Athletics challenges continue to mount
During the year 2009 TASVG encountered many challenges. There is little doubt that while these would certainly have helped to mould the organisation, they have retard TASVG’s forward march.
There are undoubtedly some aspects of the development of the sport of track and field athletics in the state that TASVG for which TASVG must undertake responsibility. However there are many basic things that the government must provide at the community and national levels if the sport is to make meaningful progress.
The reality unfortunately speaks to a chronic failure on the part of the government to understand sport generally and athletics in particular.
Together with Anguilla, Dominica and Montserrat, St Vincent and the Grenadines does not yet have a national stadium for track and field athletics. This is as bad as it gets.
There was a time when it was thought that St Vincent and the Grenadines was well on the way to procuring a national stadium. That was several years ago when TASVG hosted then NACAC Vice President, Amadeo Francis, Marketing Manager of synthetic track manufacturer, Mondo, Nicolo Bagni and Marketing Manager of track and field equipment manufacturer, UCS, Ben Fields, at the site of the proposed national stadium.
Following the ceremony at the site at which the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance spoke so eloquently about the importance of the stadium to the new government’s policy for youth in this country, the primary source of funding dried up. The primary funding source was supposed to have been the Libyan government. Since then we have heard nothing of the Libyans or of their contribution to the project.
Today TASVG and the nation are being told that the stadium would have to wait until the completion of the international airport at Argyle. Bear in mind that the airport was not even on the political horizon at the time the international officials were in this country.
Today, having cleared the stadium site of all squatters and levelled the surface, there is the spectacle of the proposed stadium site being transformed into a car-racing venue.
TASVG is constantly begging for facilities such as hard surfaces for the shot put and discus throws as well as the construction of pits at different fields for the horizontal jumps at playing fields across the country but there are no resources available at the level of the National Sports Council for this at present.
Other facilities & equipment
The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has never really examined the status of the existing playing fields within the context of the requirements of track and field athletics. There has obviously no real consideration given to the sport in the construction of playing fields.
Thus we have some fields that cannot hold anything but a one-circle 200m track, others can have an 8-lane 200m track. Yet others can barely make it to 300m and our prestigious Arnos Vale # 1 can only make an 8-lane 350m track. The net result is that our athletes who have to compete at the regional and international levels on a 400m synthetic surface do not really have the experience of running on a 400m track that meets international standards. This leaves them at a tremendous disadvantage.
The fact that some Vincentian athletes have been able to use the woefully inadequate tracks around this country to train and win medals at the Carifta and other track and field meets leaves them bordering on sheer heroism. Of course this is not something that is either recognised or appreciated by the vast majority of Vincentians, to say nothing of our hapless media personnel who seem to relish outlandish criticism.
Vincentian athletes have been requesting for years the construction of pits for the long and triple jump events at each of the playing fields available to them around the country. Similar requests have repeatedly been made for the construction of hard-surface throwing rings for the Shot Put and Discus events around the country.
Regardless of the size of the facility it is always possible to locate the foregoing field event facilities on them with little difficulty and cost. Unfortunately the NSC appears to lack the resources to accomplish these tasks.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is woefully short of equipment for the nation’s home-based athletes. This has always been the case. Successive governments have failed those who have made the deliberate choice to practise the sport of track and field athletics.
It is relatively easy to devise a development strategy that allows for the systematic provision of facilities for the different sporting disciplines practised in the state over time. There is currently no such strategy.
Financial support for athletes
Home-based athletes, Pamenos Ballantyne, Casnel Bushay, Courtney Williams and Curtny Bascombe are all in need of financial support if they are to engage in the kind of training required to take them to another level. Charmant Ollivierre, Stevorn Richards and Kineke Alexander, our main overseas-based athletes continue to be in need of financial support for their training. Without financial assistance Richards would have to return home and leave both his studies and training behind in the USA. Alexander and Ollivierre are still a very long way from where they are supposed in terms of financing for their athletics development.
The government does provide some support for Ollivierre but it is often somewhat tardy and poses a level of anxiety that detracts from his preparatory work for the new season.
Throughout the Caribbean governments have been giving increasing consideration to the provision of financial resources to athletes who have attained what is referred to as elite status. In some cases governments have provided support for those athletes who have displayed significant potential and who appear capable of making it in the international arena. Here we have no policy in place.
Given the poor state of the nation’s facilities for athletics there ought to be some consideration given to providing support for those athletes who have displayed the potential required to do well with access to better facilities and coaching.
The continued lethargy on the part of government to understand the importance of sport to national development and to the national psyche means that successive generations of athletes are lost.
The TASVG has trained many coaches over the years and has done very well in terms of their levels of achievements in the IAAF’s examinations.
Unfortunately for St Vincent and the Grenadines the TASVG cannot seem to get all of them to work. There are only a few coaches who seem sufficiently interested and committed to the sport to engage themselves in coaching on a consistent basis.
Something continues to be wrong here and that does not augur well for the development of the sport. This must be a major challenge for the TASVG.
On the one hand there exists a very clear case of coaches lacking appreciation for the achievements, initiatives and competence of one of their own, Gideon Labban. It is no secret that Labban has been bending over backwards to facilitate the development of the nation’s coaches. He has offered ongoing educational development, much of which has been ignored by our coaches.
It seems pathetic that Labban continues to excel at the highest level of the IAAF’s Coaches Certification System (CECS), receive the highest commendation from Federations where he has conducted coaches’ training sessions on behalf of the IAAF, yet find that our local coaches cannot bring themselves to even so much as reveal their training programmes for examination, analysis and advice in their own best interest. Instead what exists is that several coaches seem to deliberately hide to do their work. When their athletes do not make national representative teams the excuse is often that the TASVG does not want to send them rather than the truth that their coaching has not been up to the level required.
It remains a phenomenon here in St Vincent and the Grenadines that ‘a prophet is not accepted in his own country’.
TASVG continues to offer training opportunities for those genuinely interested in coaching. The nation needs coaches in the sport.
Poor preparation of schools
The schools in this country do have their annual sports meet but it cannot be said that we are satisfied with the level of preparation undertaken by them for these events. In many cases the preparatory exercise is non-existent. In other cases the preparation is severely flawed and left to only one or two individual teachers.
Many of the nation’s schools lament the poor student participation in their respective annual sports meet. Over the past several years it has become fashionable for many of the girls to engage themselves in the cheerleading section rather than participate in the events. Many of the boys rather watch the cheerleading competition and bid for the girls than participate in the sport. Increasingly, the emphasis of many of the school sports is the attraction that the girls pose for the boys from their own as well as other schools. The net result is the growing necessity on the part of principals to ensure an adequate supply of security personnel at their annual sports meets in order to monitor the students as well as attempt to ensure that they leave the sport facility immediately following the completion of the meet even though they cannot guarantee that they go straight home thereafter.
TASVG continues to work with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sport to improve the level of planning and administration of these events.
It is perhaps the fact that not all of our schools have been provided with PE teachers and even fewer have access to athletics coaches during the year. One can only hope that with time, our schools would work diligently towards improving the preparation of their athletes and the organisation of their annual Meets.