Participants make commitments at annual day of prayer
May 26, 2018
The Trinity: love perfect
May 26, 2018

Sports – From Cuba with love – and sports

The first time you hear someone referred to as ‘Doctor’, what comes to mind? When further details reveal that the person speaks fluent Spanish and has been trained in Cuba, what image is firmly cemented in your mind?

Dr Michael Andrew Knight breaks any preconceived notion you may have. Firstly, he holds a doctorate in Sport and Physical Education from the Universidad de las Ciecnias de la Cultura Fisica y el Deporte (loosely translated, the University of the Sciences of Physical Culture and Sport) —a lengthy name for a well-renowned university in Havana.

He is one of a handful of Caribbean nationals who has attained such a high academic standing from a Cuban university, and remarkably, he is only thirty-four.

Dr Knight is sharp, elegant, and has recently joined The University of the West Indies’ Academy of Sport as a Sport Co-ordinator. He was handpicked for this role as the university rolls out its new sporting and recreational activities for staff and students, hosts signature events such as the UWI half-marathon, new academic programmes through the Faculty of Sport and other community outreach activities.

I wanted to know how this Belmont boy decide on this career path?

What was the catalyst for your decision to study in Cuba?

I was having a hard time with A-Level Economics and an opportunity presented itself through the Friends of Cuba Association. They offer scholarships to Cuban universities and I took advantage of the opportunity.

How long did you study in Cuba?

In 2001, I went on a language-immersion programme, from 2005–2010 obtained my Bachelor of Science in Sports & Physical Education, and in 2017 attained my PhD in Sport and Physical Education.

Tell me about how sport policy is managed in Cuba?

INDER (Instituto Nacional de Deportes Educación Fisica y Recreación) is the highest governing body of sport in Cuba. The national associations, federations, coaches, and athletes are all governed by this institution.

Cuba develops its own coaching capacitation courses internally based on its needs. Coaches and athletes are normally university educated, so there is a great deal of practical knowledge and understanding when it comes to talent identification, and sports management.

Given the resources available there, how are programmes executed?

There is an ongoing process of talent identification from primary school all the way to elite levels. There are sports schools called ESPA (Escuela Superior de Perfecionamiento Atletico) which cater for athletes 11 years and over. These schools not only identify talent, they guide athletes into the best sports based on continuous assessments.

For instance, and this has occurred with some elite athletes, they were identified at an early age for, let’s say basketball, and when they went to ESPA, because of their physical attributes, body structure, or general disposition, another sport was chosen for them, and they excelled as a result of that continuous process of observation in these specialised sports schools.

What has been your biggest takeaway from your Cuban experience?

I would say the hands-on approach. University is a physical building with knowledgeable and extremely qualified faculty, but what is emphasised the most is one’s ability to be useful in the field from the onset. Personally, I was able to work in a clinic in Havana while I studied physiotherapy, as part of my courses, and that experience was invaluable.

What do you envision for yourself as your future contribution to sport in Trinidad and Tobago?

[Smiling] That’s a broad question, but I would say, to have the physical education class create a positive reference to physical activity for young people so that they continue a regimen of exercise and proper eating habits that will translate into a decrease in the probability of the onset of chronic non-transmissible diseases when they are older. In addition, the development of exercise programmes for seniors in elderly care homes that can improve the quality of life.

Jamila Cross is a triathlete, former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club Spain, and mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago. She is the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.