There remains much consternation as to whether the current government in St Vincent and the Grenadines has a clear policy on sport. While there exists a national sport policy in the country, endorsed by the government, there is no real evidence that beyond the waiver of duty on sporting equipment, little else in the current document is adhered to.
The issue is whether or not we, as a nation, are prepared to work with a clearly delineated sport policy.
Indeed, there ought to be a coming together of the Ministries of Education, Sport and Community Development, the Chamber of Commerce, the Employers’ Association and the Trade Unions as well as the media, in order to address the concerns of many regarding where we are with a national sport policy.
Challenges with the existing policy
The Preamble to the National Sports Policy for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines dated 15 November 2005, Ref Cabinet Memo: 421/05, reads in part, “This policy is designed to provide the broad framework within which Government, the Private Sector and National Sports Associations work together to facilitate the creation of appropriate strategies and mechanism to promote the development of physical education, sport and recreation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
While it is a broad framework it is expected that once the Cabinet approved the document every effort would have been made to ensure that all stakeholders would be on the same page. This is not the case.
To be clear, the average sporting body is not quite sure who is in charge of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is patently obvious whenever a crisis occurs in a sport organisation.
It is incredible that sportspersons from St Vincent and the Grenadines have, from time to time, attained success on the world stage, we have even named sport ambassadors, yet we have failed to adequately address the business of sport such that Vincentians can see a sport development pathway they can access and make something of themselves.
The mission of the national sports policy states, “To ensure that all Vincentians have equal access to physical education, recreation and sports, both within the education system and other aspects of social life”.
Unfortunately, the government seems to have understood this mission to mean the provision of sport infrastructure only, since there is nothing else in place that is in any way related to this.
Over the past several years and through successive governments it has become fashionable for emphasis to be placed on the number of playing fields and hard courts that have been constructed or refurbished. In the vast majority of cases, the determination of what sports require facilities, the size and location of the facilities and the provisioning of aforementioned facilities is all made by the politicians in their own interests, either individually or collectively.
The decision-making process relative to the aforementioned facilities essentially involves the government Parliamentarian and his/her perception of what would appease the electorate in the particular constituency.
So it is therefore that we find some sport facilities constructed in areas where the ruling regime believes it could win votes in the next general elections.
It is hardly ever the case that the decision to construct a sport facility is influenced by the mission as stated in the national sport policy.
The national sports policy has a series of important objectives, one of which is the location of physical education on the curriculum of our respective education institutions. However, despite the mounting evidence at the global level of the importance of physical education to the well-being of the individual members of society, here in St Vincent and the Grenadines it is given little more than lip service.
We remain without a mandate for physical education to be compulsory in our schools, thereby denying the individual child an opportunity to get an early start in this all-important discipline.
Even when we have gone ahead and placed physical education on the programme of our secondary schools we have done nothing in respect of the pre-schools and primary schools of the nation.
It is incredible that a government, concerned about the well-bring of the nation’s children could be so lacking in the will to facilitate the early start the average Vincentian child needs to become physically literate.
Early childhood educators know the importance of the early learning process in every child yet the system under which we operate treats physical literacy as something of an aberration.
It is difficult to believe that in this day and age we can hear talk of physical education and sport being synonymous with loss of instructional time. Every time this concept is mentioned we cringe at the lack of understanding it speaks to in terms of our leadership since it is a crass reflection of just how much we remain caught up in the dark ages of the education process.
It is unfortunate that we still have people who do not yet understand that physical well-being is always an important asset in the broader education development of any society.
There has to be a change in our thinking.
We need to revisit our underlying philosophy and locate physical literacy at the heart of the educative process of all of our nation.
Our schools’ curriculum must be comprehensively reviewed.
The evidence of the benefits to the quality of life of a healthy lifestyle beginning in the child’s formative years in Nordic countries has obviously not in any way influenced our government. We have not yet come to an understanding that the quality of life is not just about how many subjects a child passes at different levels in his/her career. It is about the total well-being of the individual. The healthy approach to life leads to longevity, greater productivity and an enhancement of the very joy of living – contentment with one’s life.
It is a realism that when we look at the leadership of our country at different levels we ought to be ashamed of what we see. Obesity is almost fashionable. The vast majority of our leaders at different levels of the State machinery do not exercise for a healthy life. They see sport as a frivolous past-time. They are also incapable of encouraging their children to be otherwise, thereby allowing for the unsavoury practice to be sustained through successive generations.
We then ponder the health statistics of our country, lamenting our consistent failure to address the problem where it is most warranted.
That our current Prime Minister is the one to have called for ‘A Wellness Revolution” at the CARICOM Health Conference in Port of Spain in 2007 is almost unbelievable when one looks at his physical stature today. He has also done precious little to not only lead by example but to chide his ministers for failing to take stock of their own physical well-being and commit to the promotion of physical literacy and the development of a generally healthy nation.
Sport and the Vincentian economy
Many a reader of this Column may well claim being annoyed by our constant reminder of the rapidly changing role of sport in the global economy.
Over the past several years, sport has been a significant contributor to national economies around the world.
At the individual level, we have watched how, what was once considered the purview of professional sport in the USA and Europe, has begun to significantly impact the Caribbean.
Our sportsmen and women have become millionaires as a result of their commitment to and prowess in different sports, bringing their incomes to our national economies.
The global spread of cricket, especially the shortest version played just about everywhere today, has transformed our once lowly-paid cricketers into international superstars with incredible incomes, so much so that interest in playing for their individual countries and/or the West Indies cricket team has literally paled into insignificance.
Opportunities are opening up for sportspeople exponentially. Career options in the field of sport are increasing rapidly.
Here at home we continue to bury our heads in the sand. Our education system does not pay much attention to the changing career options in the non-academic fields of endeavour, essentially denying a large segment of our population opportunities for enriching themselves, their lives and scores of Vincentians.
There is every reason for us to contemplate very seriously the development of physical education and sport institutions aimed at preparing some of our people for the career paths available in this area of endeavour.
The idea sounds radical but it is very real and could make an impact on many of our youths. In this regard we can explore the experiences of countries where similar institutions have been established and the outcomes.
We need only be reminded that in some countries special schools have been established with the primary objective of preparing young ladies to participate in beauty shows to land lucrative modelling contracts in the long term.
The Australian Institute of Sport and the various sport academies that have emerged have served the nation particularly well, locating the country amongst the best in the world in terms of how sport has added value to the economy.
Sport schools can lead to sport scholarships and lucrative careers in professional sports around the world.
Inter Schools 2018
The Barrouallie Secondary Schools and the Thomas Saunders Secondary School both engaged in an innovative economic strategy for this year’s Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (ISSAC) that is relevant to our current conversation. They both produced t-shirts which were then sold to the parents of students on their respective teams. While this initiative is obviously a very good fundraiser for the schools it also ensures that parents are present to witness the performances of their children and encourage them on the pathway to success.
Athletes enjoy having people in the arena supporting them; encouraging them.
One of the highlights of the preliminaries this year for both the Inter Primary Schools Athletics Championships (IPSAC) and ISSAC has been the attendance of parents and supporters. That this has been repeated at the finals is instructive and augurs well for the resurgence of the sport going forward.
It should not be long before we can engage the other Windward Islands could be invited to St Vincent and the Grenadines to contest schools’ athletics championships for bragging rights on a more regular basis, adding to any potential for sport tourism in this country.
We need only get serious about sport and its immense economic potential.