As the news went viral and the ripple of shock rose to a crescendo of outrage, embarrassment and recrimination, Michael Cooper sent out a WhatsApp message: “Well… well… well. I guess we need to see things in black and white to believe.”

With the note was the news report from News Channel 5 Cleveland, a television station in Ohio, USA. There for all the world to see was a story extolling the success of Panyard Incorporated, a company in Akron, just outside Cleveland, as the recognised “world leader of steeldrums.”

On the island that had gifted the magnificence of the Steelpan to the world, the casually delivered statement landed with the force of an arrow to the heart. Across the oceans, Trinbagonians reached out for each other via social media in a global commiseration of shared loss. But not Cooper, majority owner and managing director of Panland Trinidad and Tobago Limited, the Laventille-based self-declared “panmakers to the world” and, until recently, the largest steelpan manufacturing company in the world.

As the tide of anger swelled with blame and accusations of cultural appropriation, Cooper’s sense of déjà vu morphed into the triumph of vindication.

Here, “in black and white, all pun intended”, he added with a twinkle in the eye, was what he had been trying to communicate for years to successive governments, investors, bankers and  advocates for steelpan as industry. Neither intimidated nor threatened by Ohio’s foray into the pan manufacturing, Cooper is hoping that the foreign example of Panyard Inc might be the catalyst to convince investors, private or public, about the validity of his strategy for the development of a global steelband industry based in Trinidad and Tobago and, more specifically, in Laventille, birthplace of the Steelpan. From where Panland now sits, all it requires is an infusion of TT$6 million.


Michael Cooper came to steelpan not through music but through industry. An electrical engineer with expertise in operational management, he was the Managing Director of Neal and Massy Industries when the decision was taken in the early nineties to shut down the conglomerate’s car assembly plant in Arima. With the era of protection and windfall profits about to be blown away by the winds of liberalization, competition and cheaper imports, Cooper was charged with the responsibility of finding alternative uses for the car assembly plant.

After a global search for opportunities and ideas, the group known today as the Massy Group, settled on the idea of a new subsidiary, Ajax Manufacturing and Fabricating Ltd, which would transition the plant’s facilities into five different lines of business. One of them was steelpan manufacturing.  Quickly recognising the high potential of the steelpan as “special”, Cooper moved steelpan manufacturing out of Ajax into a separate company, Trinidad and Tobago Instruments Limited, a low-capital joint venture between Neal and Massy as majority shareholder with Metal Industries Company (MIC) and Pan Trinbago, governing body for steelbands. In 1993, as the assembly plant prepared to close, Cooper was offered the comfortable option of staying with the group. To the surprise of almost everyone, he chose to chase the dream.

“I said ‘Pan gone, I gone! And I want the pan.’ Everyone thought I was a mad man but that was the choice I made. I felt compelled to do that,” he explained.

In lieu of a cash severance, Cooper acquired Neal and Massy’s majority shareholding in TTIL and some steelpan manufacturing equipment and moved the company from Arima to Old St Joseph Road in Laventille. In November 1994, TTIL was launched amid great fanfare with Prime Minister Patrick Manning cutting the ribbon to usher in a new day for Steelpan and Laventille.

With its eye trained on the export market, TTIL quickly began conquering new horizons. Very early, Cooper discovered the lucrative, largely untapped market for miniature pans when an order came in for 8,000 miniature pans from Woodstock Percussion, a New York company specializing in wind chimes. That experience also came with a valuable lesson about lead standards for paint in the US market which would later push Cooper to invest in powder coating technology.

After four years at St Joseph Road, Cooper moved the company to its current location opposite Angostura at the corner of the Eastern Main Road, Laventille and Dorata Street. In 2006, the company took on a new investor in Dynamic Equity and changed its name to Panland Trinidad and Tobago Limited. As Dynamic came on, Pan Trinbago cashed in its shares and left.

By 2007, Panland’s production was exploding. When an order for 6,000 pans came in from First Act, a supplier of toy-sized musical instruments based in California USA, its staff of 75 had to work round-the-clock.

