By Eve George
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- The objective of sport is to deliver and receive. To create harmony, discipline, global unification and share culture. Sports and trade create a global integration.
Reflecting breezily and happily on his ministerial tenure, from speaking with him my firm belief is that Darryl Smith, minister of sport under the present People’s National Movement (PNM) administration in Trinidad and Tobago, understands the objective of sport and humanity.
He has instigated a solid restructuring of Trinbago’s sport with professional purpose. His work is slowly earning him grudging respect from critics initially intent on burying and ridiculing him.
Functioning in the midst of what many citizens call “the worst government’s reign” this country has seen the minister of sport, representing the people of Diego Martin Central in Trinidad and Tobago, standing out with a humble, meek, charitable, down to earth caring nature.
Looking through my kitchen window in Maraval, Trinidad, most weekends I see Smith in his backyard pool spending time with his kids, playing, teaching them school work, proper discipline and spending quality time with them. Something most fathers don’t do anymore, even fathers of the upper class in society. Something I admire and respect.
Many times on the tennis courts in the Trinidad Country Club in Maraval, Smith would come by to drop off his kids to tennis practice sessions and on many occasions I observed him acknowledging persons he never before met in his life. Many ministers of his calibre would usually pass straight by the average citizen.
Admiring his work and humble attitude I decided to ask Smith to an exclusive interview. So I started my string of questions to this noble man.
Q. What inspired your charitable, humble down to earth nature?
A. I think that would have been because of my family background with my grandparents having a small café shop and vegetable mart and at a very young age having to assist my grandparents in going to the Central Market in Port of Spain to purchase fresh produce that we could sell at their vegetable stall to assist the less fortunate in the neighbourhood who couldn’t afford to purchase from other stores. Also growing up in a very religious Catholic background my parents taught us the importance of humbleness, my dad was a deacon at the church.
Q. What do you love most about our country?
A. The spirit of passion and vibe existing within the people. I think most Trinbagonians are decent people and it’s just a few bad apples that are spoiling the bunch. We are known worldwide for our flare and passion.
Q. If you were given a chance to compete in an Olympic event, what would it be?
A. I Think it is definitely going to be football because our national football team has never made it to Olympics and I’m hoping to see that happen.
Q. Which was your favorite Olympic memory?
A. Hasley Crawford definitely. I remember as a young boy running races in our hallway with striped socks that were similar to that which Crawford wore and falling down many times with those socks. But when I won the races I was called Hasley Crawford, which meant the world to me. I think Mr Crawford is a world icon himself and I share a very good relationship up to today.
Q. How did the worldwide controversy involving Marissa Dick and Thema Williams affect you as minister of sport?
A. It was my worst experience as a minister and as a person. Our hands were tied because of policies in regard to the Olympic Charter, governments cannot get involved or say anything; we could be sued. It’s very sad that that has happened and what Thema had to go through, but I spoke with Thema and she has dusted herself off and moved on.
Q. How satisfied are you about the level of cooperation between the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee and the Olympians?
A. I think the head of the TTOC Brian Lewis has a vision. He has cemented himself, and keeps improving and enhancing himself in terms of knowledge, which is very important, because in sport there are always changes in the science, technology and business arenas. I think he is well respected and liked by the athletes and coaches and has great relations with them, I am proud of the work he is doing.
Q. What plans do you have in place for the next upcoming Olympics for our Olympians to make the process less stressful to them?
A. I have a very open relationship with our athletes, wherever they are around the world they can WhatsApp me, and all the sporting governing bodies and myself have a close relationship. The sports budget has been cut in half because of the decline of oil and gas prices. But I am happy that a number of corporate bodies have come onboard to help fill that gap so I am pleading with the athletes to discuss issues in house because when we vent openly and publicly it prevents private sponsorship from assisting and wanting to get involved.
Q. If you had one overall message to give to our Olympians, what would it be?
A. I would like to say thank you. I know it is a lot of work. I don’t want them to believe it is not appreciated because appreciation doesn’t always come in dollars and cents but in other ways, such as the use of proper facilities for free and traveling accommodation. Stay focused, humble and things will work out.
Q. Do you believe the Lifesport program would have turned out to be a great program if a former minister of housing did not corrupt it by laundering hundreds of millions to fund criminals?
A. Initially when you looked at the plan and the program it seemed to have started like most things as a good plan but just like everything else, including policies that we have, for some reason the few bad apples tend to find the loopholes. I am not here to criticize or say anything out of the way but under that program $400 million has been unaccounted for. My budget this year is way less than that and our athletes now wish we had that kind of money to make the process more comfortable and less stressful. Under my stewardship nothing like that is going to happen.
Q. Being a minister under the present government how do you feel about the crime and corruption level in our country?
A. It is challenging. I am doing my part along with my team here at the ministry of sport and youth affairs. We are doing as much as we can with the reduction of our budget to assist the young people because most of the crimes occur within the younger generation. We fully support the minister of national security in his efforts but I don’t think all the blame should be placed on his shoulders. All the ministers and the country on a whole needs to participate and take control.
