ostrich-like response to the reality that the world is moving to a net-zero carbon reality and this country’s economy will be adversely impacted?
We must stop hoping against hope for positive outcomes that we did not put the structures in place for to yield the results.
The country must demand the use of data in decision making.
If we do put the right structures in place and then have the hard work, smarts and discipline, I assure you, for example, that we will see the medal count increase on the athletic front and the country just might finally begin to live up to its promise.