“It affected all my customers,” recalled Cooper.

Later, when First Act came back to Panland with a sales projection of 40,000 pans, Cooper said he just “ran”, such demand being far beyond Panland’s capacity. For First Act, Panland invented the 10-and-a-half inch steelpan, broadening its range of pans which also includes an 8-inch, 12-inch, 15-inch, 18-inch 22-and-three-quarters-inch. As it broke into one market after another, Panland picked up entrepreneurial honours, including the Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Award.

From the beginning, Panland had trained its lens on the export market with customers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, the Caribbean and elsewhere. While it produced, maintained and tuned pans for the domestic market, Cooper said the objective was never to replace the industries that had developed around the annual Panorama steelband competition.

In September 2008, when the global economy went into meltdown, Panland was luckier than most. Just the year before, the Trinidad and Tobago government under the Patrick Manning administration had introduced the IDB-funded Pan In Schools programme for which Panland had tendered and been awarded a contract to supply 16-pan ensembles for some of the 500 primary schools in the programme.

While the order for a substantial number of big pans allowed Panland to retain its staff and stay in production, Cooper said the opportunity brought into stark relief the capacity problem created by the limited pool of high quality pan tuners. “We learned early that there was not the tuning capacity to go beyond a certain level of production,” said Cooper.

Panland ended 2009 with what Cooper describes as a “tidy” profit. And then, the bottom fell out of the business, affecting not only for Panland but for the nascent industry that was beginning to develop around the school market for steelpans.

In a dramatic policy shift on music education in schools, the People’s Partnership government halted the Pan In School programme in 2010 with only 93 of the planned 500 schools having been outfitted with steel ensembles. In the two years that suppliers waited for a decision on the programme’s future, businesses collapsed and jobs fell away. Panland held out, hoping for a rebound, and paid the price.

“By 2011, we were crawling and in a big hole that we weren’t able to come out of. It affected everything,” said Cooper.

When the new music programme eventually emerged in 2013, the 16-piece steelband ensembles had gone, replaced by a multi-cultural programme requiring only two tenors pans among a range of instruments representing different cultural traditions such as the cuatro, njimbe, tabla, dholak, chac-chac, triangle and so on.

The unexpected collapse of Pan In School triggered a domino effect that reverberates to this day. At Panland, the once humming workshop in Laventille fell silent as employees were laid off. Cooper’s dream of an industry with an assembly line of continuous pan production offering full-time employment to technicians, tuners and the supporting cast of professionals required for a global business, dissipated. The jobs that came its way had small margins and required ad hoc expertise. Eventually, said Cooper, the company fell so deeply into the hole that it could not even summon the resources to take advantage of the substantial orders for export that began coming its way again as the global economy stabilized and recovered.

Surveying the operation last week, Cooper conceded that he may have held on too long, beyond the point where business sense would have suggested that he chuck it in. But he finds it even harder to walk away and turn his back on the dream, on Laventille and on the capital of knowledge built up over a quarter of a century in scouring the world and understanding the global market for steelpans.

For the briefest of moments, he is overcome by emotion. Then he finds the words: “I wouldn’t be able to face myself if I didn’t hold out for as long as I could.”


Panland vs Panyard Inc

Secret of the Miniature Steelpan

Michael Cooper harbours no rancour about Panyard Inc’s foray into the steelpan market nor is he troubled or particularly threatened by the US company’s boast of being the “world leader of steeldrums.” He sees its success and the efforts of other non-Trinidadian initiatives as important in whetting the international appetite for steelpans and building out the global market in which, he insists, brand Trinidad and Tobago still holds pride of place.

He has known Panyard Inc’s two founders, Ron Kerns and Ron Drouin, for about 20 years, from the days when they were young music graduates following their fascination with pan to the panyards of Port of Spain, weaving in and out bands, scoring the music and selling the sheets. Panland sold them their first shipment of pans and Cooper remembers how they teased him when they first saw his miniature pans at the Laventille factory.

