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Thursday 24th November 2011

Madame President, my voice joined the loud shouts of celebration at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium on the evening of November 11, 2011 when our national football team was successful in the game against Haiti. Success in this game meant that our team would advance to the next round of World Cup Qualifiers in Group A. Madame President 'This win for the National Football Team marks yet another historic moment in sports for Antigua and Barbuda!'
I was pleased to be a part of history. I was delighted to join with thousands of football fans and supporters at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium to cheer on the team and to congratulate them on achieving their goal.

In the midst of the excitement however, I will be quick to add that this achievement was not accidental or by chance, but the result of years of planning and hard work by the national football association and hundreds of hours of rigourous training and countless competitions by a talented, committed and hard working team of players. I congratulate the Executive and Members of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association (ABFA) who have worked hard over the years on making football the number one spectator sport in the nation. Special mention must also be made of the vision and strategic approach to planning of the President and General Secretary of the ABFA.

I encourage the ABFA technical training unit including the Technical Director, Football Coaches, Officials and support staff to continue in the development of the 'Antiguan and Barbudan Football Playing Philosophy' to ensure that talented players are identified early and nurtured into world class footballers. Madame President, I am of the view that other associations should also take hold of the fact that without a clearly defined pathway for players from the youth to the national level a sustainable system for winning gold will not be easily achieved. A development programme must therefore also be considered as important as winning medals. It is the life blood of any sport.

Madame President, I would also wish to acknowledge the fact that as the National Football Team continues on its journey towards the World Cup, that the cost of participation will increase significantly. While it is hoped that there will be rewards associated with the increased exposure, these are not expected to meet the immediate financial needs of the Association and team so it is my intention to approach the Ministry of Finance to explore any opportunities which are available to provide assistance to the ABFA once this is required. The entire nation of Antigua and Barbuda has been inspired by this win and the entire nation, including the private and public sectors must also rise to the occasion to provide whatever financial support is required to move the team to the next level. The main focus now for the National Football Team should be on playing at their best and working for the ultimate goal, that of winning.

Madame President, based on my previous experience, the crowd at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium was the largest I have ever seen for an event. I commend all fellow Antiguans and Barbudans who were present. Commendation is also in order for the Minister of Tourism, Hon. John Maginley and the Board of Management of the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium for facilitating the FIFA Game.

The Antigua and Barbuda Royal Police Force and Fire Service, the Emergency Medical Services and private security firms cannot be left out of the list of organizations to be commended for a job well done. The enterprising efforts of George Hourani/Cool and Smooth in providing national team uniform replicas for fans must be highlighted since it brought an added sense of pride and unity between fans and the team. The collective contribution of all underscored the fact that sporting events require the input of all stakeholders for successful implementation.

It is my hope, Madame President, that as the Government continues to work with National Sports Associations and other key stakeholders to make Antigua and Barbuda the Sporting Mecca for the OECS, that the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium and other sporting venues and facilities will be teaming with fans and supporters for a range of top tier sports and recreational events which are scheduled throughout the year. It is our hope in the Office of the Minister of State with responsibility for sports that we will soon achieve the goal of making sports and recreation, a viable economic sector.

Madame President, Sports and Recreation in Antigua and Barbuda is on the rise.

Just recently, Antiguan and Barbudans, Chassidy King and Keishora Armstrong won out against their peers at the Emma Willard to qualify to represent their school in the New York State High School Tennis Championships. The national swim team returned to Antigua and Barbuda from St. Lucia having won 113 medals with an overall bronze medal. This has been their best performance to date. This past weekend saw another female sporting league coming to an exciting close. The CPTSA Female Football League where 5 P’s and Stars Girls battled it out was another event for female sportspersons. 5P’s eventually emerged as winners. The masters would not be undone. Once again Ambassador Richie Richardson made his mark on the sports tourism calendar with another installment of the Masters Cricket Fest featuring entertaining master’s cricket and entertainment from Third World as well. Once again Government, the National Associations, the National Olympic Committee as well as corporate citizens played a key role in making these events a reality. I commend all heartily.

On Friday last, Madame President, I was heartened when I met with Craig Ryan, Jamol Pilgrim and their team to discuss their plans for the establishment of the Antigua and Barbuda Para-Olympic Committee. Madame President, I am particularly excited since our main flag bearer in that category Mr. Jamol Pilgrim has already made strides in his events in para Olympic qualifiers and personally placed first. The team is now working with the NOC to formalize the formation of the body in China in a few weeks so that Jamol can represent Antigua and Barbuda as one of our paraolympic athletes. The times are exciting indeed.
Madame President, I must admit that after seven years of serving as the Minister of State with responsibility for Sports I am beginning to see some of our greatest days as we move towards becoming a stronger sporting nation.

I am hopeful, very hopeful for a continued bright future for sports and recreation in Antigua and Barbuda. Football Team Antigua and Barbuda is scheduled to continue playing World Cup Qualifiers when they come up against the USA in the US in June of next year and two other teams later in 2012. Antigua and Barbuda is expected to aim for the gold in the Olympics and the Para Olympics in 2012. Madame President, the Ministry of Sports joins all Antigua and Barbuda in wishing our national teams the very best in their upcoming events. I call upon all to support their preparations from now! Let us unit for sports!

Madame Speaker, I could not conclude without celebrating the achievements of yet another resident of the St. John’s Rural South, Ms. Sylvaneta Brooks of Ottos New Town. Ms. Brooks was recently named as Antigua and Barbuda’s awardee for 2011 First International Caribbean Bank Unsung Hero Initiative. I join with all residents and supporters of St. John’s Rural South in congratulating Ms. Brooks who for most of her life has dedicated her time, efforts and resources to helping to raise dozens of children in the community. Three cheers for Ms. Brooks who has done her part in serving as an excellent role model in the community and offering children an alternative to what may have been a very negative life experience. I am proud of Aunty Brooks.

Thank you all.

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NAME: Mr Richard Henry
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ADDRESS: Office of the Minister of State: Sports and Recreation, Boys Training School and National School Meals Cassada Gardens St. John's
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