It has often been said that the politics of sport is infinitesimally more intriguing than that of national politics. It has also been said that sports must be kept separate from politics.
The reality is that the sportspeople of any given country are citizens of that country and therefore carry the same responsibility as the rest of the nation in respect of determining who should govern.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines therefore our sportspeople, whether athlete, coach, technical official, administrator of just enthusiastic fan, must take the responsibility of voting on Monday 13 December as seriously as they do their concern for how they go about their daily lives.
Sportspeople of this country therefore must give due consideration to factors that impact their involvement in sport in addition to the range of factors impacting other aspects of their lives.
It was not too long ago that Opposition Senator, St Clair Leacock, enjoyed the popularity of the local Football fraternity enough that they elected him the Federation’s president for a four-year term. As the end of his tenure approached the media were set ablaze with stories relating to the importance of having as president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation, someone who had the blessings of the government of the day.
Several individuals involved in local Football, whether based here at home or abroad, articulated the position that for Football to receive assistance from the government of the day, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government, the Federation needed to elect a president who supported the ULP.
The weeks leading up to the elections therefore was much like the national elections of December 2005 – a battle between the ruling ULP and the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
Interestingly, there were two other elections of non governmental organisations around the same time that many seem to think went the same way – the general meetings of the Nurses Association and the Bar Association.
The stance in respect of the need for a new president emerged largely from the perception by many associated with the sport of Football that the government did not give the Federation the support that was required for its participation in the preparation for and participation in the Preliminaries for the 2010 Football World Cup because Leacock was an Opposition Senator.
Many appear to have held the view that it must have been that the government was not prepared to have someone clearly supportive of the Opposition, indeed representative of the Opposition, should be allowed to look good.
Interestingly, the ruling ULP regime never said or did anything to dissuade Vincentian sporting enthusiasts from adopting the view expressed so openly by some avid football personnel. Instead, the near-furore that emerged when the representatives of the World Cup Committee met with the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to discuss funding for the World Cup preparations may well have been a reflection of the stance of the ULP administration.
Some may also want to suggest that the fact that the Prime Minister and Senator Julian Francis appeared to have placed more emphasis on being on the campaign trail in the East Kingstown constituency when St Vincent and the Grenadines match against Nicaragua had started at the Arnos Vale Playing Field may well have been a reflection of the same position. Some seem to think that it was only after Vincy Heat turned on the heat on Nicaragua that the Prime Minister hustled to the match venue to share in the team’s glory.
The Football elections were hotly contested and Joseph delves emerged as the Federation’s president. Many may well have come away from the meeting firm in their conviction that yet again the ULP had defeated the ULP. They may also have held the view that Football would therefore get easy access to all its needs.
National Lotteries Authority
The National Lotteries Authority (NLA) has an official mandate to support sport and culture in St Vincent and the Grenadines. For whatever reason the NLA is not accountable to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines hence the average Vincentian has absolutely no idea of how the monies are indeed spent by the organisation.
The NLA falls directly under the Ministry of Finance yet that official does not in any way appear to be of the view that there should be some measure of accountability to Vincentians in respect of the utilisation of the resources of the organisation.
Vincentians therefore cannot vouch that the bulk of the monies garnered by the NLA are in fact allocated to the support of sport and culture.
Not long after the election of a new executive for the Football Federation the NLA sponsored the National League, intended to be for clubs and to help support the organisation’s drive to establish a club structure in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
At the Opening Ceremony the NLA’s representative boasted of the significant sums being contributed to the Federation and that it was the beginning of a long relationship. One wonders why this could not have been the case in the past. One wonders too whether it was a case of the NLA, itself being a government organisation, being loathe to be perceived as providing support to the then former president, St Clair Leacock, and by extension, to the Opposition NDP.
The National Sports Council (NSC) has repeatedly informed national sports associations that they are to submit their annual requests to them directly. The NSC would then make an assessment and forward its recommendation to the NLA for its consideration. That sounds fine in theory. The reality is a different matter in terms of what happened thereafter.
Whenever a national sports association is desirous of knowing whether or not its request has been approved it turns to the NSC which then informs the organisation to check with the NLA. The problem here is that there was not supposed to be any communication between the association and the NLA. It is a matter between the NSC and the NLA. Since the NSC does not then engage in the requisite follow-up. For whatever reason, it is left to the association to call and enquire as to the status of the request that had been submitted to the NSC and on which the NSC would have further submitted to the NLA its recommendations on the particular matter. See how that sounds? Ludicrous.
Similarly, the NLA does not seem to be in possession of a policy in respect of sponsorship of activities that are of a sporting and cultural nature. The determination here may well be more political than anything else.
Pamenos Ballantyne is a case in point. In 2001 Ballantyne was ill-advisedly allowed to mount the political platforms of the ULP as it sought to access government. He also featured in the Youth manifesto of the same organisation. Since ten however Ballantyne has been in and out of favour with the ULP government. In the latter part of 2009 following his relatively weak performance at home in the NemWil OECS Half Marathon, Ballantyne told the media that he was not receiving support from the government and that he was unemployed yet expected to compete at the highest level. Perhaps it was the way in which it was said but one got the impression immediately thereafter that he was afoul of the government, at least for some time.
By January 2010 however, a matter of a week or two before the CLICO Trinidad and Tobago Marathon, Ballantyne knew who to turn to by way of accessing the funding he needed for this and other activities and the NLA has been providing the funds ever since.
No one begrudges Ballantyne but the situation seems to reflect the ‘fishiness of the State of Denmark’ in a manner of speaking.
There is also the matter of the national stadium that featured in the ULP manifesto of 2001 that began with the initial input of $1.5m USD from Libya. However, the government’s real commitment to the realisation of the project is best reflected in its seeming inability to either infuse the undertaking with its own funds or seek funding elsewhere.
Despite the claims to love sport and the sportspeople the government of the day has seemingly ignored the importance of the vote of the thousands of Vincentian youth and countless Football enthusiasts who remain frustrated, not only by its inability to focus on the fact that this is the nation’s most popular sport by a very long way but also by the $50 plus millions that were spent, and some may suggest, wasted, on the ‘goat cook’ matches associated with the Cricket World Cup 2007.
The government has been unable to address adequately the numerous Indoor sports played in this country beyond Squash and their critical needs.
In addition, the government has been unable to forge a coherent policy in respect of the way in which it would approach scholarships for athletes. As it now stands there are some parents who may well now be of the view that they are made to feel like beggars climbing the steps to the Service Commissions Department to seek assistance for their children-athletes studying and training abroad.
There is also the government’s seeming inability to understand and appreciate the very national sports policy which was prepared by the Vincentian sports community and that it has endorsed. Far too often the various national sports associations have to virtually reminding government of the contents of the policy in order to have parts of it activated. Often too this latter activation may well have to come after a call or visit to a particular minister of government.
Indeed it is extremely difficult to match the government’s overall philosophy, promises of the two previous elections and the projects undertaken with the real needs of the majority of the sportspeople of this country.
It may well be true to conclude that the government of the past near-ten years has shown little understanding of and appreciation for the role of sport in the process of genuine national development; a development that begins and ends with people.
Vincentian sportspeople are critical voters in any national elections. Like the rest of St Vincent and the Grenadines the sportsperson is being called upon to vote according to one’s conscience following a detailed analysis of what has been promised, what has been delivered, what has not been delivered and the overall impact of lack thereof of the government on the sport development process of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The vote has to be also based on what one desires for the future and who can deliver on it.
The vote is yours and only you can make it.
Vote according to your conscience.