“Before they were making miniature pans they used to be laughing and joking, kicksing on us and saying ‘allyuh ain’t no panmakers to the world; allyuh is smallpan makers to the world.’ It was a joke.”

Panyard Inc’s movement into the successful production of its Jumbie Jam miniature steelpans tells Cooper that they have now discovered what he recognised two decades ago about miniature pans- which is that they can penetrate bigger markets at a lower cost and, priced right, can deliver faster and bigger profits.

More importantly for Trinidad and Tobago, 25 years of experience has taught him that building a business from miniature pans up is not only good business but essential to the development of a steelpan industry, given the capacity constraint of the small pool of expert pan tuners.

Early on, as substantial orders came in for the regular big pans, Panland had come up against the hard reality that the number of expert pan tuners that had emerged in response to the needs of the national steelband movement was far from enough to support an industry producing pans for the domestic and export market on a year-round basis. “You cannot have a significant commercial production activity on big pans alone because you have to have the tuners to do that,” said Cooper. Tuning, he explained, is the human specialty that so far continues to defy technological innovation, including artificial intelligence.

He quickly discovered, however, that while big pans required high quality pan-tuning expertise, miniature pans could be produced at high volume with a lower level of tuning skill.

“The big opportunity these miniature pans provided us was to be able to bring steelpans into production with a shorter training curve.”

By Cooper’s calculation, it takes roughly five years of training and tuning for a tuner to begin “to catch himself”. For miniature pans, the training curve is much shorter. The penny, as they say, dropped. Going after the market for miniature pans, which took Panland into the massive global market for toys and low cost educational instruments, became the platform for building a sustainable, global steelpan manufacturing company based in Trinidad and Tobago and, more precisely, Laventille.

“These miniature pans allow entry into pan manufacture while there is production that can pay for people to be fully employed and trained on the job, rather than the big pans where you have to go and apprentice with a trainer and spoil a lot of his pans which he cannot afford.”

Using this model, mass production of miniature pan became the training ground for permanently-employed tuners who could eventually graduate to the big pans where only excellence will cut it. Of the top ten winners in Panorama 2018, Cooper takes pride in declaring “without fear of contradiction… that six or seven were tuned by people who came out of Panland.”

One week before Carnival 2016, in the hectic countdown to Panorama, the now defunct Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) headed by Dr Terrence Farrell invited Cooper to make a presentation on the steelpan industry. “They interviewed everybody in the industry and this same model that I have been proposing and which Panyard Inc is using is what I gave to them to put in the mix.” His proposal calls for connecting the dots between training and the job opportunities that would be created by linking production output to the global demand for steelpans that Panland had discovered in the markets for  toys, early music education, adult recreation and professional music.

That exercise helped inform the EDAB’s “Proposal on Steelpan Manufacturing Industry for Export” which was presented to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. Soon after, Farrell resigned in frustration and by April 2018, Dr Rowley dissolved the board. Nothing has since been heard of the proposal.

In Laventille, Cooper is still holding out, resisting the lure of tempting offers to move production to China as he waits for the tide to turn. Although the window may be closing, the export market still tells him that Brand Laventille and Brand T&T still possess the force and the power to catapult an indigenous steelband industry into the big league of the global market.

“There is something about Pan made in Laventille,” he says, noting that “Trinidad and Tobago remains the source and remains the place where you get the best pans in the world” He pauses, swallows hard, and in softer tone he adds: “This is not about money. It’s a lot more than that.”

Sunity Maharaj ♦ Photo: Maria Nunes


TLewis chides NSOs for being ‘too slow’ to adapt in Covid era

Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis indicated that national sporting organisations (NSOs) have failed to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the Covid-19 pandemic

And those NSOs need to step up their game if their sports are to survive and prosper.


Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) is targeting a move to a new headquarters.

TTOC President Brian Lewis told Trinidad and Tobago Newsday that he had been seeking to find a permanent home for the organisation since 2013.

