Several top local female sport administrators have come out in support of TT Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis’s recent statements that the future of female sport is under threat owing to a rise in serious crimes against women and girls locally.
Lewis made these remarks after the murder of 18-year old Ashanti Riley.
He also hinted that the TTOC’s Future is Female programme – an initiative designed to ensure equal opportunity for women and girls and offer equal chances of success at all levels of sport – stands to lose in the long run if criminal acts, particularly against women, are not curtailed.
Sports administrators Sonja Johnson (TT Chess Association president), Nadine Khan (former National Basketball Federation of TT), Giselle Laronde-West (TTOC executive member) and Diane Henderson (TT International Marathon chair) all shared Lewis’s ideology.
The quartet believes a collective effort is the only solution.
Johnson thinks more male voices, at all levels and from all sectors within society, must be heard speaking out against such deviant behaviour. She believes this is even more critical within sport, which continues to be male dominated as it relates to overall participation and at the administrative levels.
“Women must also rally with each other and continue to remind their children, both male and female, that these types of behaviours are not acceptable in any form and for any reason.
“They must remind girls in particular to always remain vigilant and to engage in practices that help to preserve their personal safety.
“They must remind their sons that they have a responsibility to also protect those who are more vulnerable. After all...girls' and women's lives matter!” said Johnson.
Khan, who also serves as TTOC assistant general secretary, shared her sentiments. If crimes against women escalate, the former basketball administrator affirmed the local sport movement would be directly affected, especially in the long term.
If TT continues to gradually reopen public activity, with the inclusion of domestic and recreational sport, Khan predicts there may be a decline in female participation owing to parents' safety concerns and even uninspired potential athletes.
She said there are many student/after-school athletes who depend on public transport.
In the present crime situation, the decision for a parent to place his/her daughter’s safety solely in the hands of public transport might now be an increased risk many are not willing to take.
“You are going to feel a sense of nervousness about letting your girl children participate in sport, and especially those led by a male, even though there may be nothing wrong with the coach – but you are going to question yourself on who this person really is,” she said.
Khan drew reference to former USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, who was convicted of cumulative sexual assault crimes against female gymnasts, and accused of assaulting at least 265 young women and girls dating back to 1992.
The victims include US Olympians Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Simone Biles.
“There’s already a stigma attached to male coaches and female athletes, especially girls. Now there’s an additional stigma with our children moving to and from events and activities.
“Once the fear remains, for women, there will be a sense of apprehension from girls, mothers and women in general. The sport movement will be affected. If I were a person who had to travel to go to (sport) meetings, I myself might have apprehensions,” Khan added.
Laronde-West believes fear can pervade the minds of potential athletes and dissuade them from developing further. She agreed that with any increase in crime and violence against women, female athletes would feel threatened, especially as athletes have to travel to and from training, often at very early hours of the morning or late at night. Parents are understandably hesitant.
She said many women also train with men and the trust that is usually there among athletes can be broken down.
This fear of men, generally owing to the ill deeds of some males, can make young female athletes sceptical and uncomfortable about expressing themselves or even wearing short training uniforms, as in the case of some ball sports, as well as swimming.
But Laronde-West, who is also a national karateka with the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation of TT, offered some heartening words.
“I would like to encourage the female athletes to not be discouraged or disheartened but to stand up for their rights and continue to train or start the sports they love.
"As a karateka, I would further encourage them to join martial arts to help them develop a sense of confidence, strength and to learn self-defence techniques which could help them in the event, heaven forbid, that they are caught in any unpleasant situation,” she said.
Henderson directed her comment towards a recent viral social media post which asked women, “What would you do if all men disappeared for 24 hours?”
The overwhelming majority of women said they simply wanted to go for a stroll, alone after dark, without fear of being followed by a man. Others said they would stop carrying their car keys in between their fingers "like a weapon" when walking at night and could use both earphones when listening to music in public.
While the responses have given rise to vicious trolling from men and women who took offence at the post, the statistics speak for themselves.
Although disenchanted, chess president Johnson called on both genders to unite in the fight against violence against women and girls.
“Though these attacks on females have a significant potential to dampen participation in sport and other community activities, I think this may be an opportunity for a call to activism.
“Women need to be at the table to address issues that affect them more specifically, which includes their safety. Women must be encouraged to become community and sporting leaders in order to better inform the policies that impact them."
She added that many times women shy away from leadership positions owing to an ingrained, male-dominated culture.
Johnson concluded, “To overcome this, there must be men, in leadership or influential positions, who are courageous enough to promote women to positions of leadership within the sporting organisations.
“It has been demonstrated time and time again, women bring a different approach to leadership and are able to understand quickly how to prioritise and work towards a goal of achieving the common good, with limited resources.”