Guyana making waves in an increasingly popular world wide sport
by Norman Faria
February 15, 2004
ONE of the good news items in the papers early this month was the apparently successful GTU Annual Swimming Championship held at the Colgrain Pool under the guidance of the Guyana Amateur Swimming Association (GASA).
Swimming has always been beneficial to humankind from the early Stone Age days when our ancestors started standing upright and ventured onto the plains. People learned to swim to catch fish and other seafood such as mollusks. But they also frolicked in rivers and lakes to cool off in the tropical heat and to play games.
Today, swimming and related sports such as water polo and springboard and platform diving, have both competitive and recreational dimensions. They have long been part of Olympic Games. Outstanding swimmers American, Mark Spitz (he won five or six Gold Medals at one Olympiad) and the Australian Ian `Thorpedo’ Thorpe may not attain the mega star status of basketball players worldwide or our cricketers in the Commonwealth. But they are equally gifted and disciplined. In the Caribbean and Latin America, Cuba has consistently won more gold medals in water polo at regional/international meets.
As with other sports and sometimes much the detriment of the ideal of friendly competition, water sport is big business, especially in the US. Retired swim stars are in big demand for advertisements and dozen of glossy water sports magazines are published.
Governments worldwide have recognised the value of urging its population to take up sports as a way to keep healthy both in mind and body. Of all the sports, swimming is probably the most efficient in exercising almost every muscle. There are four competitive swimming styles (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly) but the average person would be content with breaststroke or freestyle. When I lived in Canada in the 1970s, I would swim at the state operated indoor (some were outdoor) pools run by the Municipality of Etobicoke, just outside Toronto.
Later, to help pay tuition bills, I taught swimming and water safety skills at some of the pools. I had obtained Instructors' Certificates under the Royal Life Saving Society (now Life Saving Society) of Canada and also the Canadian Red Cross.
The safety component was added in the 1940s in Canada because of the worrying water-related deaths in the many rivers and lakes in that North American country. Statistics available in the excellent website www.life saving.ca show that drowning facilities in Canada have been reduced from a high of eight per 100,000 50 years ago, to 1.4 per 100,000 today because of the RLSS and Red Cross programmes.
Sadly, drowning is a leading cause of death of Canadian children from aged one to four. The most common place is the bathtub when the kids are left unattended.
Lifeguards have to be properly qualified. If you look at places like Australia whose many beaches are visited by locals and tourists, the guards have to be properly trained.
Sensibly, the lakeside and riverain resorts in Guyana have planned or are planning to introduce, lifeguards. The government, through its Ministry of Sports, is taking a keen interest in the development of water sports, including the safety dimension, and provides encouragement and assistance where resources allow.
Age and race have nothing to do with competing in water sports and /or simple enjoyment. Anthony Nesty, a black man from Suriname won a gold (in breaststroke if memory serves me) at one of the Olympics. And watch those Chinese girls makes waves in the pool, not to mention dominating the diving competitions!
True, it helps to be lanky and trim (Thorpe and Spitz are over six feet tall) in the competitive arena and you would hardly get winners with call names like `Chubby’ or `Tiny’. But there are worldwide `Masters’ competitions (for people over 50 years) One of Barbados' top Masters, Chris Gibbs, last year swam across the English Channel. He was the first man from the Caribbean to do so, thereby bringing much glory and prestige to the small Caribbean nation state.
Guyana will one day have a state-of- the- art Aquatic Centre with an internationally recognised 50-metre pool and perhaps later, diving platforms. It will take time. In Barbados, which has a much greater per capita earnings level, it took years for a private group of dedicated families and `Master’ swimmers to raise the money to build one. The Barbados government assisted by providing the land.
The Centre now hosts swim and water polo meets with people from all over, mainly in this Hemisphere. I was excited to visit with a Guyana team, among whose members were the children of Georgetown Mayor, Mr. Hamilton Green, at such a get together.
The good work of the GASA, and the Government's continued help and encouragement, will serve immeasurably to make sure that more and more Guyanese youngsters and adults are not only geared up to enjoy and compete in water sports but also to reduce deaths from drowning.
(Norman Faria is Guyana's Honorary Consul in Barbados)