It is almost a year since St Vincent and the Grenadines hosted the Windward Islands Schools Games, 26 July – 4 August, and the sub region is preparing for this year’s edition scheduled for St Lucia. It is important for us to examine the importance of this event and the potential it holds for our peoples.
Kenneth John reminded us last year of the long history of sporting competition between the school students in the sub region. Many remember with pride the excitement and pride that came with being able to travel to the different islands to compete in friendly sport rivalry.
Of course one of the most important features of the inter-island competitions for students has always been the camaraderie that emerges in the midst of the rivalry for supremacy. This camaraderie often leads to longstanding friendships between the participants.
The restart of the Windward Islands Schools Games some 13 years ago has sought to rekindle the enthusiasm amongst students in the Windward Islands to train in order to gain selection to the team to this annual event.
The current sports involved in the Games are Athletics, Basketball, Football, Netball and Volleyball. Each of the delegations is allowed a total team size of 70 persons.
In 2013, host country, St Vincent and the Grenadines, introduced a number of innovations in order to broaden the experience of participants. The rationale was to avoid the annual sport festival becoming drab.
A Games logo and theme
The Local Organising here had a logo designed in an effort to give the Windward Islands Schools Games its own identify. For all of the years of its existence this particular aspect was sorely missing.
The logo was readily adopted and now forms a permanent feature of the annual event. This means that it is now possible to produce memorabilia of each edition of the Games with the logo clearly evident.
A theme for the Games was also introduced, Four Teams One Dream. Many feel that the them captures the essence of the reason for the annual event – the dream of sub regional integration as a necessary feature of the broader Caribbean integration process.
Decentralisation of the competitions
For the first 11 years of its revised existence the annual Windward Islands Schools Games were hosted in one town. This meant that the participants did not get much of a chance to even see and experience other parts of the country in which the event was being held.
While it is true that on the rest day delegations were taken on some sort of tour, the level of the competition has been such that some teams with a chance of winning the champions title did not have all of their members partake of the offer. The St Vincent and the Grenadines innovation saw teams travelling to Park Hill on the Windward coast to play football, to Barrouallie to play netball, to Questelles to play Volleyball, in addition to competing in the nation’s capital city, Kingstown. Biabou was supposed to have been host to some of the basketball contests but problems with the equipment caused a change of venue.
Initially there were murmurings against the decision of the host country to feature competitions in different parts of the country. Rather interestingly, representatives of the delegations, while speaking at the closing ceremony, indicated the tremendous benefits that derived from the innovation. Indeed, the representative from Dominica, who attended all 12 editions of the Games, felt compelled to express his own joy at the innovation and the impact it had, not only on the athletes but also on him. He informed those in attendance that this was his third time in St Vincent and the Grenadines for the Games and the first time he was able to move outside of Kingstown.
Additionally, what the decentralisation of the Games also did was to afford participants an opportunity to take the usual rest day to engage in shopping in the capital city without the pressures normally attendant to this occasion.
One is not sure whether other host countries would maintain this innovation but the participants could only benefit from its continuance.
Indoor Opening Ceremony
Another innovative feature was the introduction of an indoor opening ceremony for the Games.
Currently the Games are held during the school vacation and the attendance is not of the best for a variety of reasons. Opening ceremonies have therefore been held with little or no audience beyond the participating delegations.
An indoor opening ceremony facilitated a certain closeness amongst participating teams and generated an ambience amongst all present, guests included, that literally set the stage for the cooperation and collaboration that was to take place over the following days of competition.
Individual opening ceremonies for each sport
In the style of the Olympic Games the Local Organising Committee decided to allow each of the sport competitions to begin with its smaller yet equally entertaining and certainly significant opening ceremony.
Each sport is unique. The smaller opening ceremonies afforded each of these sports to showcase its own way of conducting programmes of this nature. It afforded the participants to enjoy the different ways in which individual sports presents their unique traditions.
While some may think this time consuming it ought to be said that the athletes and their coaches found the innovation most enjoyable and expressed the wish for its continuance.
For the very first time the Windward Islands Games operated with daily management meetings.
The Local Organising Committee convened daily early morning sessions with the Heads of Delegations at the Games Village to facilitate appropriate monitoring and control of all aspects of the Games. In this way everyone was able to critically review the previous day’s activities and ensure that the rest of the competition went according to plan. It allowed the organisers to make necessary adjustments wherever this was deemed appropriate.
No planned activity can be successful without appropriate monitoring and evaluation as it progresses. The introduction of a daily joint monitoring and evaluation session, first thing every morning, meant that all aspects of the Games received due attention,
Here again, at the conclusion of the Games, participating delegations expressed sincere gratitude for an innovation that engendered a professional approach to managing the event and at the same time allow each delegation to feel a sense of ownership of and responsibility for what was taking place.
The introduction of a sports clinic, this first one undertaken by Adonal Foyle through his Kerosene Lamp Foundation, was another important innovation.
Athletes and coaches alike are forever in need of updating themselves sin respect of the nuances of the sport they practise. The conduct of clinics is usually designed to expose athletes and coaches to developments in their respective sports.
Changes are occurring in sport with great rapidity today. The growing importance of television rights to the various sports organisations leads to significant financial returns. Television therefore impacts each sporting discipline. Many of the changes we see in the different sports over the recent past have resulted from the requirements of television.
Sport clinics allow athletes and coaches to learn of the numerous changes taking place in the different sports and engender much discussion on the best ways to respond to them.
It would seem important for the Windward Islands Schools Games to retain this innovation in respect of conducting sport clinics during the event. The presence of several athletes and coaches allow for a captive audience.
Education is always an important part of life and this holds true in sport as anywhere else.
For the first time in its 12-year history attendees at the revived Windward Islands Schools Games received bound copies of the official report of the event, complete with results, at the closing ceremony.
Indeed, Minister of Education, Girlyn Miguel, was proud to have had this distinction attributed to her Ministry since it reflected a high level of efficiency and professionalism that did St Vincent and the Grenadines very proud.
In the past the Report would be presented several months after the conclusion of the event and would be approved one year later at the meeting of the delegations prior to the start of the competition.
In 2013, the draft report was presented to the delegations two days prior to the conclusion of the event. The heads of delegations were able to discuss the content and make amendments and recommendations before giving final approval on the final day.
It is important that the Local Organising Committee commences the report at the very start of the competition and adds to it each day. This allows for a more comprehensive report to be produced and provides ample opportunity for tweaking the content and recommendations as the event progresses.
The revived Windward Islands Schools Games can become the foundation for other sporting events. There is every reason to believe that there could be a student Games that matches a Windward Islands team versus the Leeward Islands. This does not have to be annually.
The administrative, technical and logistical experiences gained from hosting the annual Games would serve each country in good stead relative to hosting larger sporting events. A cadre of experts can emerge in each country over time that can take on greater challenges in this regard.
There is a possibility for the establishment of OECS Games, held quadrennially, benefitting from the experience of hosting the Windward Islands Schools Games.
It is unfortunate that as yet the Caribbean is so heavily insular. The same holds true for the OECS and indeed even within the Windward Islands. We can use sport, the hosting of Games, as an important vehicle for at once engendering a healthier people and an economic tool for growth and development.
It is often said where there is no vision, a people perish. We have the opportunity to see sport as an important agent of national and regional development. The choice is ours.