Q. Does it hurt you when you see some journalists and bloggers make hurtful comments about you?
A. Yes it does but I grew up having to face criticism and it has strengthened me over the years. I believe the truth will always set you free. I remember hearing some of our local journalists saying, “Don’t ever let the truth come between you and a good story.” That is scary. Some people live by that but I don’t believe in saying untruth about persons. Social media has become a monster of its own, and persons need to be careful as to what they take as gospel that is published on social media that has no evidence and facts to back it up.
Q. When was your last one on one meeting with the prime minister and what does he wish to see in sports?
A. About one hour ago (laughing). Before cabinet I was fortunate to speak with him. We are doing a pool in Laventille, the Brian Lara stadium is completed, the upcoming CPL cricket games, the Diego Martin recreation ground, a sporting facility in Moruga, for the first time in 11 years we are doing over the national hockey centre. He was asking me about those projects because he wants to see them completed and ready for use. We spoke about the new policy we are doing for the youths and for sports. People may not see it but he is a father figure to all of us younger ministers, he is a disciplined, no nonsense man and I love that about him.
Q. Which is the fastest growing participation sport in Trinbago?
A. Dragon boat, Triathlon, Sambo and the All Fours competition, which is not a government recognized sport but rapidly growing because the competition is fierce and the grand prizes can range up to $100,000. I am seeing a lot of improvement in those three sports and a lot of young people participating.
Q. Which area in sport are you most concerned about?
A. I would like to see the sports governing bodies be more honest, the presidents, managers and directors to be more honest individuals. I need them to allow the athletes to be the stars not the West Indies Cricket Board or the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association or some other governing board. Please allow the athletes to shine, score goals, break records and feel great about themselves.
Q. Does the prime minister collaborate with you to develop ideas and methods to boost the person of all stature in Trinidad and Tobago, because sports and academics are integrated into global society for the better cause of humanity?
A. That’s a great question. We are very pleased because our prime minister understands sport because he himself is an avid sport player, he shares an appreciation for sport but most importantly he loves young people so he employed younger ministers to help assist in relating to the younger ones in society to help them out of the slums and wasted lifestyles and put them on the right track. So yes we do and I am not the only minister he communicates with to make sure things go correctly.
Q. You and all other ministers are members of Trinidad and Tobago and a global society as far as democracy is concerned. Democracy is protection of all god given rights. Do you as minister of sport acknowledge that the burden is upon your shoulders to provide the necessary requirements for the welfare of every citizen in the sporting arena?
A. Wow! That’s a mouthful but I understand. Yes definitely one of the things which Is in the manifesto of the party is to ensure that every creed and race has a chance and an opportunity both male and female. One thing we realized we have been doing wrong for some years now is we were focusing more on mainly the older athletes when we should have been focusing more on the 9 - 12 year-olds. So now we have been funding the younger ones along with the older ones but doing more to help the little ones make it. We are also focusing more on our female athletes because they have been neglected for much too long. We now have an excellent female coach in the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association and I think she is the best we have ever had. Even for the Paralympians and the differently abled, when I make my tours at the facilities I ensure that the facilities are properly fitted that they can be happy and comfortable in whatever they do.
Q. Do you believe we practice proper democracy, looking back at our structure and practice of governing over the decades?
A. Yes I believe so because recently I went to the United Nations to represent our country at a youth conference and it was so pleasing for me to explain the vast range of cultures, ethnic races, classes and religion. Yes we may have some political friction with regards to the ethnic background of the two major political parties, but overall compared to other countries I think we are doing pretty well and I believe sport and education is a great way to bridge that gap. I think we have an amazing minister of education he is such a humble, good person and is trying. For Cricket for Carnival we see how we have one common goal and love for each other. I see our economic and crime situation is the only common disaster because criminals have a different goal and we the people need to come together to help each other.
Q. Do we have a government sport training camp whereby the youths are under full government guidance and protection, e.g. medical, academic, discipline, financial, psychoanalysis, socio-economic, physiotherapy, and physical training?
A. Minister of education Anthony Garcia and myself are hoping to use the Brian Lara Stadium to open the Brian Lara Academy by 2018 and we are focusing on the primary school level to do exactly what you pointed out – to be able to identify talent across the country especially in the hot spots and get the kids in a safe environment where they can be isolated from the environments where negativity exists, provide the best nutrition, academic, trade, training, therapy in a safe comfortable happy environment.
Q. What advice do you have for the young men in society for them to be better fathers, men and leaders?
A. We need real mentors in society and men to take responsibility for their actions. Too many single mothers and grandmothers are raising children on their own.
Q. Do you love what you do as minister of sport?
A. I love my job, I love my people, I love my country and most of all I love my God, my Lord Jesus. I think Trinidad and Tobago is the best place on the planet earth I think there is just a few bad apples and we need to smoke them out we need to mature a little more and pull together as a team, I am here to work with anyone who is here for one goal and that’s to make our country Trinidad and Tobago a better place.
Minister of sport and youth affairs, Darryl Smith, the very passionate, loyal, caring, down to earth minister, looks back at 2016