Paris 2024: West Indian athletes forced to go into exile to shine

For Kendrick Jean-Joseph, the decision to leave his native island in order to realize his dream of becoming a fencing champion was obvious at the age of 15

Paris 2024: West Indian athletes forced to go into exile to shine

For Kendrick Jean-Joseph, the decision to leave his native island in order to realize his dream of becoming a fencing champion was obvious at the age of 15. “If I could have stayed in Martinique to pursue my passion, I would have done so, but really, it was not possible,” confides the 22-year-old athlete, crowned with his two gold medals won at the World Games. academics in Chengdu, China, in August 2023.

During his college years, the young swordsman trained at the Martinique hope center where he benefited from “great academic support”. But, with entry into high school and an ever-higher level of demands in his discipline, there is no longer any question for him of continuing training in Fort-de-France. “In terms of infrastructure, it was becoming limited,” says the fencer.

An almost secondary disadvantage in his eyes, compared to the major problem: the geographical distance of the island, very restrictive for participating in “competitions all over Europe”. Not to mention the need to join a better training group. Kendrick Jean-Joseph therefore opted for the Lyon hope center. A choice he does not regret.

In Guadeloupe, sprinter Diana Iscaye waited a few more years, but she also ended up leaving, at the age of 20, after obtaining her Staps license (sciences and techniques of physical and sporting activities) at the University of the Antilles . She grew tired of the constant comings and goings between different sites: classes at the Fouillole university campus in Pointe-à-Pitre, daily training at the CREPS (Center for Sports Resources, Expertise and Performance) in Les Abymes. , the weekly bodybuilding sessions with his coach, in Lamentin.

“Everything wasn’t right. I decided to go to mainland France because I was looking for a structure where the infrastructures are made available to us to optimize our performances", summarizes this 200 and 400 meter specialist, who has been training since 2018 at the athletics club of Pays de Fontainebleau and competed in the 4x400 meter relay at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

“We can train in Martinique”

Like the Martinican fencer and the Guadeloupean sprinter, many West Indian sporting hopefuls are forced to leave their native land in order to excel in their discipline. Known for a long time, this situation arouses a certain bitterness mixed with resignation within local sports clubs and the governing bodies of West Indian sport.

“We have chronic irritants,” notes Katy Doré, the regional manager of high performance at the Martinique Regional Performance Center. In addition to the insufficient quality and quantity of sports equipment, there is insularity, which makes travel considerably more expensive: “730 euros on average per person for a trip,” indicates Ms. Doré, who evokes “existential difficulties” for clubs West Indian sportsmen.

Those who do not let themselves be discouraged despite these constraints can be counted on the fingers of one hand, while the French delegation to the Tokyo Games included around forty West Indians. “There are only three athletes who stayed at home,” says Martinican sprinter Ludvy Vaillant after training at the Louis-Achille stadium in Fort-de-France.

A graduate of a physiotherapy school, the silver medalist in the 4x400m relay at the world championships in Budapest in 2023 says he refuses to leave his island out of “militant desire”, even if he readily admits that it is “not necessarily the choice of the easy way”.

Living in the Antilles still allows the sprinter to benefit all year round from a climate conducive to “performing” and from a diet rich in fresh fruit in all seasons. “We can train in Martinique,” ​​says the vice-world champion, on the cusp of his 29th birthday. I made my contribution: there is still quite a bit left to lay.”