Sports can unquestionably be characterized as a social and cultural phenomenon in the Caribbean. Nor can there be any doubt about the importance of sports in the daily lives of the majority of the inhabitants of the region. Thousands attend or watch television broadcasts of cricket, basketball, boxing, horse racing, track and field, and regional and international sporting events.
In the islands and countries that make up the Caribbean, sports act as a force that brings people together and provide them with a sense of unity, creating feelings of pride in and identification with the athletes who represent them at the international level. Through sports, colonialism is resisted and nationalism is reinforced.
Sports are connected to other areas of society, such as politics and culture. For example, Professors John Mitrano and Robbin Smith have suggested that horse racing in St. Croix helped repair the “social fabric” of the Caribbean island in the months after it was devastated by Hurricane Hugo.
Sports also provide an additional reason to get out of the home, interact with hundreds of others in a festive atmosphere, and connect with others who share a common goal.
Many sports are practiced in the Caribbean (teams from the region compete in the Summer Olympic Games), but the following are most popular.
Cricket is the most popular sport in the British Caribbean. Although imported, this sport has been domesticated and transformed into a vehicle for emerging nationalist and democratic ideas. It became a unifying link among the British Caribbean countries with the creation of a common team that brings together 15 territories under the same uniform and that has become a symbol of Caribbean unification. In Trinidad, for example, Brian Lara – who holds the individual record with 501 runs in a match – is a national hero. In Bermuda, the most important holiday of the year is not the queen’s birthday, but the Cup Match, a two-day summer festival during which the entire island turns out to see matches between the cricket clubs. The West Indies are the rulers of cricket in the Caribbean and stadiums for the sport can be found in Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago — islands that were hosts for the Cricket World Cup in 2007.
Baseball is played and avidly followed mainly in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico. These three countries participate in world competitions in the sport and have several players in the Major Leagues in the United States. It is the most popular sport in Cuba and the Cuban National League plays games in Havana, Santiago, Camagüey and Holguin, among other provinces. Baseball is also very popular in Mexico and Venezuela and both countries participate in the Caribbean Series. In the 2010 Caribbean Series, the Dominican Republic took first place, followed by Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela. The Curacao Little League is famous at the international level and this small Dutch Caribbean island has sent various players to the Major Leagues, including Andruw Jones.
Another sport with many fans is soccer. As in the rest of the world, soccer is among the most popular sports in the Caribbean and most of the countries in the region have teams that are part of the FIFA’s CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) and compete in the CONCACAF Champions League. There are regional teams that also compete for the CONCACAF gold cup in the biennial tournament. Teams such as the Soca Warriors of Trinidad and Tobago, the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica, and the Islanders of Puerto Rico attract hundreds of spectators throughout the year.
Horse racing is not usually associated with the Caribbean, but the “sport of kings” is very popular in Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Nevis, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Croix and Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps the most famous races are those at the Barbados Turf Club on the outskirts of the city of Bridgetown. The Turf Club organizes three meets per year that present an elegant atmosphere with Caribbean flavor and British charm. The Turf and Jockey Club on the island of Nevis conducts races once a month at the Indian Castle track, with a mix of horse racing, outdoor barbeque and carnival. On Martinique, the action takes place at the Carrère track in Lamentin.
The sport of polo does not have as many fans as cricket or horse racing, but it is popular in Barbados, where the Barbados Polo Club hosts games open to the public in Holders, St. James, and other sites on the island. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic also have teams and the Casa de Campo Hotel in the Dominican Republic has three polo fields and holds an annual tournament.
Goat Races / Crab Races
On the other hand are more informal sporting activities such as those that take place in the town of Buccoo on Tobago, the home of a tradition that serves as an alternative to horse racing for people of less means: goat racing. Since 1925, goats and jockeys have competed on a 100-yard track during the Buccoo Goat Racing Festival. In the competition, which takes place on the Tuesday following Easter Sunday, jockeys run barefoot behind the goats and use tree branches as whips. Crab races are also held in the same town using thread and bamboo stakes as the finish line in an event that is both more serious and more entertaining than it sounds.
Although animal rights activists oppose it, cockfighting is a part of local culture in some parts of the Caribbean, especially in Puerto Rico, where the sport is extremely popular and hundreds of millions of dollars are wagered each year on the fights. Cockfighting is also popular in the Dominican Republic, where more than 1,500 cockfighting pits are registered, and in Cuba and Haiti.
Many people in the Caribbean are passionate about sports and could not imagine a Sunday without a baseball game, missing a boxing match, not going to the local court to see a basketball or volleyball game, or not supporting their national teams in the Olympics, Pan-American or Central American Games. Through these teams, sports are a part of national pride in countries that have lived for centuries under colonialism. For a brief moment, they can compete on an equal basis with the nations that colonized them or countries that are simply larger and have greater resources.
Author: Neeltje van Marissing Méndez
Published: May 20, 2012.
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