The TTOC has rented its headquarters since 2010, with the organisation currently based at 121 Abercromby Street in Port of Spain.

Lewis said the TTOC wants to remain at its current location until mid-2021.

This would enable the organisation to celebrate its participation at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The TTOC would also commemorate the organisation’s 75th anniversary.

Lewis described Abercromby Street as a “heritage building” because of the design.

The existing headquarters has formed the base of Olympic Day celebrations, which are marked opposite the building at Lord Harris’ Square.

Panam Sports has targeted helping its National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to establish their own headquarters.

A programme was established by the continental body to strengthen the infrastructure of NOCs or support the purchase of NOC headquarters.

Colombia, the Cayman Islands, Grenada and Panama are among NOCs to have opened new or renovated headquarters in recent years in the region


The Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) has set dates of September 24 to 30 for the second edition of its World Beach Games in 2023.

A decision was taken by ANOC in May to postpone the event from 2021.

ANOC said its Executive Council had decided not to stage the event as planned next year "to alleviate pressure" on National Olympic Committees (NOCs) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This would ensure they could focus on preparing their athletes for the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, it was stated.

ANOC secretary general Gunilla Lindberg, speaking during the Panam Sports General Assembly, revealed the organisation plans to host the event from September 24 to 30 in 2023.

The dates avoid a clash with the Pan American Games in Santiago, which are due to run from October 20 to November 5.

The ANOC Executive Council had invited NOCs to express an interest in bidding by February this year for either the 2021 or 2023 World Beach Games.

The process was halted due to the pandemic, however.

Lindberg said ANOC now aimed to launch the bid process for the event following the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next year.

She said this would enable NOCs to focus on their preparations for the Olympic Games, while she expressed hope that potential hosts would be able to have more normal contact with Governments and sponsors at the time.

The inaugural ANOC World Beach Games were held in Doha last year.

San Diego was awarded the 2019 World Beach Games in 2015, but the event had to be relocated after Californian organisers were unable to raise the necessary money to fund it.

Qatar stepped in at late notice and hosted what ANOC officials claim was a successful maiden edition of the multi-sport event.


At a time of global uprisings, the Olympic ban on political dissent is under renewed scrutiny.
By Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff

As the winds of change whip through the world of sports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains a windless desert full of dry-husk ideas that appear brittle amid today’s zeitgeist of principled athlete activism. While other sports leagues—like the National Women’s Soccer League—are making space for their athletes to express political dissent, the IOC is lagging behind, digging in its heels to argue that politics and the Olympics don’t mix.

But there is a burgeoning effort among Olympic athletes, and even some sports administrators, to loosen restrictions on athletes’ ability to engage in political protest. The moment is ripe to ditch the restrictive measure embedded in the Olympic Charter that bans political dissent. The IOC is living in the past. Politically minded Olympic athletes are rooted in the present and thinking about the future. They more than deserve space to protest injustice.

The Olympic Charter has long explicitly forbidden dissent. After John Carlos and Tommie Smith famously thrust their black-gloved fists into the Mexico City sky in 1968 for Black freedom and human rights, the IOC fashioned a rule to dissuade athletes from taking a similar stand. This takes the form of Rule 50 in today’s Olympic Charter: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

In January, the IOC doubled down, issuing guidelines that delineated what it considers “protest,” rather than “political expression.” “Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands” is verboten, as are “gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling.” This suspiciously specific “non-exhaustive list” was an obvious response to two US athletes who had the temerity to make political statements on the medal stand at the 2019 Pan American Games: track athlete Gwen Berry, who raised a fist on the medal stand, and fencer Race Imboden, who took a knee.

Pressure is mounting from within the Olympic circle. The president of the Caribbean National Olympic Committees, Brian Lewis, stated publicly that Rule 50 must go. “My strong view is that Rule 50 can’t stand scrutiny,” he said. “It is explicitly linked to podium protests against racial injustices. It is the symptom of systemic racism and racial discrimination.”

