Caricom Sports Commission – an urgent necessity


The decision by the Caricom Heads of Government to establish a Caricom Cricket Committee led by Grenada’s Prime Minister was ill-advised and has done nothing for us as a region or for the game that it was intended to revitalise. Indeed in some quarters it may be argued that Allen Stanford has done more for cricket and cricketers in the region than the Caricom Cricket Committee.

Undervaluing sport

Following the return of the Soca Warriors (national football team of Trinidad and Tobago) from the World Cup in 2006 that country’s Prime Minister, Patrick manning, made a statement that, perhaps more than any other coming out of the mouths of any Caribbean leader, reflected the level of ignorance of many of our leaders to the inestimable value of sport to us as a people and a region.

The European Commission in according sport its rightful place addressed the issue of its societal role. The Commission stated in its White Paper:

Sport is one of the areas of human activity that most concern and bring together the citizens … Due to its capacity to reach out to everyone, regardless of age or social origin, sport can play various roles in …society.

The Paper spoke to a health-promotional role, an educational role, a social role and a recreational role and a cultural role.

The health-promotional role relates to its capacity to aid in the fight against obesity, hypertension, depression, diabetes and a number of other disorders and illnesses.

The educational role relates to its capacity to aid in the physical development of the individual and in the exposure of its practitioners to the many positive values such as discipline, tolerance, respect and sharing, all of which are critical to the development of the whole person in society.

The social role speaks to the tremendous outpouring of voluntarism among sports leadership, as well as the opportunities that sport provides for social integration through the breaking down of barriers that inhibit social harmony.

The recreational role allows for an active lifestyle by the majority of the peoples once they understand how important it is to longevity and enjoyment.

The cultural role aids in the emergence of a strong sense of identity. This we saw with the pride of our people when West Indies cricket enjoyed its glory days beginning with the successes of the Frank Worrell-led team and the endorsement of Garry Sobers as the world’s best all-rounder of his era and arguably of all time.

The White Paper stated emphatically that the sport movement has a greater outreach than any other social movement. People view sport as attractive and it carries a positive image.

Australia has long since established a Sports Commission and under its ambit the various Sports Academies that have brought its many sportsmen and women, and by extension their nation, to international prominence.

It is a pathetic reality in the Caribbean that as yet our leaders have not come to see the true value of sport as the developed countries across the world has been able to do.

In the Caribbean our leaders seem to believe that each time they need the youth vote that it is time to spout their usual political diatribe from the political platforms while favouring the youths with promises of a bright future in the form of better facilities and greater sporting recognition.

The case of St Kitts and Nevis

In previous articles this columnist has been heavily critical of the political leadership across the region for their inability to move beyond paying lip service to sport.

It is rather interesting that the leadership of the little nation of St Kitts and Nevis has been able to put its money where its mouth is in respect of meeting its commitment to making sport a treasured component of its development strategy.

The St Kitts and Nevis administration gave the National Olympic Committee a commitment to spend $1m on the preparation of athletes to attain international standards. This came after the legacy of Dianne Dunrod, a leading 400m athlete and the emergence of Kim Collins. This commitment came in the early 1990s. A change of government from Kennedy Simmonds to Denzil Douglas did not mean an automatic change of policy re the earlier commitment. The new administration readily embraced the commitment given and continued the support. The rest, as we say, is history.

Kim Collins earned an eight place in the final of the 100m at the Sydney Olympics. He followed this with gold in the 100m at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, in 2002 and the IAAF World Championships gold in Paris in 2003.

Along the way the Kittitians have seen the emergence of Tiandra Ponteen and Virgil Hodge as two outstanding female athletes who have received accolades for their achievements thus far. There is also a string of youth and junior athletes in training who will eventually take their rightful place in international athletics.

The government of St Kitts and Nevis gave a commitment to the national sport development process because the leadership has recognised this as a vehicle for the broader national development process through the empowerment of youth.

A new cricket facility was built a few years ago, courtesy the Taiwanese government. The government acquired a state of the art display board that is on par with that found at sport and entertainment venues anywhere in the world. The country hosted its first test match a few years ago and followed up with a successful bid to host matches, not warm up goat cook matches, for the CWC2007.

Earlier this week Kittitians witnessed the completion of the laying of a new Mondo synthetic track at Bird Rock. This entirely new facility is the St Kitts and Nevis National Track and Field Stadium, a legacy to Kim Collins and is the venue for the Carifta Games 2008 scheduled for 22 – 24 March.

The Prime Minister has declared that the new stadium will be the official home of track and field athletics and no other sport. This is the first such declaration in the history of sport in the Caribbean. No other country has been able to make such a facility available for the sport of athletics alone.

Interestingly, this year’s Carifta Games will be the first in history to have a state of the art Display Board at work.

