Caribbean Community at the Commonwealth Games

Mick the Ram

Jul 22, 2022

The great global spectacle of the 22nd Commonwealth Games is drawing ever closer, with the opening ceremony taking place on Thursday 28th July, at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, England. It will involve 72 member Federations from six regions around the world: Africa, Americas, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, and Oceania, taking part in eleven days of outstanding sport.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will be represented by 13 of the 15 full Member States and all 5 Associate Members of the grouping of countries, territories, or dependencies, which exist together and form a respected voice in international affairs, through a combination of coordinated foreign policy, and economic integration. Several in attendance will be looking to secure their first ever medals, whilst others will be seeking to improve on already impressive histories, at past Commonwealth competitions. As part of the build up, each Chef de Mission (head of mission) outlined the hopes and ambitions of their particular delegations:

Antigua & Barbuda have been ever-presents since 1994 and will be represented in athletics, boxing, cycling and swimming, as they try to break their duck in terms of medal success. Joel Rayne spoke of sprinting being potentially where their best hopes lie: “In track and field we have never had anybody medal at that level (the Commonwealth Games, World Championships, or Olympics). So it would be a big, big thing here, were we to do so.” Cejhae Greene, who trains in Florida, will be hoping to go well in the 100 metres and is probably their best hope.

Bahamas arrive under the stewardship of experienced Roy Colebrook who confidently declared: “The athletes are all excited, I can tell you! We anticipate having a very successful Games.” Only Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have had more success at Commonwealth Games from the Caribbean competitors, and they will be confident of adding to their tally through gold medal 400 metre Olympic champions, Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Steven Gardiner. 

Barbados have been chosen to represent the entire West Indies in the women’s T20 cricket competition, which Cameron Burke said would be a “tremendous honour”, before adding: “I know we’d be up against Australia and England, but we’d still be very, very optimistic that they can hold their own and do well at the Games. We have had medal success at the Commonwealth Games in the past and we’d like that to continue, and we are working strategically towards improving our count of twelve at these Games.” He also had words of praise for the organisation committee in Birmingham, stating: “I think it will be a success, the facilities are fantastic and it certainly augurs well for good Games. You can see the excitement is there.” 

Dominica’s Chef de Mission Woody Lawrence, has experience of five major games behind him so should be able to guarantee the organisation side of things is properly sorted. Triple jumper Thea Lafond is a medal hope, in a youthful squad which includes three teenagers, and Lawrence said: “the experience they gain in Birmingham will benefit them all for competitions further down the line.”

Grenada has won a gold and a bronze at the last two Commonwealth Games, highlighting the fact that this small island nation can produce talented athletes. “We always value these international competitions to showcase the talent that we have bred locally”, commented Kwame Hypolite, the Chef de Mission. “When these athletes are able to go through the rounds and make a final, matching up to the larger Commonwealth countries, we know definitely that we are doing something well at home, and that acts as an impetus for other athletes to move forward in the future.”

Jamaica are out on their own with regards to medal success at Commonwealth Games, with over 160 won, which is nearly three times as many as any other Caribbean country.  They will look to beat their record of 27 achieved at the last games this time around, and delegation leader Rudolph Speid and the supporting management team are confident they can do just that, stating:“Jamaica will signal to the world that we are now totally of age, not only in track and field, but in other sports too. It will be a Commonwealth blast in Birmingham where we will celebrate our commitment in making Jamaica a sports powerhouse.”

St Kitts & Nevis are looking to the future within the small team they are sending to Birmingham. Leroy Greene acting as Chef de Mission, said: “We are going with the young people, they are the future of our sport; a number of our top athletes have retired so we’re bringing through this young crop who we expect to compete for us, not only in Birmingham, but also at the next Olympics.” Sprinter Kim Collins won the nation’s only medal when winning the 100 metres in 2002 and Greene is now hoping Jason Rogers can emulate his achievement this time around. “He trains in the States with a new coach and we expect him to do great things in Birmingham.”

