By Iva Wharton
The national schools athletics, cycling and swimming championships, one of the biggest sporting events on the schools calendar, also highlight some of the shortcomings competitors face in some disciplines.
In cycling, for instance, the sport is dominated by students in Georgetown and Region Four and that is because of the absence of a coaching programme and facilities in the rural communities. And a change is not expected until a proper cycle track or velodrome is built.
According to National Cycling Coach, Hassan Mohamed, this is responsible for the poor performance by students from rural communities at the championships.
“What I could safely tell you is that every year I have been carrying on this eight-week coaching programme at the National Park during the August holidays and it is open to all those who can attend. For those in the rural areas it is very difficult because of high cost of transportation to come to the National Park.”
He added that this puts the students who attend the coaching programme at an advantage over those in the rural communities.
Mohamed said out of the “Teach Them Young” cycle programme this year, 35 of the newcomers are school-aged and are all expected to compete at the Nationals.
Those students, he explained, are exposed not only to training programmes but regular competitions which are either sponsored by the Sport Ministry or private entities.
Through the sport ministry, a number of coaches were sent to several rural communities, but none for cycling.
The reason is that those areas lack the necessary facilities to conduct training programmes for cycling or even to host championships.
“In cycling you must have an area where you could train these youngsters, you can’t train them on grass track and the ground is not good.”
While several competitions were run off in Berbice, Essequbio and West Demerara but no coaching programmes were conducted because of the lack of time, Mohamed said.
He said running off competitions in some of the rural communities means that he would be taking a chance in terms of the safety of the participants but that is something that he does not want to do.
If attempts are made to develop grounds in some of those rural communities, the other problem would be the lack of equipment on the part of the students.
“This is not like cricket you give them a ball and bat and tell them run, you got to make sure they have adequate protective gear to cover their heads; helmets, gloves, a proper cycle and the ground has got to be properly prepared.”
However, the cycles, Mohamed said, do not necessarily have to be the best or state-of-the-art.
For years, he said, some of the regions have been bringing large numbers of students to compete in cycling, but only a few have their own cycles while the others are forced to borrow cycles.
That, he said, is another disadvantage as the cycles have to be set to suit a particular individual whether the cyclist is male or female.
Mohamed said that he wants to develop cycling across Guyana, but his hands are tied. According to him, there is so much that can be done to develop the sport at the school level, but the safety of the individual must come first.
“If you take them during the school hours and go on the East Coast I would be charged with murder, look at the craziness on the East Coast with the traffic. The same thing on the West Demerara – where am I going to put them, we are handicapped.”
Those are the reasons, he said, why students in Georgetown and Region Four dominate the cycling events. Moreover, he said, a change is not expected until such time that a proper cycle track is built.
Mohamed said even with a cycle track in place it would still put students in the rural communities at a disadvantage.
However, programmes must be organised during the July/August holiday to ensure that students in the rural communities are exposed to coaching programmes and some amount of competition.
The National Schools Championships are scheduled for November but qualifiers for some schools will start at the end of this month with the inter-house competitions.