Even as I write this Column I am brutally reminded that several people involved in sport continue to caution me that as a sport administrator in this country, one cannot write critically and objectively on the state of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines and expect to receive favourable consideration when the organisations with which one is involved requests assistance from the government of the day.
I do not however feel that governments ought to be so myopic in their operations such that they would act in a manner based on political prejudice rather than display magnanimity and apply at all times the fundamental tenets of meritocracy and universal principles.
I must admit that I may just be speculating here but somehow I am not convinced
Several years ago when the national sports policy of this country was being formulated the stakeholders gave due consideration tow hat they considered the most critical aspects of the national sport development process. The hope at the time was that successive governments would review the policy in tandem with the other stakeholders and make changes deemed appropriate based on shifts in the paradigm as a consequence of local, regional and international dynamics.
Perhaps all those involved in the process of fashioning an appropriate national sport policy got it wrong. If we were to closely examine the mode of operation of the current administration, in office since the early part of 2001, the national sport policy is hardly worth the paper on which it is written. We have made this point on several previous occasions but it is necessary to reflect on it again at this particular juncture.
National sport policy
The Preamble of the National Sport Policy as reviewed and approved on 15 November 2005 (Cabinet Memo: 421/05) states:
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.
It speaks to a partnership between the government, the private sector and national sports associations. However, as far back as one can remember the private sector has not been in any way involved in discussions relative to the sport development process in our country yet they are expected to understand what is supposed to be happening.
It is therefore not surprising that when national sports associations approach the private sector relative to assistance based on the national sport policy few, if any, are aware of the content of the document and its implications for their involvement.
Private sector organisations therefore respond to requests for assistance from the associations based on their own social consciences.
Sub section 3.4 of the policy states…The Private Sector shall be encouraged to contribute financially and otherwise to the development of Physical Education, Sports and Recreation in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Contributors shall be eligible for tax concessions deemed appropriate by Government and encompassed in laws.
Perhaps we should ask the private sector organisations in this country what is the true state of this particular aspect of the policy and how have they been encouraged and how have they benefitted.
It is also not surprising that many continue to ask precisely what organisations constitute the so-called tripartite meetings that the National Sports Council (NSC) convenes from time to time at the behest of the minister of sport since the private sector is never really invited and therefore not represented.
The last time we checked tripartite referred to three and once can only presume that in the case of the NSC’s tripartite meetings the three organisations would ne national sports associations, the government and the private sector. But then again, this too may well be a misunderstanding of the intentions of the authorities under the current dispensation.
The reality thus far however suggests quite strongly that the very first paragraph of the national sport policy is little more than a sham. The private sector is really not involved in any way. Is it that they were never invited to participate?
Is it that the authorities do not think that the input of the private sector is in any way important?
Is it that the private sector simply has no interest?
While it is true that we have a small private sector and that things are economically challenging, the private sector continues to be supportive of sport. It is therefore difficult to argue that the private sector is not interested in being involved.
The national sport policy is not adhered to in several areas but we wish to focus here on the matter if uniforms.
The policy states in sub section 3.3….Sporting goods imported by and/or donated to National Sports Associations from outside Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for the expressed purpose of the developing the respective disciplines shall be eligible for duties exemption.
For the past few years it appears that this aspect of the policy no longer applies to the importation or donation of uniforms to organisations in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
For several years national sports associations have been told that the practice is as follows:
- Only a national sport association can apply for duty free waiver when importing or receiving donations of uniforms for the purpose of using them for national representative teams whether in training or involved in competition.
- National sport associations importing or receiving donated uniforms must apply for the waiver to the NSC.
- The NSC, having satisfied itself that the claim is indeed legitimate will then communicate to Cabinet recommending the waiver.
- Cabinet will, on the advise of the NSC, approve the waiver.
What then has gone wrong?
Over the paste few years the Cabinet has apparently changed its stance on the matter of uniforms whether purchased or donated. Why?
Apparently the reasoning is two-fold.
On the one hand it appears that the government is concerned that many Vincentians are using sports gear as part of the changing fashions. On the other hand the argument is that the government is protecting local entrepreneurs whose core business is the sale of sporting goods.
If either of the aforementioned explanations for the government’s action is true then we have good reason to be heavily critical of what obtains today.
For the most part the government does not provide much by way of assistance to national sports associations. We have consistently asked for the government to reveal to the Vincentian public its actual contribution to sport in any given year whether from central government or from the National Lotteries Authority (NLA). Quick perusal of annual budgets since 2001 will tell a tale of what has been budgeted for sport annually and what has actually been delivered by central government. It is indeed a very sorry tale. Some may suggest it is a tale of broken promises.
We get nothing from the NLA relative to its annual contributions and to which sporting organisations.
Who are the direct beneficiaries?
The policy speaks to national sports associations seeking and obtaining waivers and not clubs or teams. This is deliberate and has actually been followed. Governing bodies for sport have nothing to do with what members of the Vincentian public seek to do when they purchase the latest Nike or Adidas sports gear. That is a matter of personal choice.
However, given the inability of the government to assist national sports associations with funding on an annual basis, it ought to have retained the waiver on uniforms imported and/or donated to these institutions.
A few years ago the National Olympic Committee (NOC) received some sports gear from Commonwealth Games Canada. They were part of a generous donation by the Canadian organisation to several Caribbean NOCs. The gear came from a Canadian football club that had changed sponsors and had lots of unused uniforms in abundance that they donated to Commonwealth Games Canada, which in turn offered them to Caribbean NOCs. The lone condition for receipt was that they uniforms be delivered to those in need.
St Vincent and the Grenadines was the only country where the government did not allow the donated uniforms from Commonwealth Games Canada to enter the country free of duty.
The NOC had to pay the duty.
The uniforms were delivered to some school teams as well as to teams in need in different parts of St Vincent and the Grenadines as per the agreement with Commonwealth Games Canada. These were the direct beneficiaries.
Basketball was made to pay duties on uniforms purchased for last year’s Centro Basket Tournament in the BVI.
It is a sad situation that the government which at once boasts of a commitment to sport has taken a decision to have national sports associations pay duty on uniforms that are being used to provide to athletes to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines.
This is a very unfortunate and distasteful situation in need of urgent reversal if sport is to survive and thrive in this country.
The contradiction is glaring and ought to be addressed sooner rather than later.
There must be a more reasonable, mature and responsible way for the government to work with national sports associations than what currently obtains.
National sports associations ought to insist on a greater level of trust on the part of the government and adherence to the national sport policy.