St Lucia has a special effect on most visitors, none more so than their Chef de Mission, Joyce Huxley. She came for one year, but never went home and now dedicates herself to sport on the island. She will lead a small team who will compete in athletics, swimming, boxing, squash and table tennis. A medal hope could be sprinter Julien Alfred, who competes in the 100 and 200 metres. Huxley, like many of her counterparts, has been very impressed with the pre-organisation for the games, declaring: “I must say that the Organising Committee have done a wonderful job. Logistically, it’s crazy! Having all of the separate Villages and trying to arrange the transport between them. But I’m very confident that they are going to pull it off.”

St Vincent & Grenadines’ preparations were severely hit when in April 2021, the La Soufrière volcano violently erupted for the first time in more than 40 years, and a huge ash cloud engulfed the island. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes and sport was initially forced to stop and then when it did restart, athletes were forced inside. Claude Bascombe Jr, leading the island’s delegation said: “Our geography is such that the volcano is located in the north of the island. Most of the population centres are located in the south, so we had to evacuate as many as 20,000 people from the northern side of the island to the south.” They still have managed to put together a team of over 30 to compete in athletics, aquatics, cycling, squash and table tennis.

Trinidad & Tobago are second only to Jamaica in the number of medals won by a Caribbean country, with more than 50 to their name, including 10 golds. The total team size is over 100, competing in athletics, swimming, boxing, judo, netball, cycling, table tennis and triathlon. Lovie Santana, the Chef de Mission has been impressed with the planning for the athletes at the different “villages” to be used for the games. She praised the Organising Committee, saying: “I feel a sense of comfort and trust them to really put in the infrastructure that they say they will put in, and that our athletes will be taken care of. Even though there is a lot of separation, it is well thought out in how they go about having the sports separated and so on.” Santana is excited at the prospects for the cyclists, particularly Nicholas Paul, and in the pool butterfly sprinter Dylan Carter, together with a host of others in track and field.

Guyana were present at the inaugural games back in 1930, when competing as British Guyana. They won their fourth ever gold at the Gold Coast games last time out, thanks to Troy Doris in the men’s triple jump, who became an instant hero in the country. “”There were ceremonies all over the place. It was phenomenal.” said Karen Pilgrim, Guyana’s Chef de Mission. Sadly injury will prevent him having the opportunity to defend his title. Chelsea Edghill in the table tennis, and Narayan Ramdhani in badminton, are expected to show up really well, and it is hoped squash player Nicolette Fernandes, who was one of Guyana’s top-ranked players for many years, will recapture previously shown form, following a lengthy break through injury. Pilgrim acknowledged: “We are in a nice position being the only English speaking country in South America, even though we’ve no part of our country touching the Caribbean Sea, we’re very much considered part of the Caribbean.”

Anguilla’s Chef de Mission will not need much introduction to the English sports fan of the 80’s and 90’s, having played County Cricket for Hampshire. Anguilla have never won a medal at the Commonwealth Games and as Connor explained, that is accepted back home: “There is a great deal of interest in these Games, but people don’t expect us to win medals. I think our citizens understand that it’s more a breeding ground for athletes to go on and represent England, or Great Britain at the higher level, which is accepted because professionally, we just cannot afford to look after the athletes. We rely very heavily on natural ability.” Their small team will compete in athletics, cycling, boxing and swimming and Connor says the fact that the Games are in Birmingham this time will help. “England makes it a lot easier for us. The athletes will have family there, so they can settle better and acclimatise to the food and weather easier.”

British Virgin Islands had possibly the inspirational story of the last Commonwealth Games when

Kyron McMaster won the 400 metres hurdles for the territory’s first ever medal in their history, but in terribly moving circumstances. Just a short time prior to that race, his coach was tragically killed during Hurricane Irma. Xavier “Dag” Samuels was an instrumental part of McMaster’s success, but tragically was not there to see his student’s greatest moment, after falling off a roof during what was then the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record. Mark Chapman, the British Virgin Islands Chef de Mission described McMaster’s victory as “really big” for the islanders, with huge celebrations following his success. He will attempt to defend his title again in Birmingham and there are high hopes for long jumper Chantel Malone too. Should either make it on to the winners podium, they will not receive their medal to the British national anthem: ‘God Save The Queen’. As Chapman explained: “A completely new song, called ‘Oh Beautiful Virgin Islands’ has been recorded to provide some local identity and will be played at the team’s welcome ceremony.”

