In the aftermath of the summer Olympics in London 2012 there seems a certain euphoria that has overtaken the Minister of Sport in respect of the way forward in the national sport development process. This was his first Olympics and ought to be expected. Unfortunately, all too often politicians speak from the top of their heads rather than from an informed position.
However, the way forward requires an appreciation for where we have come from and an understanding how hat ails the present predicament we are in.
Promises get us nowhere.
Systematic analysis is a necessity of we are to begin to plot a way forward in national sport development.
Integrating sport in national development
We can state here without fear of contradiction that St Vincent and the Grenadines has never attained the position of integrating sport and physical education in national development. This has been the case before and since Independence. Successive governments, including the current one, have failed this country in respect of physical education and sport and the contribution that these twin disciplines make to genuine national development.
One has only to reflect on the estimates and budgets of the various years to get a sense of the location of sport on the priority listing of successive governments of this country. Indeed, such perusal would reveal that as yet physical education and sport have failed to even make it to the priority list of any of them. There has not been a single initiative in sport here in St Vincent and the Grenadines that began with the government of the day
This reality speaks volumes to the state we are in at present. The legacy is there for all to see.
The Arnos Vale Cricket Ground started with Thomas, Cordice and others. The National Lottery emerged out of the Windward Islands Cricket Board’s Scratch game, the National Sports Policy was an initiative of the National Olympic Committee, the home of Netball in New Montrose arose out of Gloria Ballantyne’s initiative with the Prime Foundation for Sport, the Squash Complex was Cecil Cyrus’ idea and production and the National Tennis Centre an initiative of the Tennis Association.
The government has always been behind in every aspect of national development.
It means therefore that successive governments have consistently paid lip service to sport and have never considered sport and physical education integrated into their national development policy and programme.
Successive ministers of sport have repeated the same garbage about having an interest in sport and that sport is important to development and all of the fanciful ideas they pick up along the way yet they have been consistently incapable of convincing the leaders of government that this is indeed the case. They have been unable to convince their leaders that unless as a government of the people they acknowledge its centrality to the broader goal of national development and adequate resources are harnessed for sport development in this regard they. are merely playing political patsies to win the vote of the nation’s youth
If change is to come the government has to understand the foregoing and first consider locating sport as a priority in its national developmental thrust. To do otherwise would be to continue to fool the people of this country that any level of seriousness is being brought to bear. We have had enough lies and promises.
There has to be a commitment to doing more than talk about sport and its possibilities. There must be a concerted effort at recognising that nothing can be achieved without the allocation of resources to sport and physical education in much the same way that they are allocated to other components of the national development process.
There has to be a change in the mindset of all stakeholders.
National sport structure
Once we clear the first hurdle of getting the government to integrate sport into its national development policy and programme we can begin to focus on the development of a national sport structure.
In pursuit of developing a national sport structure however it must be remembered that national sports associations are already integrated into the sport structure of their respective international governing bodies, all of which have continental and at times additional sub continental bodies. There are all independent institutions.
The National Olympic Committee is itself part of a global structure, the International Olympic Movement with the International Olympic Committee at its helm. These are also independent organisations and do not exist at the behest of governments.
Any national sport structure being developed therefore has to take into consideration the pre-existing sport structures in which the various sports institutions in the country are involved and work with them for the national good.
It is of course common for government officials to rush to airports and welcome successful athletes. On these occasions, unfortunately, they seek more political mileage than anything else, often basking in the athlete’s glory and taking the brunt of the media coverage rendered possible only by the success of the athlete now relegated to the background. The media also have to take responsibility for this since often they too are playing to the ‘pied piper’ – the government, in search of advertising dollars or other perks available.
While governments often leverage sporting success for their narrow political ends there is always recognition that sport is significantly bigger than any one of them and that they have to work with the sporting organisations for the greater national good.
A national sport structure must there inevitably be a mix of local regional and international requirements and commitments.
The government’s national sport structure therefore places the government at the helm. This may be a Ministry of Physical Education and Sport. Then there is a body directly interfacing with the various national sports associations. In many countries this may be a National Sports Council. This body usually serves to liaise with the various governing bodies at the local level to facilitate the forging of national plans of a strategic nature to take the process of sport in national development forward.
It is advisable that the Council be sufficiently open to welcome ideas from the various institutions and benefit from the experience and expertise resident therein.
A national sport structure for St Vincent and the Grenadines would therefore have the national sports associations placed under the Council, with clubs below them and the community-based organisations and schools further down.
The national sports structure promotes the development of clubs with the schools and communities serving as their primary feed.
The National Olympic Committee is usually placed parallel to the Council as also are the governmental support institutions, with whom the Council must interface for the success of a national sports programme. The Ministry fo Education, the Ministry of Tourism and the relevant promotional agencies attendant thereto, must be involved here.
It is very important for all stakeholders understand that the structure relates to a national partnership for the development of sport as an integral component of the national development programme of the country. The partnership does not allow for politics to determine the shaping of strategic options. Always the best interest of the country comes first.
Financing sport development
In most countries seeking to place sport as an integral component of the broader national development programme funding is the most critical issue. In small, poor, developing countries this is all the more important. Indeed, for the latter nations this is perhaps the most debilitating factor.
Without funding there can never be appropriate facilities provided for the practice of sport as well as competitions.
Without funding competitions cannot be held and national representative teams cannot participate in regional and international competitions.
Without funding there can be no coaches development in the various national sports associations.
Without funding elite athletes cannot receive the professional training needed to facilitate matching strides with the very best in the world.
Governments often have problems determining how to fund sport in their respective countries.
It is proposed here that the government determine which sports practised at home appear particularly popular and are capable of yielding best results at the regional and international levels thereby raising the profile of the country. This means prioritising sport – something that always creates dissatisfaction among those sporting organisations ,which are not immediately in the top five or so.
Governments must make this critical choice and opt thereafter to fund the top five for a specified period with strategic goals as the target. Countries with larger economies may select a greater number of sports.
For the sports prioritised it is important to provide all of the facilities and amenities required to take its athletes, coaches, technical personnel and administrators, to the very top of their respective fields. For these sports ancillary staff – such as sports medicine specialists and sport psychologists – must be provided.
The funding sources must include central government, which may allocate direct resources from its coffers and/or add to this resources from the National Lottery, which has as one of its mandate, the development of sport.
There has to be astute monitoring of the allocation and use of resources as well as on-going monitoring and evaluation of all aspects of the process, especially the results.
The private sector should be encouraged to play the role of a willing partner in the funding of sport in the country, with the government facilitating this through a programme that allows tax relief benefits to be tied to their contributions.
The foregoing are but a few ideas on the start of the process of national sport development. If this is not integrated into the broader national development process we remain doomed, left behind other nations that have come to the recognition that mouthing empty slogans at the political level gets us nowhere.
It ouls help if the politicians cease the ole talk and get down to doing what is required to get the process going.