The Curious Case of Anil Roberts: Roller Coaster Return to Grace Pt. 1

Mostly known for his involvement in the now scandalous LifeSportt programme, Anil Roberts’ rise to parliamentary stardom was spearheaded by his involvement in the affairs of the Trinidad & Tobago sporting world. His accolades have him down as a former Olympic Swimming coach, one of the persons responsible for moulding the talent of our most credible athlete in the 50M pool, George Bovell III. His charismatic side was quickly shadowed by his lack of charm as he showcased his “talent” as a sports commentator on the show stylised as SPALK (Sports Talk), something like a lighter less talented version of Shaka Hislop for ESPN FC, on the local station The Gayelle. After having a successful spell on television this put Mr. Roberts’ rise to stardom on an uphill climb, so much that he was tipped for a place in the United National Congress’ party as a parliamentarian. The then “Honourable” Anil Roberts was first elected to the House of Representatives on May 24th 2010 as the member for D’Abadie/O’Meera for the snap general election, then appointed Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs on May 29th 2010 and subsequently the Minister of Sport from 27th June, 2011 to 31st July, 2014.

In typical “opposition now turned victorious party” fashion Roberts in his first days on the job condemned the former PNM administration and more surprisingly the SPORTT (Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago) by brandishing it as “Madness” supported with the slew of financial mismanagement accusations, “omissions, errors, impropriety and downright corrupt practices….. from the Caribbean Games, which never came off, to the legacy flag at Hasley Crawford Stadium, to the hiring of interns, the leasing of expensive SUVs, duplication of duties/responsibilities and the creation of a ghost roof at the stadium”. A fitting speech for what was soon to come.

A series of events followed along the trail, with plans to implement programmes in various communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago. One of which, (in conjunction with then Minister of National Security Mr. Austin Jack Warner) would be labelled as the “Hoop for Life” basketball competition  which was unveiled in July 2012, with an appearance by 4× NBA Champion, 3× NBA Finals MVP & NBA Hall of Famer, Shaquille O’Neal who was paid an undisclosed sum by the then PP (People’s Partnership) Government even though he “happened to be in the country” as purported by Mr. Warner. Hosting a total of 60 basketball teams in an effort to reach over 33 embattled and at risk communities, was then apart of the LifeSportt initiative which in the words of Mr. Roberts wanted to expand the programme to an additional 6r communities. The estimated span of the competition would be once every 3 years as stated by Mr. Warner.


PAYING THE BILLS

The Hoop for Life competition with an initial bill to launch the campaign with $300,000 in taxpayers money was estimated to cost a grand total of 36 Million over a 3 year period or 12 Million per year. Hoop For Life then, from October 2012 to September 2013 spent an estimated 2 Million in leasing 19 cars, 5 SUVs and hiring 24 drivers for the initiative. This was defended by then Finance Minister Larry Howai by stating that it was only 1 vehicle that was leased. The first leg of the competition saw the grand prize of 1 Million dollars being awarded to the Laventille basketball team, $500,000 for Second Place and $250,000 for Third Place. In March of 2013 Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar increased the 1 Million dollar 1st prize to 1.5 Million for that year. A spokesman said in reply o the question, Has the programme exceeded it’s 12 Million budget? they’re still paying bills from last year. “I can’t say”. 

One of the rules of the game was that any player who ran afoul of the law will be expelled from the programme “For six months, the 720 players maintained a 100% crime-free record. No one was arrested nd there was no acts of violence. This is something to be proud of.”

However after costing the Government over 70 Million in less than 2 years, the Hoop for Life programme had to be reviewed. A statement made by National Security Minister, Gary Griffith (Austin Jack Warner’s successor after leaving of his own volition due to a slew of accusations of criminal wrong doings from financial impropriety to bribery during his stand as FIFA Vice President).

ON TO THE NEXT ONE
As was previously mentioned the LIFESport programme launched in June 2012 was aimed to cater for youths between the ages 16 to 25 and is said to have been fixated in 33 communities throughout the country (later expanded to 65). at its inception a total of 60 participants were involved in the programme at each venue where they old then undergo training in three porting disciplines ( Football, Cricket & Basketball) as well as undergo Life Skills and personal development programmes. The sole function of LIFESport was an attempt to “roll back the tide against criminals and criminality in out counrty. It was specifically focused on saving the lives of young men ( between the ages of 16 and 25) who needed to be protected from criminals who routinely preyed on them, and (the programme was meant to instead) to help shape positive futures for these young people.” – KPB 2014