The Beijing Olympic Games are upon us and it seems that the local team to this event would once more be a very limited contingent. It would serve us well to examine the reasons for our continued poor attendance and attendant performance.
Everything in society begins at home. The family remains the single most important social institution and is the bedrock of any society.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines the home can be a very dangerous place. In some instances there is only one parent. This could have arisen from single parenting or the denuding of the household by one parent opting out of the relationship. Whatever the cause many children have little by way of guidance in the home from a balance between both parents.
Many parents find great difficulty in coping with the vicissitudes of daily living and are hard-pressed to be mother, father, the key socialising agent and breadwinner all at the same time. Time allocated to the development of the whole individual, that is the child, is not always a premium.
In the foregoing circumstance sport is not one of the areas of endeavour that the average parent sees as critical to the individual’s personal and professional development. One is therefore not at all surprised that the tradition of seeing the burying of one’s head in one’s books as the preferred option over the granting of permission to one’s child to learn to play sport as a means of facilitating his/her overall well being and the likelihood that he/she can secure a scholarship or become a professional through this medium.
The old tradition of taking the child away from the practice of sport, however good he/she may be at it, as a means of punishment for bad grades remains the most viable option for many parents.
Too few parents engage in exercise of their own to maintain a healthy lifestyle and where some do they do not always encourage their children to engage in a similar practise at their sides.
In the recent past parents have spent more resources on providing children with what is in vogue in the USA as perceived through the medium of television. They spend scarce resources on the latest sneakers rather than provide the child with the appropriate sports uniform dictated by the school and they see nothing wrong with this practice.
Parents are now more likely to drop off their children to play a sport as a means of having some time to themselves. Small wonder that on some Saturdays coaches play nursemaids to children whom many a parent may have forgotten at the playing area.
Parents were once the bases of clubs and community-based sporting organisations; they were the leaders of sports associations and offered their services as officials and aided in the fundraising activities without counting the cost. That is now a thing of the past, for the most part.
Parents now appear all too eager to compete with their own children for the latest fashions and strive after other recreational pursuits as addressed by the Soaps that are fed to them each day.
The school in sociological terms acts as a bridge between the family and adult society. In this regard we often see the school as an extension of the family taking charge of the socialisation of the child in the absence of the family.
The schools of St Vincent and the Grenadines have lost touch with what is happening around them and the requirements of the world. The recent World Bank Study on the education system in the OECS highlighted the disparity between what the world of work requires of the children of the sub-region today and tomorrow and what is being taught in the education system. A glaring example of this is in the field of physical education and sport.
The ill-informed concept of the so-called education revolution has the educators in a tailspin of sorts. Physical education has been made compulsory because the CXC has so stipulated and not because of any understand or sense of conviction on the part of those in authority, regarding the value of physical education to the life of the individual and the broader well being of society to say nothing of the role it plays in the national development process.
There continues to be a significant decline in the number of students engaging in physical exercise and the academic approach to physical education the subject, for which there are now examinations at the highest level, has not produced a rush of students to sign up for it. Making it compulsory will not in and of itself yield more students taking to it.
The cell phone has virtually replaced the rash of technology games that once occupied the attention of students at every level of the education system, distracting them from the playing areas and instead engaging in a range of practices that extend from the simple card game to open pornography.
The recess is an opportunity to catch up with friends of all types and not for use of the playing field. One traditional game has been lost after another. Even kite flying is now relegated to the annual competition and not the common practice it once was.
The annual school sports day now witnesses more students in uniform than in sports gear with little interest in the proceedings. More money is made from students choosing to wear the latest fashions and pay $10 to enter each day of the finals of the Inter Secondary Schools Sports rather than wear their respective school uniforms and pay only $5. Parents appear to concur since they are the ones often providing the money.
Teachers are now so concerned about their middle class status that they are not likely to undertake coaching sessions after school to assist the children in honing their skills and developing a love and passion for sports. Where this occurs it is the exception rather than the norm.
Teachers are now desirous of financial compensation for work undertaken after school hours. It is about making a living.
The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, rather than address the matter of physical education and sport as critical to combating lifestyle diseases and being critical to the well being and productive capacity of the nation, has opted instead to boast of yet another ill-informed revolution – the wellness revolution.
The government does not have a policy framework in operation. It exists on paper and nothing more.
The Ministry of Education has been able to speak adequately to the changes in its modus necessitated by the implementation of the national sports policy as it speaks to its work and therefore remains stymied through no fault of the personnel there.
Schools remain ill equipped to meet the requirements of a sound approach to physical education and sport. The curricula do not speak adequately to this and the teachers and students fall by the wayside, some not even bothering to convene an annual sporting event of significance.
The concept that sport unites people appears to have passed above the heads of the government officials.
The construction of schools appears not to take into consideration the needs of those promoting physical education and sport. National sports associations have never been involved in the discussions relative to the siting of schools or the design of these institutions, with a view to addressing the needs regarding participation by teachers, students and the local community in physical education and sports activities.
The government appears unwilling to pay individuals to work with schools to develop sports to another level. Coaches who are willing to work in a professional capacity could do no better than work the regular 8.00am to 4.00pm shift Monday through Friday when they cannot interfere with the instructional time allocated to academia. The government officials appear incapable and/or unwilling to think outside the box and adjust the instructional schedules to all for physical education and sports during reasonable hours during the week.
The Vincentian media have all adopted the stance that sport does not sell. They also adopt the view that education does not sell. Instead, they focus attention on that which is sensational and, in the case of the government- owned and controlled media, what is politically appropriate to the chances of the government in the next general elections.
The front pages of our newspapers seem exempt from the use of sports photographs and sports lead stories. The same can be said of the electronic media.
The winners of the annual sports personality awards are attractive to the media as news only the week following their victories. They are laid out to pasture thereafter.
Young achievers are today turned into national heroes and tomorrow the national villain without any concern for what impact this may have on the appeal of sports to those who are yet uninitiated, yet possessive of fledgling interest.
The absence of adequate training in sports journalism may well prove the raison d’etre of the shoddy excuse that so often passes for sports coverage in the state.
The television stations have not done enough to reach out in communities across the country to bring local sporting activities to the wider populace.
The media do little by way of promoting athletes, such that they may be seen as important faces for the private sector to take on board for local advertising purposes. DJs, promoters and criminals get greater pride of place in the media than our sports performers.
National sports associations
National sports associations have not allowed themselves to become sufficiently professional in their administration and perhaps even less so in the technical aspects of their respective sporting disciplines. Too many such institutions operate like new wine in old skins, fearful of change.
The days of sitting and waiting on children to come forward to play sports have long gone and it is the professional association that seeks to find the human and other resources to go after children in their homes, on the streets and in the schools to bring sports to them.
The television stations have not worked out any strategy with national sports associations to bring more local sports to the people and particularly the children of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
National sports associations have not ventured into sound project preparation and have certainly been slow to develop strategic plans for the long term, encouraging the public and private sectors to buy into them and facilitate the development of sustainable sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We wonder where we are going with sport; if only because so often we refuse to take that critical look at ourselves and what we are not doing right. Maybe the time has finally come for us all to simply take Just Another Look.