President David Granger: Good afternoon to the other president, Mr. Jones. [Laughter.]
Yeah, well I said the other president first; everybody has a pecking order but most of all the athletes and those who supported them, their coaches and, of course, family members and I would say the whole Guyanese nation have been supporting you because they’re very proud of this 46-six-year record. I could only hope that you’d maintain it in the years to come.
The role of sports is very important, particularly for young people and I always compared track and field with what happens in what used to be regarded as our primary school cricket. The only reason Guyana was able to rise so high in cricket and produce international greats, you know, the Kanhais’, and the Lloyds’, was because it had a broad base; so by the time you reach the top, you really had people of excellence. But when sports have a very small, a very narrow base, you find that you do not get people consistently of international standard and I would like to endorse the words of Christopher Jones and express our government’s commitment to ensuring that there’s more grassroots sport in the schools and in the communities.
It’s been a long journey for you and I don’t want to keep you much longer but I want to repeat to you an anecdote; well, not an anecdote, a true story which has impressed me greatly. Over the years, even while I was in Opposition, every August I would go into the Upper Mazaruni and there you have, as you know, the Akawaio and Arecuna people living in that area of Upper Mazaruni in villages like Waramadong, Jawalla and Kako right [along] the way to the Venezuelan border, to Paruima and Kaikan and Arau.
Every August young people come from their villages, sometimes walking two days, into one of the villages in the Upper Mazaruni where they have Upper Mazaruni District Games. No government support, they come out, they play football, they do athletics, they do rowing in the river, all manner of games for one week. All of them are Seven Days [Adventists]; so they start on Sunday and end next Friday but you would see mothers nursing, put aside their baby, go and play football, come back and continue nursing the baby but it’s so natural, it is so normal and it’s so happy.
This is not people playing for victory; of course everybody wants to win but they’re just having fun- when I say young people, sometimes not so young; [there are] mothers with the babies. Some of them seem to be a bit advanced but the point I’m making is there you’d see people in jerseys looking like Barcelona or Arsenal, and I don’t know where all of the stuff comes from, but everybody is well kitted-out around the ground and each village puts up its own pavilion with its own money and they have their own flags, their own village flags with their own colours.
So here we have a thousand athletes from 10 or 12 villages just having fun. So what I’m saying that right there in what we would call the bush, but really the hinterland, you’ll see people coming out and doing something, which I’ve never seen on the coast. I’ve never seen ten villages raising their own money, walking great distances to live together for a full week having fun, playing sport; and I believe that if we had that type of camaraderie on the coast we would see what Christopher Jones is dreaming of – young people in the villages in East Berbice-Corentyne, west Berbice, west Demerara, Essequibo Islands, Essequibo Coast coming together, playing sport and interacting with each other and having good fun.
I believe that as the years go by the standard of sport will raise and will rise. Sometimes I see the footballers coming from the Upper Mazaruni or from Lethem or from the Northwest; these are people who sometimes play against the Venezuelans or against the Brazilians, achieve a very high standard in sport. So competition is important and I’m very proud of what you all did, and on behalf of the Government of Guyana and on my own behalf I’d like to extend sincere congratulations to you. Now, I’ve brought along some coins here which will be extremely valuable 50 years from now; so please keep them. [Laughter.]