On several occasions in the past this Column has insisted that the place of sport in national development is yet to be understood and appreciated by successive governments here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
One has only to review successive national budgets presented in one Parliament after another and the situation would become very clear.
Despite all of the bravado of the current government in respect of its love for people, commitment to the poor and the youths of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the budgetary considerations for sport tell a very different reality.
The Minister of Finance, who is also the Prime Minister of this country, made the following submission in his budget address on 11 December 2007:
This Government views sports as an important vehicle for national development, both in terms of its potential for building our youth and for the opportunities it can offer in the area of tourism.
The foregoing is but an empty phrase that we would have heard repeated several times before. It actually says nothing. It is all hot air.
There has as yet been no substantive evidence of the government’s belief in what is touted in the aforementioned quotation. It is a gathering of nice-sounding words that almost every successive government has declared.
In his budget presentation the Minister of Finance observed:
The National Stadium remains high on the development agenda of this administration. In this regard, in the 2008 budget, a sum of $1.5 million has been allocated to this project and construction work is expected to commence by mid-2008.
It is difficult to imagine that the national stadium was one of the platform issues of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) while in Opposition and more particularly, in the political campaign of 2000/1. It was one of the highlights of the Youth Manifesto produced for the elections of 2001.
Evidence has since shown that the government seems unprepared to utilize its own resources to construct a national stadium. Quite unlike its approach to the revitalization of the Arnos Vale Sports Complex, the government seems waiting on some generous friendly government to aid in the undertaking.
In 2001, we were told that the Libyan government had committed $1.5m USD to the national stadium project. We were led to believe, given its placement in subsequent Estimates produced by the Ministry of Finance and laid in Parliament by the Minister of Finance, that the Libyans were committed to providing the funds for the entire project.
Suddenly the Libyans have dropped out of the project. We have not received one cent from the Libyans for the stadium since that initial $1.5m USD was given in 2001. We have also not received any explanation from anyone associated with the national stadium, including the Minister of Finance. Somehow the national stadium was never placed under the responsibility of the Minister of Sport. It has always been under Dr Gonsalves.
Her we are therefore, several years later and we have the princely sum of $1.5m ECD being allocated to the construction of the national stadium.
Suffice it to remind ourselves that football is played in a stadium with an athletics all-weather track of 400m around it. It would therefore serve two very important sports.
Football is easily and by far the most popular sport in the nation. More youths play football than any other sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Football now offers more opportunities for scholarships to universities and colleges in the USA, as well as access to professional contracts for other players.
If the government is truly committed to giving sports a high priority as it so often boasts it is inconceivable that the leadership would be so tardy in respect of the provision of the national stadium and a home for football. Basil ‘Bung’ Cato, it was who boasted, “Soccer – the game of the people”. He could easily have added, ‘poor people’, for it is they who are in the vast majority on our playing areas each day engaged in football at one level or another.
In terms of accessing scholarships to further their studies athletics may well be ahead of football in the provision of opportunities to the youths of this nation.
Poor people’s children are therefore likely to benefit considerably from the provision of a facility that would serve the development programmes of two of the nation’s major sports. Instead the government opted to further advance the cause of cricket where millions had already been committed for several years without evidence of benefits accruing to the nation at any level as has been the case when sportspeople from this country do well in athletics and football.
More people across the world know about our footballers and athletes than they know the Prime Minister of this country. They know even less about our cricketers since only a few countries play the game and access international coverage of the sport.
While by no means wishing to demean any sport, especially cricket, it is difficult to understand the backwardness evident in the government’s slothfulness in respect of the construction of a national stadium that forms the basis of much that is claimed in successive manifestos for the benefit of our youths.
The tardiness on the part of the government relative to the provision of an all-weather track defies logic and gives the lie to any genuine commitment on the part of the ruling administration to the youths of this nation.
Community playing fields
The Minister of Finance boasted in his 2008 budget presentation:
There are, too, budgetary resources allocated to rehabilitating community playing fields, which complement similar works done through the Social Investment Fund with substantive monies provided by the Alba Caribe Fund of Venezuela.
A quick review of the community playing fields across the country would leave one in no doubt of the way in which politics and political patronage works in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
To call what was done in Calvary, the development of a community playing field is to make a mockery of sport and sport development. It constitutes a waste of valued resources and undermines the broader national sports development process.
Far too often politicians seek to treat poor people as though they have no understanding or common sense. We have seen playing facilities located where the politicians seem to think it most likely to facilitate a turnaround in their own political fortunes.
The consultative process that should involve the community, especially the sportspeople in the decision-making process is often cast aside and the politicians choose instead to listen to their agents on the so-called ground.
We provide areas where we hope people will play. We seem to pay little attention to the quality of the facility and certainly do not invest in development planning and maintenance where they are concerned.
To date the government does not have in place at any level an appropriately qualified person with responsibility for the maintenance of our playing facilities.
The National Sports Council is not adequately staffed with appropriately qualified personnel in engineering, soils and grasses and facilities management yet it is expected to ensure that our sports facilities are appropriately cared for. It is ludicrous that in 2007 we still load up a vehicle at the NSC’s Offices in Arnos Vale and take workers to cut this or that playing field in some other part of the country. We have been unable to establish Area Sports Committees that could take responsibility for the oversight of playing facilities in their respective areas.
It is unfortunate that these days everythi
ng that we wish to do is given the title of ‘revolution’.
Perhaps the meaning of the work ‘revolution’ has changed for what we are seeing is anything but a revolution. It is difficult to even consider it a transformation far less a revolution.
In his budget presentation on sport, albeit very brief, the Minister of Finance stated:
Combined with these capital projects, the Sports Division will work in close collaboration with the other ministries particularly the Ministry of Health and the Environment to further consolidate its national programme geared toward the enhancement of wellness and fitness in our country. This is part of the Wellness Revolution.
There is no wellness revolution in this country nor will there be one. What we need is a well-crafted national sports culture. A national sports culture will inevitable facilitate a sense of wellness among our people. It is so easy for politicians to try to impose catch phrases on the masses in the hope that they will probably mistake the leaves for the forest.
The suggestion that the 5% imposed on aerated beverages has something to do with the ‘wellness revolution’ is pathetic rubbish. It has been imposed as a means of bringing in more revenue since it is one of the areas that is heavily utilised by the nation’s children. If the wellness revolution were the cause for any such action it would have been far harsher, taking a major battle to the producers of such beverages. We have seen no such imposition on the junk that is sold to the nation’s students each day even inside their own school environment.
Has the wellness revolution been in any way a cause for penalties to be imposed on items that cause disease we would have banned cigarettes and alcohol. We would have perhaps banned smoking in all public places.
The idea that somehow we can dictate a link between health, wellness and sport is preposterous.
Once more the politicians are favourably disposed to believing that they can wave a magic wand and things will change on their say so.
The current political administration is woefully deficient in respect of its understanding of sport and physical education and their contribution to national development. The rather limited attention given to sport in the 2008 budget is consistent with what successive governments have done here in St Vincent and the Grenadines – pay lip service to sport.
It is unfortunate that we seem unable to utilise the services of those who know. Instead we seem only too anxious to make experts of those who have raised their hands in support of the ruling regime of who have taken out a party card.
Governments come and go. The people will always engage themselves in sporting endeavour. Unfortunately, there are times when the government presents itself as a major humbug to progress rather than a conduit for genuine development, concerning itself more with accessing plaudits.