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Island Olympic Committees – Behind the Scenes

The Caribbean may be small in terms of land mass and population, but sailors who hail from the region earn the opportunity every four years to compete against the world’s best on the global stage at the Summer Olympics. To do this, it takes talent and the support of the local Olympic Committee.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), based in Lausanne, Switzerland, was formed in 1894 to reinstate the ancient Olympic Games held in Greece more than two millennia ago. Today, the IOC has a membership of 203 National Olympic Committees, 15 of them in the Caribbean.

Each island’s Olympic Committee has oversight for assisting athletes in all Olympic sports in both summer and winter Olympic sports.

Lyn Reid, treasurer of the Virgin Islands Sailing Association (VISA), says, “The Virgin Islands Olympic Committee (VIOC) is composed of 22 different sport federations such as shooting, sailing, swimming, etc. We are the body that oversees international competition in world championships. The major games are the Caribbean and Central American Games, the Pan American Games and the Olympics. We hope to have athletes in sailing, as well as in track and field, swimming, shooting and boxing in Beijing.”

Being a member of an Olympic Committee is a big job that doesn’t just happen every four years.

Steve Stoute, president of the Barbados Olympic Association (BOA), explains, “Our Association has a staff of 10, but Committee Members such as myself would be involved in numerous meetings both domestically and internationally planning for the Games. You must realize that one of our major competition events is the Pan American Games, which were held in 2007, and 2006 was the Central American and Caribbean Games and the Commonwealth Games; so the two years prior to an Olympic Games is an extremely busy period for us, as some of these large Games are used as selection and qualification vehicles for the Olympics. Thus, our committee would be heavily involved with all aspects of these projects leading up to Beijing 2008.”

The USVI’s Reid adds, “We organize travel, accreditation, housing and uniforms for the team. We visit the site of the Games to have an idea of what to expect for our athletes, such as weather, food, the venue and availability of items that might be needed.  We monitor the progress of our elite athletes and help with as much financial support as we are able.”

The selection of athletes, such as sailors, to compete in the Olympics, says Rey O’Neal, president of the British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee (BVIOC), “is up to the individual federations. Before the major games, we meet with the federations and they suggest a list of possible athletes based on their performance potential. Each sport has qualifying procedures. For example, ISAF (International Sailing Federation), will let all sailing federations know what is needed for a sailor to qualify for the Olympic Games.”

Entry into the Olympics can be easier from a small island nation.  In the Netherlands Antilles, says Cor van Aanholt, who is an Olympic laser sailor and current president of Curacao Youth Sailing, “The Olympic Committee is very happy when you qualify for your discipline. They do not ask you to show that you have a chance to win a medal, like many bigger nations request. In countries like the USA, Germany etc., the Olympic Committee requires you to have finished in the top five places or so at your Worlds qualifier. Nothing like that happens in the Netherlands Antilles.”

Funding is available for all athletes, including sailors.  Michael Green, a former Olympian in the Laser Class who lives in St. Lucia, says, “I had some help through our Olympic association, but there wasn’t too much money.”

Barbados’ Stoute says, “The BOA provides funding for pre Olympic training and Olympic preparation. Funding for athletes is directed to the National Federation who is responsible for disbursement.  The BOA will be providing funding for sailors pre Olympic training.  If an athlete qualifies and is selected, all expenses pertaining to travel, uniforms, accommodation, etc are covered by the BOA.”

Similarly, the USVI’s Reid says, “The VIOC gives VISA a monthly stipend for our elite sailors. They get this money by sending in a resume and then are able to use that money on sailing-related expenses like equipment, travel entry fees, coaching etc. The VIOC also paid for seven of our Olympic hopefuls to compete in Portugal last summer to try and quality for Beijing and they also paid for them to go to Australia and New Zealand to try and qualify. Most of our funding comes from the government and that is always iffy.”

Two elite athletes from the BVI, says O’Neal, “are on government salary. It’s not making them rich, so they supplement with endorsements from private companies.”

The BVI, Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados and USVI are islands that have sent sailors to the Olympics in the past.

The BOA’s Stoute says, “We’ve assisted the sport of sailing in a number of ways during the past year. We provide financial support for administration grants, recover the cost of affiliation fees to the International Federations and provide travel grants to both sailors and officials to attend specific functions.  We have also funded courses in sailing and other similar activities.”

The USVI’s Reid adds, “VISA does much more now than we did in the late 1980s when Peter Holmberg was sailing Finn (Class). Peter basically won his Silver Medal in the 1988 Olympic Games in Korea on his own. The VIOC supported him as much as they could, but I would say that his success made everyone realize what we could do and his success has helped everyone.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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