Over the past several years we have been addressing the matter of sport development in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We have noted, most significantly, that the major problem here is that as yet no government has been able to reveal itself as understanding what constitutes sport development. Despite the fact that successive Ministers of sport through the decades since Independence have spouted much about the sport development process the reality is that none of them have any genuine comprehension of the concept.
Recent pronouncements by Camillo Gonsalves regarding the discussions with the international football federation (FIFA), suggests that once more the issue of sport development has been brought centre stage and yet again, without an understanding of exactly what this is supposed to mean and how it ought to feature in the broader context of national development.
There can in fact be no genuine sport development in St Vincent and the Grenadines without an understanding of the concept. This is the reason that St Vincent and the Grenadines continues to be a country where sport remains something of a novelty, with successive Ministers of Sport paying lip service and eagerly rushing to the airport to meet, greet and laud achievers, proclaiming some sport ambassadors without any clearly defined criteria and engaging in outlandish chest-thumping for having done nothing to improve their own understanding of physical literacy, physical education and sport.
It is decidedly embarrassing to hear successive Ministers of Sport engage in discussions with their international counterparts at different for a. Perhaps this is the reason that St Vincent and the Grenadines has never expressed an interest in and attended and effectively participated in the MINEPS, over the years.
Indeed, one is embarrassed to know that consecutive Ministers of Sport do not yet know what MINEPS means and how it benefits us to be fully involved.
There remains an assumption in St Vincent and the Grenadines that sport is still frivolity and so we continue to tinker at the fringes without ever getting to the meat of the matter.
The Grand Stadium
There has been much talk about the government of this country constructing a grand national stadium, the dream of so many lovers of sport. This, much like the international airport, is a promise of successive governments.
The idea of locating this facility at Diamond remains a goal of the current government.
Importantly, such a facility would become the nation’s premier sporting venue, outstripping the current Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
A grand national stadium requires a well-equipped gymnasium for the sporting organisations using the facility as well as appropriate rooms as stipulated by the respective international sports federations – teams, medical, anti-doping and storage.
One of the most important aspects of establishing such a facility is the matter of maintenance. We have shown that as yet we do not have a comprehensive maintenance plan for our existing sport facilities around St Vincent and the Grenadines. With a major national stadium we cannot afford to risk the facility’s degeneration as a result of failure to adequately plan for and execute a comprehensive maintenance programme.
A home for football
The FIFA plan for the development of the sport in small, poor nations is that of providing a facility for the national federation.
Being one of the richest sporting organisations in the world, FIFA wants to show that its development strategy allows for each of its members to break its reliance on others, including governments, for facilities for training and regional and international competitions. This was the federations can avoid having to wait on the freeing up of another facility to host its activities in any particular country.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, the Arnos Vale Playing Field is the best facility for football at present. The facility however was created for cricket. Whenever cricket is expected to host a major regional or international cricket match, the playing field is virtually locked down for at least one month before the scheduled event. This means that the facility is inaccessible to any of the other sports played at the same venue for that extended period.
If football has its own home, such a problem regarding use of an appropriate facility for a regional, international of even friendly game, would not exist.
Football then would do well with its own home.
FIFA’s current development strategy is to facilitate an international standard home for the sport in every country. In the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines this would mean a competition stadium with an adjacent training facility in close proximity if not directly adjacent.
The intention too is for the partnership with the government to allow for the latter offering the land to the football federation.
An alternative is for football to buy its own land and build on it. This would however entail a much longer execution time and much more by way of cost.
FIFA is also keen on promoting the idea that the competition venue should be for football alone. If this is done, then it would mean that athletics would not be facilitated with a track at the football stadium and it would be questionable whether rugby would be allowed to play on the facility as well.
A home for athletics
Athletics, football and rugby could in fact utilise the same facilities. It all has to do with scheduling of both training and competition.
Athletics requires a synthetic running track and places outside of the grassed area for the jumping, vaulting and throwing events.
The throwing events usually pose a problem for any sport facility that uses a sprinkler system since the latter is often subject to great damage when the javelin, discus and hammer throws are engaged in.
Of course designers of modern stadia are constantly reviewing their craft and this matter of the location of a sprinkler system that allows for throwing events may soon be available, if not already in existence.
While athletics would be happy to be located inside the grand stadium, the current thinking of locating the first synthetic track at Diamond defeats the planned development of the sport.
An initial synthetic surface for athletics ought to be located in an area of high population concentration. In our case, this is what makes Sion Hill or the area of the former ET Joshua Airport, so very attractive. A synthetic track located at Sion Hill or in the vacated ET Joshua Airport area would allow for the several secondary and primary schools in the catchment area ready access on a regular basis. Indeed, one can expect that with such a location there would follow a major increase in the numbers attracted to and practising the sport of athletics and yield better competition at the local level and enhanced performances at the regional and international levels with more consistency.
A sprinkler system would not be necessary and so all of the throwing events could be staged without any problems.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a small developing nation. The challenges to our development are legion but as a people we have the capacity to overcome them and thrive towards progress.
Our past experiences have shown us that there is an urgent need to professionalise the national sport development process.
We cannot continue to operate along party-political lines regarding appointments and not pay due attention to the competencies needed and fit appropriately qualified and experienced personnel in strategic places relative to the development process.
The time has long since come when the determination of which sport facility the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) repairs and maintains is not a result of partisan politics.
Indeed, one may suggest that the National Sports Council (NSC) be appropriately upgraded so that it can adequately perform its mandate role and function, with the NLA mandated to provide the requisite funding. Unless this is done the NSC would be of little use to the sport development process with an ever-increasing number of its facilities systematically removed from under its ambit to the NLA. This constitutes a duplication and does not facilitate cohesive development.
The NSC must engage highly qualified administrative/managerial personally as well as its own engineer. There must be someone trained in soil science and management to facilitate the ongoing analysis of the existing grassed sports facilities around the country.
As it now stands, the Arnos Vale Sports Complex is in need to extensive review and upgrading if it is to serve the purpose for which it was intended, one of the Caribbean’s most impressive cricketing venue.
We have had the spectre of inadequate funding to the NSC annually such that it is extremely difficult to maintain the Arnos Vale Sports Complex alone, far less the extensive range of other facilities under its charge.
Over the years the NSC has been shown itself unable to establish a programme that attracts schools, clubs and national teams from around the world to our country to use the Arnos Vale Sports Complex for their off-season training and pre-competition preparation.
We cannot always expect the government to be left to provide all of the facilities that the people of a country requires in every aspect of life.
Football and athletics have been engaged in discussions regarding joint approaches to facilities development and usage.
In collaboration with the government it may well be possible to have two major stadia development in St Vincent and the Grenadines without having the government divert much-needed finances away from other areas of pressing need.
Frank discussions are always the very best and there is no need for any politicising of the attendant issues where sport development is concerned.
We can avoid the desire to engage in chest-thumping by simply putting the national interest ahead of individual desires. Development is after all, about the enhancement of the well-being of the people of a nation.
Physical literacy, physical education and sport constitute an integral aspect of the broader national development process of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The provision of appropriate facilities is important to this process.