OP-ED: What do Keevin Allicock and national athletes deserve?


Viewpoint by national athlete Nicolette Fernandes 

There is little more exhilarating for an athlete than to compete with the name of your country emblazoned on your clothing. It can sometimes give you extraordinary powers and will to give more of yourself, so much so that throughout my professional career I printed “Guyana” on all my competitive clothes, whether I was playing for my country or not.

There is also an unspoken expectation that while representing our country, we athletes must adhere to standards of behaviour that will reflect pride in and respect for our nation.

If we fall short, which we will as we are in the end as mortal as everyone else, it is up to our relevant governing sporting bodies to hold us accountable.

The question that is troubling me lately is this: Who holds the individuals of our governing sporting bodies to account?

Nicolette Fernandes after winning gold for Guyana at the Pan American Squash Championship

A frightening incident occurred whilst a team of Guyanese athletes, of which I was part, was representing our nation at the South American Games.

We had all spent the evening together and just after we had all retired to our rooms for the night, there was a frantic knocking on our doors.

We were told that something was wrong with one of the boxers, Keevin Allicock. As the majority of the athletes were staying on the same floor, we were there to offer assistance in no time.

Unfortunately, the only assistance we could offer was to seek help from the hotel’s front desk. Keevin was clutching his chest, had difficulty breathing, and was sometimes unresponsive.

We were paralyzed by fear and helplessness. Keevin and the entire Guyanese delegation were at the mercy of kind individuals like the Panamanian Chef-de-mission and their doctor as we waited for the ambulance.

Meanwhile, his condition worsened. Days before, we all witnessed, with awe and admiration, what Keevin, Colin Lewis and Desmond Amsterdam had to endure before even entering the boxing ring to make their weight categories.

We brimmed with pride when they then went into the ring and medalled for themselves and, ultimately, for Guyana. We shared Colin’s and Desmond’s disappointment at their losses, and we were heartbroken as we watched a devastated Keevin miss his chance to compete in the semi-finals because he failed to meet his weight requirement.

This disappointment was completely eclipsed by the anguish we saw Keevin in a mere day or two later.

Keevin in fact recovered after being taken to a Paraguayan hospital via ambulance where he was later diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis. This could have been fatal and could certainly have had serious lasting consequences.

We are all on our personal journeys, whether it be in life or in sport. For national athletes, our personal journeys become part of the nation’s story; a part of the national narrative. For the last 30 years, I have had the honour and pleasure of representing our country in sport.

Without a doubt, I am at the very end of my sporting career. And this is why I feel an obligation to speak up. For the majority of those 30 years, I have been fearful of speaking out about some of the ways in which those bodies responsible for national sport have failed us all as national athletes.

I was recently invited to join a National Athletes’ Commission, an association for athletes and a vehicle through which our viewpoints could be obtained and communicated to the relevant sporting associations. One of the things I committed myself to doing as a member of this group was to ensuring that I tried to hold our administrators accountable and encouraged younger athletes to do the same.

This is, I think, what Keevin Allicock was trying to do in the letter he shared publicly. In his case, he believed, first, that serious damage to his health was the consequence of the failure to have trained medical personnel on hand and, secondly, that the absence of a scale impeded his progress in the competition.

Regrettably, the response from Guyana Boxing Association (GBA) is probably the best indication of why athletes are so fearful of speaking out. GBA’s response might have been an appropriate answer to an enquiry as to why a particular athlete did not meet the criteria for being part of a team.

However, it is not an adequate reply to someone who complained of feeling let down in the context of a serious health scare while representing both GBA and Guyana. GBA’s letter read as insensitive and lacking in care. It demonstrated little respect for Keevin or for the ordeal that he, his family, and the team had been through.

It made no mention of arranging for further medical checks to be carried out to ensure that he had suffered no lasting damage. Nor did it congratulate him on securing one of the three medals earned by Guyana in these Games.

Instead, it rebuked him for daring to make a complaint public and, in fact, blamed him for what had happened, throwing in his allegedly poor training record to deflect blame from itself.

What it did accomplish was to confirm that GBA’s reputation, rather than the care and support of athletes who give blood sweat and tears for their country, was its primary concern. I stand by Keevin and everything he has said.

The response from the President of the Guyana Olympic Association, K.A. Juman Yassin serves only to prove my point. To be the president of arguably Guyana’s most important sports association for 26 years and still communicate such a lack of care and understanding of what is required for athletic performance is utterly heart-breaking to me.

Notably, although being in Paraguay during the Games, Juman Yassin did not contact Keevin about his welfare while in Paraguay or since returning home. I do not believe this reflects the man I know Juman Yassin to be. We must all try to do better.

Since the exchange of correspondence on social media between Keevin and the GBA, I understand that the government did arrange a medical investigation for Keevin.

I was glad to hear that he has eventually been given some support, but I still believe that he ought not to have had to endure what he did, including the callous response of the GBA, before those who hold ultimate responsibility sat up and took notice.

Keevin, for what it is worth, you have done yourself and Guyana proud throughout your career.

We now live in an age of screens and sedentary lifestyles. An age where fewer and fewer children venture out to the dwindling playgrounds and dilapidated sports facilities in our communities.

It is an age where those responsible for sport at a national level believe that a photo-op with a politician, and a slap on the back, will be enough to keep us happy and to encourage future sporting greatness. If this is the strategy, we will soon have no athletes.

Shouldn’t national athletes expect something more? Shouldn’t we be less fearful about asking for it?

As I have already said, I am at the very end of my sporting career and the only thing I seek to achieve by writing this letter, by speaking up and out, is to see national athletes valued, supported and receiving the same dedication and care from our governing bodies as we athletes have consistently put into our sports while wearing that Guyana uniform.

In spite of all this, national athletes continue to feel the power and pride of the Guyana uniform. The question is, however, how much longer will it be before the disappointment at how we are treated, removes its special appeal?

1 Comment
  1. Matthew says

    Dear Ms Fernandes, Thank you for taking the time to write on this extremely important subject. I would disagree with one thing……you don’t look or play like you are at the “end” of your career…..but regardless of that you have been nothing less than a National Treasure and if a facility is not named after you…..I would be surprised and disappointed. With our new-found wealth I hope that our athletes are able to be funded properly for training, condition, medical, diet, travel and accommodation while representing the Country. Guyana has lagged seriously behind some of our Caricom partners in international sport and it is probably all traced back to our history and lack of funding. Thank you and your fellow athletes for the great showing at the Pan-Am games…..All ya’all were a credit to the Nation and many persons have expressed pride. It is so important to have a competitive team at International events…….doesn’t matter the positioning as long as they had the tools and will to give their all and carry that Guyana flag with pride.

    Thank you once more for the pride you have brought the Nation for as long as I can remember.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.