In June, Global Athlete, the international, athlete-led group, issued a statement demanding the abolition of Rule 50, arguing that “silencing the athlete voice has led to oppression, silence has led to abuse, and silence has led to discrimination in sport.” The Athletes’ Advisory Council for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee agreed. The group teamed up with John Carlos to issue a similar plea to ditch Rule 50.

“Who knows what’s going to be in somebody’s heart? I don’t get to tell anybody what’s in their heart in that moment, when they get to reflect on how they got there and the country they come from. I feel like Rule 50 is a repudiation of that, a denial of what’s in your heart.”

US Olympian Gwen Berry told The Nation, “I think Rule 50 needs to be canceled for the simple reason that it goes against athletes’ human rights. There are rights inherent to all human beings and one is the freedom of speech.”

Berry is exactly right. The Olympic Charter’s Rule 50 stands in direct contradiction to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 19:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The IOC’s blatant suppression of athlete dissent slices mightily against this sentiment.

The Olympic Charter’s Rule 50 has long been outdated. Today, amid worldwide protest, it is downright archaic. To squelch protest today is to advance white supremacy, since most recent protests by Olympic athletes were done either to raise awareness of racism and its ramifications—like Berry and Imboden—or by athletes of color who used the Olympics as a political platform for speaking truth to power in their home countries. As the protests sweeping the streets have shown us, white supremacy needs to go. Let’s make space for athletes to give that toxic ideology a firm nudge toward the dustbin of history.

Dave ZirinTWITTERDave Zirin is the sports editor of The Nation and the author of Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down.

Jules BoykoffJules Boykoff is a professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon and the author of four books on the Olympic Games, most recently NOlympians: Inside the Fight Against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo.


Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh today urged the sporting fraternity to be patient and respect the public health ordinance, amongst growing evidence that football teams are flouting Covid-19 regulations.

The Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-ncov)] (No 32) Regulations, 2020 states:

‘During the period specified […] a person shall not, without reasonable justification […] participate in any group contact sports; or participate in any team sports, except with the approval of the minister.

‘[The aforementioned sub-regulations] shall not apply to athletic teams approved by the minister who are in training or participating in contact or team sports, at the national or international level.’

In light of complaints by readers about football academies, in particular, violating the regulations, Wired868 asked Deyalsingh to speak directly to football teams this morning.

“So as far as sport is concerned, the regulations speak to teams involved in national service—like the national football team representing Trinidad and Tobago—[which] are allowed to start back training,” said Deyalsingh, at today’s virtual press conference. “So [athletes preparing for the] Olympics, Red Force, to represent Trinidad and Tobago in cricket, [national] football teams, they can train. What is not allowed is anything else.

“I spoke with the commissioner of police on this last week. So we are urging all of those persons, you are not allowed under the regulations to be training, or congregating, unless you are representing a national team.”

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith confirmed that lawmen are regularly shutting down scrimmages—informal games—between football enthusiasts.

“The prime minister has been clear that we cannot play contact sport; the only people who can play is national teams,” said Griffith. “We continue to have patrols and we keep dispersing people, but we are not giving tickets to everyone—just like we won’t give everyone a ticket for not having a mask on, because sometimes people misinterpret the legislation.”

Griffith suggested at least two caveats that Deyalsingh did not, though.

First, he pointed out that regular club teams sometimes ‘assist’ the national team by giving them a practice game. For instance, he said, Pro League team AC Port of Spain played the Soca Warriors recently—they lost 8-0.

There is no allowance for AC to train, in preparation for that warm-up match, though.

Second, Griffith appeared to contradict Deyalsingh on whether teams can get together at all. The health minister’s view is that teams are ‘not allowed under the regulations to be training, or congregating’. The police commissioner says he sees no issue with certain types of training.

“A football team can run up the [Lady] Chancellor or do exercise; any team can assemble but they must be less than 10,” said Griffith. “That is no different to exercising in a gym… So they can train but they cannot take part in contact sport.”