The Cayman Islands stunned the sporting world at the 2010 games in Delhi when Cydonie Mothersille won 200 metres title, to win the island group’s first and only gold medal at a Commonwealth Games. She was showered with gifts on her return, including a brand new Chevrolet SUV – fittingly coloured gold. 12 years on and she is still part of the athletics association executive. Janet Sairsingh, the Cayman Islands Chef de Mission said: “She is very much part of motivating and getting the athletes going, and being part of the administration.” The Islands will have representatives in athletics, gymnastics, swimming and boxing.

Montserrat’s devastating volcanic eruption turned its capital Plymouth into a ghost town, back in 1997, and is now completely sealed off. Sport, just like everything else, was forced to rebuild. Valerie Samuel, who will act as Chef de Mission explained: “We had to make a choice – either we leave, or we rebuild. We love our country, so some of us stayed and continued on.” Now 25 years on she will oversee a team of sprinters lead by Julius Morris, with hope of possibly making it to the 100 metres final.

Turks & Caicos as a British Overseas Territory, had their best athlete, sprinter Delano Williams, represent Great Britain at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and although his relay team were disqualified, he received a hero’s welcome when he returned to the islands, with a motorcade greeting him shortly after he landed back home. He will compete in Birmingham however, in a Turks & Caicos vest. “We are expecting great things from him,” said Rosalie Ingham-Hall, the Chef de Mission for the Games. “At Rio everyone was so excited. Some companies designed t-shirts, everyone was glued to their televisions to watch. We were extremely proud of him. The end was disappointing, but at the same time we were still proud of the fact that he made it to the Olympics.” Other sports where the island should be represented will be swimming and cycling, and Ingham-Hall added: “It is always a privilege and honour to lead Team Turks and Caicos to any championships event. My task is an important responsibility which I take on whole-heartedly.”

Belize are proud to be part of the Caribbean Community and will have a small team of committed athletes representing them in Birmingham. The country’s Chef de Mission, Giovanni Alamilla said: “An important aspect of preparations will be coping with temperatures that will be much colder than they are used to. Everyone will have at least a week to acclimatise. When people say it’s summer in the UK, it’s our ‘winter’, but in Belize we don’t have winters.” Ironically, England has just had record temperatures so it might actually have been too hot when the team arrived! Sprinter Shaun Gill is is hoping for some success. “He will be looking to hopefully squeeze himself into the 100 metres final”, Alamilla declared.

Bermuda, despite their Atlantic location, are proud associate members of CARICOM. They are sending double the amount of athletes to Birmingham, compared to those that went to the Gold Coast in 2018. The undoubted star of the show will be Dame Flora Duffy, the gold medal Olympic Triathlete from the Tokyo 2020 Games. The reaction to her success from the Bermuda public was incredible. “We had a big concert in the park, they created stamps with her photo on it,” said Donna Raynor, Bermuda’s Chef de Mission for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. “One of our companies that produces rum created a special drink for her. We named a street after her, as well as part of the National Sports Centre. She spoke of retiring after Tokyo, but has rethought that, she’s even talking about going as far as Paris 2024 now.” Duffy’s victory broke a record for Bermuda, as it is now the territory with the smallest population to have won Olympic gold.

Naturally the big nations such as hosts England, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa will dominate the medals and will very likely occupy the top six places in the medals table. Nevertheless, the competition is a celebration of the Commonwealth as a whole, and would not be the same without the Caribbean contributions, which actually make up exactly a quarter of all the competing nations, territories and dependencies, at this years Commonwealth Games.