The point being made here is that the Kittitian government has recognised the value of its youth and the role that sport plays in their development as whole persons and the importance of sports tourism as a critical feature of the national development thrust of the country. In such a situation the youths of the nation would readily gravitate to sport and endorse the administration’s development strategy. They are more likely to see themselves as stakeholders in their own and the broader national development processes.

Unfortunately here at home we are yet to have a government that even remotely understands the value of sport far less to genuinely commit themselves and the nation’s resources to it beyond attempts at garnering electoral votes.

A Caricom Sports Commission

The St Kitts and Nevis example ought to be made to reverberate amongst the Heads of Government of the Caricom nations. This would be a mammoth undertaking especially since our leaders are, by and large, very egoistic and seem all too eager to resist learning from each other’s experience. We are, unfortunately, still at the stage where our leaders appear like little King Tots each scrambling to prove him/herself better than the other and more deserving of accolades from an unsuspecting Caribbean people.

The rationale for Caricom’s seeming devotion to cricket appear to be drawn from an analysis of the importance of the game to the region as examined by C.L.R. James in his piece, Beyond A Boundary. More recently the works of Hilary Beckles and others have relocated the sport in the midst of o
ur regional development psyche to such an extent that our leaders now feel that the successive failure of the team at the international level may well be reflective of their own failures at governance.

The Mitchell Committee on Cricket is therefore misplaced. It is a rescue mission that may well have been dubbed, Mission Impossible. If the fundamentals for its creation are wrong it cannot be expected to produce success in the end.

Had the regional Heads been serious about rescuing cricket they would have been paying attention to the contributions made, many of them excellent, when the same Caricom facilitated a regional forum for discussing the problem several years ago. The documents submitted are probably still under dust in some cupboards across the region. That the Caricom Heads reverted to the Old Boys Club of P.J. Patterson (who is no Michael Manley where knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the sport are concerned),

Mc Intyre et al, is indicative of a refusal to move beyond a generation that may well be out of touch with today’s sporting realities and who can only hanker back to what once was with West Indies cricket.

Caricom has a tremendous responsibility to respond more deliberately to the broader needs of the children and youths of the region. The leaders have a moral obligation to see the development process they lead make adequate room for emerging generations. This is not now the case.

Blinded by their own egotistical desires to hold on to power for as long as possible in their respective kingdoms our regional leaders do precious little for the youths.

Caricom for example, recently endorsed the ridiculous concept of a Wellness Revolution. The backwardness of our regional leaders is reflected in the eagerness with which they embraced a concept that falls well short of catering to the needs of our current and future generations.

An active lifestyle through physical education, sport and recreation constitutes the best route to wellness. The nations with the highest indices in respect of commitment to an active lifestyle for their populations through physical education, sport and recreation are amongst the healthiest in the world. The Nordic nations have much to teach us in this regard. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands are all very well placed on the ladder of wellness of their populations. Their peoples have understood the importance of an active lifestyle. They proudly ride through the city streets all decked in work clothes, including suits, eager to ensure that they remain active. The leadership of these countries lead by example, for the most part.

Here in our region many of our leaders do not know what it is to walk far less engage in exercise.

Caricom must revisit its approach and stop this nonsense of a Wellness Revolution and to seriously and immediately commence work on the establishment of a Caricom Sports Commission.

The Commission would facilitate the establishment of an appropriately designed regional sports policy. It would assist Caribbean countries in the establishment of national sports policies where they do not now exist.

The Caricom Sports Commission would establish broad guidelines for member governments to place sport prominently in the matrix of regional development and to craft programmes for enhancing the sports tourism thrust that is only currently espoused by a select few.

Of importance to the region must be greater attention being placed on the development of a very strong Research and Development department in respect of sport. Contemporary sport requires that we engage in serious research into what our children eat, how they grow, what adaptations they make to their respective environments, how they are introduced to sport, to which sport each individual is best suited based on biomechanical analyses, how they are developed in sport, what happens to them in sport, to what careers are they exposed, what is the life of a Caribbean sports person and what happens to them after sport.

The Commission would focus on the education programme in our schools making physical education compulsory throughout one’s entire educational career. Our students must be exposed to the full range of career options in physical education, sport and recreation and be able to access these.

The Commission must be able to provide expertise where needed to assist governments in the development of appropriate sport development strategies individually and collectively.

The issues of sports infrastructural developments, information technology and sport, sport information services, sports structures and the education of administrators, coaches and technical officials are all important areas of activity.

In much the same way that the Caribbean Tourism Organisation has served the region well in harmonising efforts, for the most part, in the development of a regional tourism industry, the Caricom Sports Commission can and should facilitate a harmonised approach to regional wellness, active lifestyles for all and genuine regional integration in the best interest of all of us.

The introduction of the Caribbean Games in 2009 provides an excellent opportunity for our leaders at Caricom to change the system and introduce a Caricom Sports Commission that would be of immense benefit to the region.