The decision by the IAAF to discontinue its World U18 championships after the 2017 staging in Nairobi, Kenya took a lot of persons by surprise. The competition which started in 1999 has been graced by some very outstanding Caribbean athletes such as Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kirani James, Shaunae Miller and Jaheel Hyde. Many coaches, athletes, administrators and track enthusiasts especially in the Caribbean did not see this one coming when the announcement was made on the penultimate day of competition at the Rio Olympics.
According to the governing body – the IAAF – they will work with Area Associations to find a more appropriate competition structure for assisting the career development of U18 age group athletes.
Sebastian Coe, IAAF President, commented on the decision: “We decided it’s not the best pathway for those athletes at that stage of their career.”
The Caribbean already has a fantastic combined U18 and U20 age group championship called the CARIFTA Games which is held annually every Easter Weekend. Prior to the current U18 category the games had a lower age group structure (U17); however, in keeping with the IAAF age group competition guidelines it was upgraded in 2014.
Over the years many of the athletes would use the CARIFTA Games as a stepping stone for any global championships held within that period. They usually look forward to competing in foreign conditions against the world’s best, experiencing a different culture, building their character and ultimately leaving their mark.
It is for these reasons and perhaps a lot more that quite a number of young athletes and persons in general, may not be in favour of the removal of the global U18 competition. Nevertheless, it will become a reality very soon and the Caribbean must embrace the change just like the other IAAF member federations. “The only thing constant in life is change” is one of the most profound adages around.
It is left to be seen if the CARIFTA Games will be affected in anyway in terms of it being staged at a later date or discontinued and replaced by another competition with greater appeal.
Another aspect that may be given some consideration is perhaps having a separate Caribbean U18 championship and allowing the longstanding CARIFTA Games to be an U20 competition only, with the two events staged on different dates in different islands.
To be the best an athlete has to compete against the best rivals. The CARIFTA Games can be very competitive; however, there are times in a number of events where the quality on display is not of the highest standard. On those occasions the top Caribbean athletes may not discover their true potential until faced with sterner challenges. Therefore, for Caribbean athletes to improve, the need arises for competitions against the best athletes from other parts of the world. The IAAF World U18 championships provided that opportunity for close to two decades.
Looking towards the future, the scrapping of the IAAF World U18 championships could see a more integral involvement by the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) in the region. In addition to the Caribbean Games, the youth competitions staged by NACAC could become more prominent in years to come. It is perhaps the best place to start the development from an Area perspective. The administrators charged with implementing the new U18 changes could follow the successful blueprint of the inaugural European Athletics Youth championships this year in Tbilisi, Georgia.
The idea proposed by the IAAF, despite the uncertainty at present in the region, may work out favourably as the governing body should provide vision, funding and guidance each step of the way.
There are some very interesting times and more importantly decisions ahead for administrators in determining the appropriate pathway for young Caribbean athletes.