And what about doing technical work on the ball within small groups and without contact?

Deyalsingh himself was clear that this is outlawed, and Griffith agreed. Once the football enters the picture, the commissioner suggested that it encouraged the violation of physical distancing guidelines, etc.

“Doing drills with the ball?!” asked Griffith. “Nah, I’m not buying that. Sure, you can get technical and say if we are just kicking the ball from one person to the next then it is not contact sport. But we cannot have police standing around watching to see if it turns into a scrimmage.

“Even if you put two men inside of a circle of five men [in a passing drill] and they are running around, breathing hard trying to get the ball. That is exactly the sort of thing the regulations are trying to avoid.”

Although there were complaints of multiple teams breaching the regulations, Wired868 got photographic evidence of two: QPCC FC, and an academy run by unofficial Men’s National Senior Team assistant coach Keon Trim.

(Trim, who is also a special reserve police officer, was not appointed by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s technical committee, but has worked as one of Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick’s guest coaches since June.)

Wired868 asked QPCC FC official Colm De Freitas whether the ‘Parkites’ are training at present.

“We are not training anymore, we are currently not training and we don’t have any teams in training,” said De Freitas. “We shut down some time ago. I can’t remember the exact date; I think it was something around April.”

Trim also denied conducting any sessions outside of the Soca Warriors.

“I train only the national players,” said Trim. “We have the national youth team players training but that’s it.”

In fact, the QPCC children supposedly train regularly at the St Joseph’s Convent ground in St Clair, while Trim was also spotted working with minors at the Nelson Mandela Park in the same region. In both cases, parents are allegedly paying for the sessions—although Wired868 could not confirm the financial arrangement, if one existed.

The public health ordinance states:

‘A person who contravenes this regulation commits an offence and is liable to a fixed penalty fine, […] in addition to such administrative fees as may be determined by the chief justice under section 21A of the Summary Courts Act.

‘And on failure to pay the fixed penalty, may be liable on summary conviction to a fine of TT$5,000 and to a term of imprisonment of three days.’

Wired868 asked De Freitas and Trim if they were sure that their respective organisations are not training.

Trim refused further comment until he was told who was ‘lying on him’. Wired868 did not reveal its source and the interview ended.

De Freitas confirmed that QPCC did have some sessions ‘with all our protocols in place’ but those ended months ago. He could not remember the date.

“We tried non-contact for a little while but we are not doing that anymore either,” said De Freitas. “[…] Maybe we had one kid on a ball, one on one, but nothing contact-related. We sought quite a bit of clarification too to make sure we did the right thing. Football is a team sport but if I am running with a ball by myself is that ‘team sport’?

“We did smaller non-contact sessions in twos and threes and the police visited us and we were fine. But we have since stopped.”

De Freitas admitted that coaching schools were ‘pressured’ to re-open, by children who are anxious to play and coaches who earn a living from the game.

“[…] My opinion is the football fraternity has been very good where this is concerned,” he said. “It wasn’t easy because kids want to play and, for some people, this is a full-time job. But if I have to grade the football fraternity, I think we did a very good job.

“[…] We have seen an increase in 5v5 scrimmages going on at different parks. We are not blind to that. But I don’t know of any teams conducting training. We have already wrapped up for the year.”

Griffith confirmed that a QPCC official—not De Freitas—asked him for advice about holding training sessions last month. He said his answer was ‘no’.

“QPCC talked to us and I told them no they cannot do it,” said Griffith. “[…] I cannot allow it, that is a no no—as unfortunate as it is… The rules are clear.”

For the first week of December, the daily average of new Covid-19 cases stood at 15. If this infection rate holds, or improves, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is expected to further loosen restrictions in the new year.

However, the Ministry of Health remains concerned about a spike in infections over the Christmas season. As such, citizens—inclusive of football coaches, players, and parents—are urged to be disciplined and civic-minded for just a while longer.

For sport teams who try to operate secretly, Deyalsingh was clear: you are breaking the law.