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V.I. officials told that Olympic athletes need more money, better facilities

Olympic hopefuls from the Virgin Islands need more and better facilities, more money and better coordination with the government if they hope to compete consistently at an international level. Yet even though they lack resources, Virgin Islands athletes consistently surprise people the world over with their competitiveness.

That message was repeated many times as representatives of each of the 22 federations of the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee gave a five-minute speech in front of other federation heads and Gov. John deJongh Jr. and other government officials on Saturday morning at Government House in Christensted.

While few concrete recommendations came out of the meeting, federation heads consistently stated that more governmental and private support would improve the competitiveness of athletes from the Virgin Islands.

“Let’s make sports rise to the next level in the Virgin Islands,” said Sen. Ronald Russell, who is president of the Athletics Federation that governs track and field.

Many federation presidents also remarked that better facilities and organization will help the Virgin Islands attract teams from off-island to train and compete here. Several speakers said that sports tourism can be a profitable venture and the Virgin Islands are uniquely poised to take advantage of a tropical climate for training for events such as swimming, cycling and running.

Brad Nugent, assistant commissioner of the Tourism Department, spoke about sports tourism and encouraged attendees to think about what benefit their programs can bring to the territory. Funding is available for sports tourism if it will bring in revenue, Nugent said.

St. Claire Williams, commissioner of Housing, Parks and Recreation, said that he hopes recent efforts to create a separate department of Sports, Parks and Recreation will be successful. He said that the separation will help focus the job of the department.

DeJongh said that he will invest in sports in the territory.

“We can’t say that the children are our future unless we give them opportunities,” he said.

With a short time to get their message across to the governor, speakers made recommendations and highlighted achievements of each sport. Some include:

Athletics. Ronald Russell: An international quality sports complex should be constructed at both Educational Complex and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School to host international events.

Baseball. Morgan Quigley: The small size and relative isolation of the Virgin Islands limits the ability of athletes to compete consistently with other elite athletes.

– The federation cannot host others or travel without outside funding sources.

– The federation needs sponsorship for uniforms and other equipment.

– There is only one field on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix that can hosting international competition.

Basketball. Usie Richards: The men’s and women’s teams from the Virgin Islands have had some international success, including many appearances and wins at large events. The Virgin Islands are 70th out of 212 federations in the world.

– Recently competed in the Tournament of the Americas and was the only country with a population of less than 4 million to qualify.

– Four Virgin Islands national teams competed in international competitions in the past year.

– The Virgin Islands needs to get more out of existing facilities.

Bowling. Valencio Jackson: A family sport that is aiming at junior athletes to grow into international hopefuls.