2013 – Prospects and challenges

We have now closed off on 2012 and the new year, 2013 is upon us. In the realm of sport there is little time to waste since for many national associations the competitions begin this very first month of January.
St Vincent and the Grenadines faces many challenges this year and success will depend on the level of preparedness of the various associations.
There is an urgent need for a clear vision for sport development in St Vincent and the Grenadines if we are to make the best of 2013. One important question remains whether this small country with limited resources and an open, highly vulnerable economy, can afford to development the numerous sports that are currently practised here.
The moment the aforementioned question is raised one finds virtually every national association getting annoyed since each believes in its right to exist and therefore benefit from whatever is available. The problem is that there is not all that much available by way of resources to facilitate the many sports that we have.
What then are our options? The response to this question will prove very controversial but should nonetheless stimulate critical thinking enough for us to get serious about the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A select few
The story is told of the case of Germany several years ago when the decision was taken to focus on a select few sports, which the authorities agreed to allocate sufficient resources to facilitate them through to their maximum development over a specified number of years. The result was tremendous success in the selected sports.
The idea of some countries selecting a few sports on which to focus attention for a specified period has worked well in several countries. This has been an adopted approach because of awareness that the diffusion of limited resources among many sports brought little or no results of significance. The various sports associations lacked the resources needed to take everyone of them to the top and so too did the national economy.
In a recent national consultation on the development of a national sport policy the sports associations of the British Virgin Islands agreed to the identification of five sports on which available resources should focus for the next five years. Following the conclusion of the five-year period there will be a comprehensive review of the achievements. If the results are good and the respective associations can sustain themselves and the momentum gained then another five sports will be selected for the next five years.
Success at sport does wonders for lifting the profile of any country. The Germans saw this and so too did many other countries around the world.
The Dominican Republic, which hosted the Pan American Games in 2003 recognised that as hosts they did not fare well.
The decision was then taken by the National Olympic Committee to focus its attention and resources on three sports. This decision has yielded immense success for the country as evidenced in the medal haul at the just concluded London Olympics.
The suggestion here therefore is that perhaps consideration should be given to adopting a similar approach in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is not to say that the other sports will not be practised. They will however be reliant more on their own resources for the period that the focus is placed on the select few sports.
No one says that the decision as to which sport to include in the select few will be an easy undertaking. There will no doubt be much acrimony among those that are not immediately included but the long term benefits outweigh the factors against such a move.
Once such a decision is taken the authorities in the respective sports must lift their own standards to ensure that they remain on track to success. This means detailed strategic planning and continuous monitoring and evaluation of what has been agreed in respect of shaping the way forward.
Plans must also be laid to engage in appropriate research and development in respect of the selected sport. We must come to know what works for us and how to reap the benefits from carrying this to the limit.
No sport can progress without facilities of the appropriate international standard. Time has been taken to ensure that cricket was provided with the idyllic Arnos Vale Cricket Ground as home base for local regional and international competition. Accolades have been showered on the National Sports Council and by extension, the respective governments, for the development of Arnos Vale whatever about the limitations that may still exist.
Squash and Tennis have also been provided with quality facilities although the former sport requires more courts if it is to have greater impact on the nation’s youths.
Outside of the aforementioned sports all others are left up in the air in respect of facilities that are at an acceptable standard.
Despite the progress made in football over the years, for example, the continued absence of a home serves to deter the pace of the sport’s development in St Vincent and the Grenadines. A decision must be made as to whether the federation will continue to develop Brighton as its main project or shift attention to an acceptable alternative. The fact that an agreement has been reached in the past relative to the development of Brighton should be given appropriate consideration by the federation in respect of its development options. Further delays would be a disservice to the sport’s development.
While swimmers now have a pool to call home it is still inadequate, as mentioned in a previous Column. Still, it aids with getting the sport re-started.
Athletics continues to suffer from the absence of a synthetic surface. The athletes who suffer most are those who opt for the sprint events in particular, if only because the nation’s premier surface, Arnos Vale, heavily sand based, is a serious deterrent to sprinting. This is the reason why despite the obvious increase in young sprinters at the level of the secondary schools here their times are not necessarily in sync with the work put in their training. It is also the reason why in 2012 the Carifta Trials for our athletes were the trials in Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada where the synthetic surface highlighted the deficiencies in their sand-based preparation at Arnos Vale.
The absence of a synthetic surface has left Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines with little choice but to focus attention on the field events – throws and jumps. Jumping areas are being developed in playing fields around the country, a TASVG initiative in tandem with the respective schools and the approval of the National Sports Council.
The next focus is on the provision of throwing areas around the country.
The installation of a new synthetic surface for the horizontal jumpers at Arnos Vale, laid on a concrete base and with professional take-off boards, an NOC initiative, will go a long way towards assisting the track and field athletes in enhancing their preparation for regional and international competitions and should significantly lift the bar in terms of their performances during 2013 and beyond.
Cycling has been using the roads in the absence of a track. It would appear most appropriate for consideration to be given to the allocation of space for the housing of a BMX Track for the local Cycling Union. BMX is a most exciting spectator-friendly sport and would certainly speed past the popularity of road cycling, if the opportunity is made available to our young people.
Basketball, like netball, cannot get very far with the existing facilities available to them. They are, like boxing, table tennis, taekwondo, squash and volleyball, indoor sports and require a home that can possibly accommodate all of them. Here again there has been much talk but little action made known to and involving the respective associations.
Our athletes in basketball and indoor volleyball cannot last very long, playing on concrete and asphalt surfaces.
Training and Competition
Athletes cannot be expected to get very far without access to consistent training and competition.
Training and competition are inextricably linked to facilities if athletes are to be adequately prepared for success in their respective sports.
Not all sports can be appropriately practised on surfaces that are themselves inadequate for training and competition.
Our boxers need the ring permanently erected to ensure that the athletes can get accustomed to space utilisation during training in preparation for competition. The recent competition in Barbados is testimony to the disadvantageous position under which the association operates.
Swimmers can make much progress if they access pools around the region that meet international standards. Only then can they know where they are, really. Performances at the OECS Championships reveal just where we stand in relation to our neighbours but there is potential that can be continuously realised with consistent training and frequent competition.
The inclusion of open water swimming at the international level opens the door to Vincentians who love the sea to take on the challenge and realise their talent.
In January 2012 TASVG brought Throws Coach, Mastrapas Lopez, the coach of Keshorn Walcott – the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic gold medallist in the Javelin – to St Vincent and the Grenadines to engage in some talent identification exercises in the Throws – Shot, Discus and Javelin. He will return in 2013 to continue the work started.
As we begin 2013 it is expected that associations take a realistic introspective look at themselves relative to their development pathway.
There must be a determination to stick with realism and not hang the hat where the hands cannot reach.
The time may well have come for us to bell the cat and make some decisions that will take sport to another level.
Strategic planning must serve as the principal guide to getting started on the right foot in 2013.