Changes at the National Sports Council

Effective Monday last, Cecil Charles moved into the Manager’s Office at the National Sports Council (NSC) at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex. Officially, Osborne Browne, the Manager for the past several years, is on long leave, through to December 2012. Many believe that it marks the end of his tenure in the position.
While Charles has been placed at the helm of the NSC in an acting capacity many believe he would soon enough be confirmed in the position.
There is talk too of Lance John being appointed to the post of Chief Operations Officer at the Council. This is yet to be confirmed.
Analysts seem to think that the changes may well be an indication of changes at the Council, which has a mandate to assist in the development of sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Surely changes are needed at the Council and have been for decades. In this article we examine some of the important changes deemed necessary for the organisation to move into the 21st century.
The original mandate of the NSC was to develop, maintain and oversee the sport infrastructure provided by the government in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The one sports facility that was omitted at the time was the Victoria Park, Kingstown, because it was under the Kingstown Town Board where it shared usage with entertainment and religious activities, the most notable of which is the annual Carnival festivities.
In the recent past the Victoria Park has been placed under the National Lotteries Authority where it still serves the multi-purpose functions of the past.
Interestingly the mandate of the NSC does not speak to the broader national sports development process.
Over the years of its existence the NSC has been overly focused on preparing outdoor sports facilities for the sport of cricket. Indeed, none of the personnel employed at the NSC has ever been trained to do anything other than prepare cricket wickets and cut the fields when needed. This is reflective of the myopia that has come to characterise the organisation and earn it at once the ire of many sports enthusiasts.
It remains an embarrassing phenomenon to witness the NSC employees on an almost daily basis feverishly working on one cricket wicket after another yet when another sport rents the same facilities the only thing that they can do is to cut the grass and clean them. Over the years the leaders of the organisation have failed to ensure adequate training of its personnel to do anything more.
The organisation has shown itself incapable of developing facilities beyond Arnos Vale.
The fact that the once-treasured Sion Hill Playing Field has now been out of commission for several years speaks volumes of the sad state of affairs that currently plagues the NSC.
The Council is in need of a comprehensive overhaul and immediately. The problem is who would facilitate this and who would lead the transformation of the institution.
There is an urgent and compelling need for the NSC to widen its mandate within the context of the national sports policy to play a more active role in the national sport development process and by extension in the broader national development.
The Council should be given the mandate to be the legitimate arm of the government in respect of the national sport development process. Understand that this would be the government’s side of things.
The new mandate must include but not be limited to promoting participation in sport as a right rather than a privilege, this would involve promoting physical education for the nation and not just school-age children. This approach allows for a fitter and healthier nation – an important feature of genuine national development.
The mandate for increased participation in physical recreation across the board in St Vincent and the Grenadines must flow, logically, into a talent identification programme. Identified talent must be nurtured through to elite status. This is the long-term approach to athlete development that would guarantee a consistent flow of athletes through to national representation at regional and international sport competitions.
Finally, the mandate must speak to the facilities. These must be strategically located and this does not mean placed to win votes but rather in population concentrated areas where optimal utilisation is guaranteed.
The new mandate must address the issue of funding. There cannot be a reliance solely on government funds. There has to be the establishment of relationships with institutions at home and abroad that would guarantee funding. This is separate and distinct from the deliberate organisation of activities that have a their objective the raising of funds for the Council’s operations.
The old mandate of merely developing, maintaining and supervising sport infrastructure is far too limited and has not worked.
For several years this Columnist has been calling for a totally revamped structure for the NSC. It initially seemed to have irked the then leadership at the Division of Sports in the Ministry of Sport.
The current structure has not worked.
It is important to suggest an alternative structure for the NSC.
The NSC must be a professional organisation headed by a Board of highly qualified and competent people who understand sport and not just cricket. It cannot be a political patsy where competence can readily be challenged at any turn. Sport cannot be developed solely along partisan political lines. That never worked anywhere and would never work.
It is important for the Council to be seen as truly professional in every respect. In this way the organisation would garner the respect of the Vincentian sporting community.
The Board must therefore be appropriately constituted and allowed to do its work.
The NSC also needs a Chief Executive Officer. Here again qualifications and competence matter. The individual must have the aptitude to get the job done since there is plenty work to accomplish. Experience should also be considered an important criterion.
The NSC should then have a series of Directors. There should be one for the construction and management of the facilities around the country, another for the management of sport/physical recreation, another for the management of the organisation’s finances, inclusive of sponsorship and all aspects of funding.
Of course under the various managers there would be appropriately qualified persons to facilitate the development of sport in a manner that can be monitored.
It may be necessary to establish Area Sports Committees, which carry the mandate of the NSC in their respective regions. This allows for decentralisation that avoids the NSC from keeping all of the work and decision-making at the centre.
The structure must have parallel links with the national governing bodies for the various sporting disciplines.
The NSC must revamp itself to get its new mandate off the ground in a most systematic way that people would feel confident with.
Success would not be easy and all the more so because the politicians seem incapable of trying to ride sport for voting success.
There has to be a recruitment policy within the NSC that allows for the hiring of appropriately qualified personnel.
Managers would be expected to ensure that their respective areas are fully operational, efficient and effective relative to the NSC’s overall mandate.
There must be a mechanism that facilitates identification of developmental needs for sport across the country. This has to be matched by the setting of priorities by the NSC.
The NSC cannot do all things at once and there has to be a ranking system that is responsive to where our strengths are, in the first instance. It is not possible to establish priorities and revisit them regularly without research and development being integrated into the work of the NSC. In today’s world of sport there is no room for guesswork. Scientific inquiry is an essential component of the modern sport organisation and this arm must always receive appropriate funding. Everything else would fail should research and development not be adequately funded and the findings allowed to impact future strategies.
Once priorities have been established the search must be on for appropriate funding.
All paid government coaches must be under the ambit of the NSC where they work. What currently obtains with staff essentially paid as coaches but working 8am – 4.00pm leaves them, for the most part, making little or no contribution to the mandate they should otherwise have – developing sport.
Under a revamped NSC coaches would have clear job descriptions and effective monitoring and evaluation systems to guarantee results from their work.
It is the coaches that would ensure appropriate guidance in terms of facilities’ requirements. If they do their work well the country’s sport development process would take off in a strategically planned manner.
Facilities management must be taken seriously. Currently, not even the Arnos Vales Sports Complex is adequately managed as the nation’s premier facility. Despite the millions expended in preparation for the World Cup goat cook matches and the more recent hundreds of thousands expended for the three One Day Internationals held here earlier this year, the facilities lack adequate chairs and tables to appropriately service users.
The NSC is woefully deficient in terms of equipment required to service the many facilities under its charge. Thus far the equipment purchased relate to cutting, rolling and spraying the fields and nothing more. This is crassly inadequate for the multifaceted requirements that must be under the Council’s mandate.
The ideas expressed here are but a few intended to titillate the palate of those involved in the government side of managing sports at the level of the NSC.
The time has come to re-think what we are doing since what we have been doing has failed us.
That the government officials point to dollars and cents expended for cricket means nothing since we still do not have anything to show for it. We still do not have anyone on the senior West Indies team and that is the ultimate goal, it would seem. Our hosting of matches are often done with no planning in respect of the broader sports tourism potential of which so much has been said time and again. Each time we host this aspect of sport development if brought to mind. It stays in the mind and realises nothing there.
Charles may well be hemmed in by the same myopia that plagues the national government. Let us hope he has his own vision and can stand up for what is in the best interest of locating sports development integrally in the broader national development process.