Crass insensitivity continues unabated
The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has been almost singularly focused on the construction of an international airport at Argyle for the past several years. Many may have actually forgotten how long ago the project started and as we are now seeing, even as the opening has been announced, the authorities have found identified weak areas and engaged in repair work on the runway.
One of the important features of the years that the international airport has been under construction has been the tremendous difficulty in obtaining truth.
As far as sport in this country is concerned we have long been told that the much-vaunted 2001 campaign promise of a national stadium would be realised after the completion of the international airport. The argument presented suggested that after the completion of the airport there would be enough equipment of the order required to construct the national stadium and hence there would be significant cost reduction relative to project stadium.
Of course it is understandable that give the uncertainty surrounding the official cost of the Argyle International Airport (AIA), to say nothing of the multiple sources of funding, meant that the finances required to construct a national stadium was not readily available at the same time that the AIA was receiving attention.
With claims that the AIA is essentially completed the important question is whether due priority would be given to the construction of the national stadium.
In 2001 the ULP produced a youth manifesto. The intention was clear. It targeted the youth by appealing to their interests, with special emphasis on sport.
Every politician understands the importance of getting the youths of the country to go to the polls and to vote in his/her favour. To guarantee as much support at the polls as possible politicians court the youth, hoping that they can be persuaded to accept what is presented to them, largely as promises.
Caribbean politicians often see the youth as essentially politically malleable. Even as they propose a flurry of educational programmes and, in the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, proffer a so-called education revolution, generally they appear to treat the youth as fickle, easily swayed by the rhetoric, charisma of the leader and endless attractive promises.
It came as no surprise then that the ULP leadership in 2001 produced a manifesto that appeared to suggest to the Vincentian youth that there was special interest in their well-being and that sport would receive priority treatment.
As is the case with the international airport Vincentians have long been keen on having a genuine national stadium for the sports of athletics and football.
The records show that the athletics association, now Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, was affiliated to the IAAF in 1943 and the football federation to FIFA almost two decades later. Track and Field athletes first competed in the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, in 1958.
The appeal for a stadium in this country dates back to the construction of a national stadium in Jamaica that allowed the north Caribbean nation to successfully host the Commonwealth Games in 1966.
The fact that several outstanding Vincentian track and field athletes as well as footballers have emerged through the years led successive generations of leaders of these two sports to consistently make the case for the construction of a national stadium.
The inclusion of a national stadium amongst the several politically-motivated promises of the ULP in its youth manifesto in 2001 came as no surprise.
To his credit, the Prime Minister of this country, as part of an OECS delegation to then Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, made the case for support for a national stadium in our country. He returned with a boast of $1.5m USD being available to kick-start the process. So it was that for the next few years the annual Estimates and Budget reflected the national stadium among the many capital projects but with funds from Libya.
For several years the government kept a national stadium committee in place that essentially had nothing to do but meet and agree to the next meeting. There was also a rather interesting situation where TVA and Arup were concerned.
Unfortunately, once the US, UK and Libya engaged in a sort of politically opportunistic kiss and make-up, Gaddafi never again looked in our direction and this country received no further contributions to the national stadium.
Of course, the ULP administration settled into its own comfort zone, seemingly satisfied that the youth were on its side and the national stadium slumped into the lower rungs of national priorities.
Almost 16 years on the aficionados of both football and athletics remain hopeful that one day this country would witness the construction of a national stadium. In the meantime, the promise remains on the lips of ULP politicians ever hopeful that it would retain enough traction to keep them in office.
There has been no sensitivity towards the enthusiasts of the aforementioned sports in this country.
Indoor sport complex
Netball, basketball, boxing, table tennis, volleyball and the combat sports of taekwondo and karate, have been making clear that they are supposed to be indoor sports and that an indoor sports complex would be the best way to aid in the long-term development of their respective disciplines.
Some years ago the government agreed to offer the aforementioned sports the building that once housed the glove factory in Kingstown to be renovated to satisfy the requirements of an indoor sports complex. Responsibility for the transformation of the facility was placed in the hands of the National Lotteries Authority (NLA).
Information began circulating that plans were being drawn to start the project but this was never shown to the leadership of the respective indoor sports.
It was also rather disconcerting that there was never any meeting convened between the NLA and the sports involved. This left many wondering whether there was any intention of getting inputs from the national representatives of the international sport organisations to guarantee compliance with the infrastructure regulations of the latter institutions.
As fate would have it, as suddenly as it had been announced that the old glove factory building would be transformed into an indoor sports complex, the decision to cancel any such arrangements was announced.
Today, the indoor sports continue to exist outdoors, stymying their development and inhibiting their capacity to match strides with their neighbours in the Caribbean, to say nothing of the international scene.
The insensitivity of our political leaders to the capacity of many of our youth to hone their sporting talent remains an unfortunate feature of what passes for leadership.
Sport and the promise of consultative democracy
One of the promises made in the lead up to the general elections of 2001 was that should the ULP win at the polls we would witness the transformation of St Vincent and the Grenadines into a consultative democracy. As was the case with integrity legislation and the national stadium, no specific dates were placed before the Vincentian community. This places a limit on the level of criticism one can level at the ruling regime. Hence our focus on its insensitivity re the needs of the nation’s sporting youth, whose votes remain so critically important to their continued control over the reins of political power.
Shortly after the elections victory in 2001 a meeting was convened to review the national sports policy. It was again reviewed in November 2005.
While the policy was established in the 1990s, the truth is that its application has been a colossal mess. The only aspect of the policy that has been consistently applied is that of the waiver of duty on sport equipment.
No national sport association was consulted when the government stopped the waiver of duty on sportswear and awards (trophies and medals) being procured by national sports associations and on awards.
The failure to engage in genuine consultations with national sports associations on a consistent basis severely hampers the sport development process in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There is a dearth of scholarship being applied to the broader national sport development process and there is a sense where one gets the impression that as with much of what obtains elsewhere in the country the contributions of the government to sport are subject to party political lenses.
One would have thought that over the years in office some modicum of political maturity would have facilitated a change in the modus operandi of our political leaders in the field of sport. Unfortunately, there seems little hope that St Vincent and the Grenadines is likely to see a change in behaviour any time soon.
The consequences of insensitivity
The hit or miss approach to sport development would continue to exist in St Vincent and the Grenadines because of the crass insensitivity of the authorities to what is still one of the fastest growing economic features around the world.
The national sports associations would occasionally appear to make progress but only after continuous struggle and in spite of the government. This is most evident in the relationship between government and its institutions and the swimming association. When the latter comprehensively renovated Shrewsbury House to afford participants an appropriate facility for changing for the OECS Swimming Championships last year, there was no government input. Suddenly, following the renovation, the association did not even have the courtesy of a notification that the facility was available for use as a venue for weddings and whatever is deemed pertinent by the authorities in the future.
Instead of ensuring that we create a meritocracy and allow for genuine consultative democracy to become an integral part of Vincentian culture, we are enhancing a blighted legacy of authoritarianism, political bias and nepotism that will haunt successive generations of Vincentians as yet unborn.