An uncaring government with no vision for sport – Part I

Even the most cursory examination of the modus operandi of the current government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will reveal what can only be considered a complete failure to appreciate and care for the youths of this country, an absence of any appreciation for the value of sport in national development and a total lack of vision for sport in this country.

An examination of the budgets presented to the nation’s Parliament since 2001 would reveal the extent to which the government and the Minister of Finance seem to have been unable to justify the lofty commitments given to the nation’s youths in respect of the future of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines while campaigning in 2000 and 2001.
The now infamous Youth Manifesto of the Unity Labour Party that was held aloft as historic and revolutionary along the campaign trail in the aforementioned years now seen confined to the political dungheap as nothing more than an empty bag of political trickery masked in the demagoguery to which Caribbean politicians seem so prone.
The most recent budget is perhaps the best example of the utter lack of vision on the part of the current political administration where sport is concerned.
At a time when sports tourism has emerged as a major component of the economic development strategies of countries around the world, large and small alike, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ government has buried its head ostrich-like in the sand seemingly oblivious to international changes.
In the face of the government’s proven inability to respond appropriately to the negative impact of the global economic crisis beyond near-naked mendicancy, for the most part, from governments who seem to be at variance with acceptable concepts of democracy.
It is particularly embarrassing that a government that boasted of being prepared to do so much for the sportspeople of St Vincent and the Grenadines has done so little. What is perhaps worst is the fact that the respective ministers can find it in themselves to dare to speak elegantly about the provision of playing facilities around the country. Clearly they do not read the Budget presentation and lack an understanding of the Estimates that their own Minister of Finance presents on an annual basis in the House of Assembly.
While many may have gotten the impression that the Social Investment Fund (SIF) was in some way aiding the government in the provision of and/or upgrading of some of the nation’s sports facilities, even the Chairman of the National Sports Council has had to distance his organisation from the shoddy work that the former organisation delivered in some parts of the country.
Arnos Vale # 1
The decision of this country to submit a bid to host matches of any sort for the Cricket World Cup 2007 (CWC2007) initially left many surprised and scared all at once. True to form the outcome has justified the worst fears among the most astute followers of sport in the State.
The government boasted of the millions of dollars spent on the preparatory exercise for the hosting of what this Column insists were ‘Goat Cook’ matches. The problem is that it is difficult for anyone to seriously appreciate the expenditures in today’s analysis of the facilities involved.
The decision to change the seating from the blue, gold and green of the national flag and replace the gold with red left us apart from the other countries in the Caribbean who stayed with their respective national colours. There is little reason for anyone to believe that the decision was purely political given that the ruling regime appears to consider gold the colour of the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and red, its own colour. We therefore sacrificed the national colours for political party pettiness.
There seems no shame in those responsible for such a decision.
Since being revamped Arnos Vale # 1 has not been the focus of any major marketing initiatives to ensure that it has an annual itinerary of packed sports programming that generates much-needed revenue. At present the revamped Arnos Vale# 1 cannot sustain itself without funding being provided either by the government or the National Lotteries Authority (NLA).
Essentially, Arnos Vale # 1 is pretty much a ‘White Elephant’ with the government failing to appreciate the lack of vision relative to its usage. Too many in authority are prepared to leave this as something of a primadonna facility that languishes while being exposed to the elements faster than the NSC’s ability to find resources to conduct appropriate maintenance practices.
The home of Cricket, Arnos Vale # 1 does little more than reflect the ineptitude of the ruling regime in government.
Netball has had the good fortune of building its own home. The foresight of Gloria Ballantyne’s leadership, the financial commitment of the Prime Foundation for Sports ably assisted by the late Festus Toney and lawyer Stanley ‘Stalky’ John, and the decision by the then Board of the National Lottery under Stephen Joachim to lend financial support when needed, all came together to facilitate the completion of the Netball Headquarters at New Montrose.
The government was not really involved in the project and that is still the case today.
The hard courts at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex which were initially provided for a regional Tennis competition but which also served Netball, Basketball and Volleyball at one time have been allowed to deteriorate. The courts were extensively repaired for this country’s hosting of the Caribbean Netball Tournament in 1994. Since then the facility received some work in 2001 when the Netball Association hosted the Caribbean Under 16 Tournament.
The courts at Arnos Vale are now better known for hosting huge fetes, especially around Carnival time and the annual Rotary Softball Cricket competition.
Netball, like Volleyball and Basketball is now an indoor sport. Despite several attempts at convincing the government that at least one major indoor sports arena is needed there has been no positive response. The leadership has failed to understand that Boxing, Table Tennis, Taekwondo along with the aforementioned sports are played indoor and that it is difficult to attract major competitions, to say nothing of teams desirous of training or playing friendlies, with the crude, inadequate and poorly maintained outdoor facilities that are now used.
Tennis has had the good fortune of its own home, much like Netball, only of   much higher standard.
The then Taiwanese Ambassador played Tennis and was instrumental in persuading the James Mitchell administration to request funding for the construction of the National Tennis Centre at Villa. The administration gave the Tennis Association a 30-year lease on the land at $1 per year.
The Tennis fraternity has since then been able to attract regional and international Tournaments under the auspices of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). St Vincent and the Grenadines hosted an Americas Zone Group 4 Tournament in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, some years ago. For that event however the current administration received support from the Taiwanese to construction an additional two courts at the Tennis Centre.
While Tennis has moved beyond the upper and middle classes in St Vincent and the Grenadines much of the nation’s children still have limited access since the best facilities are in Villa and Kingstown. The several hard courts built around the country under the Mitchell administration, many of which were lit by the National Lottery in tandem with VINLEC, have not been properly maintained and reports indicate a state of disrepair in many instances.
There has been no extensive review of the nation’s hard courts of note for several years. This fact has rendered it impossible to redress the manifold problems plaguing them relative to their suitability for the various sports that utilise them, not the least of which is Tennis.
Several of the facilities now have neither protective fences nor lighting.
Cecil Cyrus and the many who helped in the construction of what was once called the Cecil Cyrus Squash Complex, must be credited for helping to keep the sport of Squash alive in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The government’s decision to purchase the facility from the owner and transform part of it as the headquarters of the National Lotteries Authority has left the Squash Association with its own home. This facility has therefore allowed the Association to bid for and host regional competitions.
While the Squash Complex is admirable, it is inadequate to host major international competitions and there remains need for an appropriate facility to meet the requirements if we are to seriously develop the sport, host competitions of much higher standards and engage in sports tourism ventures in this particular sport. Such an approach is not even remotely on the radar of the current administration.
Many more Vincentians may well show an interest in Squash if there were more courts available. For now it essentially remains something of an enclave, limited to Kingstown, for the most part. The other facility is at the Grand View facility at Villa.
We have seen some potential emerge among those who have ventured to play the sport but there is a need to reach out to many more Vincentians. It is important to determine what is required to spread the sport across the nation.
Vincentians are very talented and there is no reason why many of our young people Squash should not be capable of rising to the top in this sport should it be more accessible to them.