We are not sure how many of our sportspeople have been following developments in St Vincent and the Grenadines regarding the upgrading of our sports facilities.In a democratic society we expect that when things are being done that people who are directly involve din the area being explored would be facilitated with an opportunity to contribute to whatever developments are necessary.
Is this the case here in respect of sporting developments or are we witnessing a continuation of same old, same old?
Despite what has been bandied about regarding the state of sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines the reality is that with few exceptions, our facilities are in a decidedly poor state.
Let us begin by acknowledging that successive governments have not paid due attention to the development of sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Let us also acknowledge that with few exceptions the established sport infrastructure has, for the most part, been conceptualised and constructed from a purely political patronage standpoint rather from a sport requirement standpoint. That is to say that in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have witness the politicisation of sport infrastructure, regardless of the party in office at any point in time. The government officials determine the political value of deciding what sport facility they would construct, the design and the location.
More often than not, the government officials may seek advice from its minions who would have practised this or that sport and move forward with their intended purpose on the assumption that all would be well. In the process the facility may or may not meet the requirements of any particular sport.
As far as the government is concerned its members can stand on one platform after another and extol the virtues of having constructed or upgraded this or that sport facility. The expectation is that the sport fraternity must satisfy itself that something has been provided and that they should not look a gift horse in the mouth.
Let us say here that St Vincent and the Grenadines is not the only Caribbean country where the foregoing takes place. This reality does not however justify its acceptance as a mode of operation.
It is unfortunate that here at home the divisive politics that has now become normative does not allow for honest and objective analysis of the reality that exists in respect of the approach to sport infrastructure.
National Sport Structure
The existing national sport structure is essentially as follows:
There is a Ministry with responsibility for sport. The Ministry of Education has responsibility for sport in the nation’s schools. There is the National Sport Council (NSC) that has responsibility for sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines at the non-governmental level there is the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and Commonwealth Games Association (CGA), to which several national sports associations are affiliated. National sports associations exist to develop their respective sports and allow membership of clubs and in some cases, schools. These associations are directly affiliated to their respective International Federations (IF) and continental and regional bodies where they exist.
The NOC is affiliated to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO), the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organisation (CACSO), the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and the regional (Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees – CANOC) and sub regional (Association of National Olympic Committees of the OECS – ANOCES) bodies.
Who is responsible?
In respect of the determination of sport infrastructural needs there is no meeting of minds. Instead there is a great deal of politicking that leaves much to be desired.
International federations are apt to change their infrastructural requirements in order to remain at the forefront of global developments in sport to attract athletes and enhance the quality of their competitions.
National associations are usually the ones provided with the latest changes made by their respective international federations in so far as infrastructure is concerned.
Unless these requirements are adhered to we may well find ourselves with facilities that do not in any way measure up to the standards set by the respective IFs. This means that our athletes will be well short of training and competing at facilities that allow them to consider that they are on a level playing field with their competitors at the regional and international levels.
We have been told that the National Lotteries Authority has taken a loan of $6.5m in order to upgrade the sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines. All national sports associations were enthused by the news in the hope that somehow their respective sporting disciplines will be positively impacted.
Unfortunately, there was no indication that any sort of meeting would be convened with national sports associations to discuss their respective infrastructural needs. This fact was surprising enough. However, it was more surprising to discover that the monies were being spent on infrastructural developments across the country and without appropriate consultation with national associations, for the most part.
As expected therefore, the changes to existing infrastructure, while useful, are not in many cases really beneficial to the respective sports practised on/in them.
Who exactly is responsible for the determination of the infrastructural changes? Are we still expending resources in a manner dictated to by the politicians eager to show the electorate that they are somehow improving the facilities around them?
The newly completed playing field at Cumberland is something of an abomination in terms of land utilisation relative to the requirements of the major outdoor sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Here was an area that could easily have housed an eight-lane grassed 400m track for the athletics and a full-sized football field for athletes of the surrounding areas. Instead, those responsible for determining its usage seemed more interested in ensuring that it satisfied the requirements for cricket than any other sport.
It has been a common practice to have a cricket pitch laid very early in almost every field that has been created in the recent past.
The playing field at Ottley Hall is another example of how not to do things in sport infrastructural development. It may have been politically opportune but certainly not sport appropriate.
The decision to develop the playing field in Georgetown is a good one but the approach to how it is done is again pathetic in terms of an understanding of and an appreciation for sport development needs. The determination to locate the pavilion is fraught with the lack of understanding of the requirements of the sports practised in the area.
The synthetic court provided for Volleyball remains in storage awaiting the promised preparation of an appropriate location in the constituency of the Minister of Sport. It has been in storage for several months.
Beach Volleyball, the sport in which two Vincentians qualified to participate in the Youth Olympics of 2014 in Nanjing, China, remains in limbo as the players await the beach volleyball facility promised since Osborne Browne was the manager of the National Sport Council several years ago.
Whatever about its location, the Football Federation and the national authorities for sport should have significantly upgraded the facilities of the FIFA Gold Project at Brighton. There are possibilities here for the national association to show that it can use its resources wisely to develop the facilities there. This does not preclude the search for assistance to develop another facility with another Goal Project in the future that would be larger and more in keeping with the interests of the current administration of the sport.
Are we into the old, outmoded interpretation of development as merely being increased income?
We can have significantly increased incomes and still be crassly underdeveloped.
Development is about people and enhancing their life chances in important ways.
The approach to upgrading our sport infrastructure may well fall short of what is required due to the fact that what is being delivered relate more to political expediency than to the needs of the various sports practised around the country.
There are times when one wonders whether the politicians can ever place the wellbeing of the people of the nation ahead of the narrowness of partisan politics.
It is one thing to spout good intentions from the political platforms and in official gatherings. It is another to witness the travesty that is exposed in reality. This is the case of sport infrastructural development in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Old people say, the way to hell is paved with good intentions.
A government is elected by the people to govern. In democratic societies one would expect that the development process, which focuses on the wellbeing of the people of the nation will accommodate as much as possible the participation of the people.
Political myopia in this country has left out of the development process those who are deemed to have been critical of the administration in any aspect of its operations. Unfortunately this approach has impacted the minions attendant to the ruling administration. They sing a dangerous chorus justifying this approach to development, which inevitably cannot possibly lead to development.
The practitioners of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines are forced to operate with what has been constructed for them. Whatever about the deficiencies in the sport infrastructure provided the athletes and coaches have no choice but to work with them. The best option is to encourage the athletes to do their best both on the field and in the classroom and seek out scholarships to allow them greater access to adequate facilities.