Development must be a collective endeavour
The curtains came down on the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Championships in London, England, on Sunday last, with the usual massive crowd in attendance bidding official farewell to both Usain Bolt and Mo Farah.
In the previous Column we addressed the fact that they left active competition in different styles but their impact would remain with the sport for a very long time to come.
The Championships ended with perhaps the widest spread of medals and prize monies in the history of track and field athletics.
While the USA emerged with the most gold medals their athletes were not as dominating in the events contested as has been the case in the past.
Jamaica lost its dominance in the sprints. The Bahamas faltered badly. Athletes from the Ivory Coast, Botswana, Uganda, Bahrain, the Netherlands, Croatia and Turkey all showed that the process of sport development is not in any way limited to the advanced developed nations of the world; that if development is made a collective national undertaking anything is possible and the competitive arena becomes all the more attractive.
There was only one world record achieved over the 10 days of =intense track and field competition much to the consternation of the thousands that thronged the Olympic stadium each day of the Championships and who were as boisterous as traditional English football fans at one of the Premier League matches.
Every athlete that took to the competition arena, with the sole exception of Justin Gatlin, received full support of the spectators regardless of performance standard attained.
Every athlete commended the passion of the British crowd and their commitment to the sport that is still struggling to combat a slew of negative activities that threatened its future.
The success of the most recent edition of the IAAF World Championships is mindful of the success of the Olympic Games of 2012 in the same city of London.
A mere two years ago questions were being asked about London’s readiness to host the track and field world. On Sunday last, it all ended in grand style with Trinidad and Tobago taking home the gold medal in the final event of the Championships, the 4 x 400m relay.
The Mayor of London, the Chairman of the Organising Committee and IAAF President, Lord Sebastian Coe, were strong in their praises to the people of London for the excellent show of support for the world’s leading individual sport. They all commended the thousands of volunteers who made the contributions of the city and the corporate sponsors one huge collective endeavour that could not be bettered.
There will always be those who readily promote negativity in any endeavour. The London edition of the IAAF World Championships has surely taught us all the invaluable lesson that once every effort is made to engage the majority in a genuinely democratic process there is always a guarantee of success. This is a valuable lesson we must all take on board.
Despite many appeals for a genuinely national approach to the sport development process in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the insularity of partisan politics continues to rear its ugly head and yield significant constraints to the attainment of success.
What we are seeing in sport today is no different from what obtained in respect of the approach taken to construct the Argyle International Airport (AIA). The similarities are obvious to all those willing to engage their critical thinking skills.
The vast majority of Vincentians have long dreamed of an international airport. This was bred out of what has been perceived as convenience more so than necessity. The decision to go ahead and construct the AIA was however bred out of political expediency, some may say political necessity, rather than the outcome of any sort of scientific analysis and commitment to an understanding of and appreciation for the nuances of genuine national development in the global environment in which we mow live and the projections for the future.
The so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ never really existed, at least not in the form and substance that the Vincentian populace were fed.
The result was an inordinately long-winded construction process that showed little signs of the scientific application of contemporary science. In other words, we engaged in a sort of haphazardness not usually associated with such a major capital undertaking.
What started clearly as a party political project could not in the end be sold to the same Vincentian public as a national endeavour. That is still the case today. The ridiculous comment, “if they don’t want it don’t use it” does not change the foregoing truism.
Vincentian sport is today as haphazard as the approach to the AIA. In the end, something good may be produced, but that does not change the fact of a lack of any genuine attempt at engendering genuine collective action on the part of the nation’s population.
Political will versus partisan politics
What we have seen over the past several years in this country, irrespective of the political party in office as government, is a failure to rise above the narrowness and insularity of partisan politics.
There is no clear understanding of the importance of physical literacy, physical education and sport displayed by the politicians in charge. Even the very sport policy that has been crafted and reviewed by successive administrations is not understood. The willy-nilly manner in which huge chunks of the policy are ignored and in some instances completely debunked without any form of scientific analysis is reflective of the lack of understanding that is so often presented as political wisdom.
Politicians suddenly abrogate unto themselves knowledge of everything under the sun once they take hold of the reins of political power that it is virtually impossible to convince them otherwise.
In small-island states it is commonplace for politicians to see themselves as demi-gods, almost infallible in their comments on matters of all sorts even when there is no intellectual basis for what emerges out of their mouths.
Where there is no clearly understood and articulated policy sport cannot go beyond the haphazard state that currently characterises our nation. As it now stands the political leadership, in all its self-imposed near-infinite wisdom, deems its decision regarding sport to be in the collective best interest. The only thing wrong with this is the fact that there has been no involvement of the collective in the country.
While there is a policy on paper it stands for nothing if the politicians can, at any time, pick and choose what aspects suits them enough to be applied and what does not.
Successive governments have not taken the time to understand what constitutes physical literacy and its implications for individual development.
There is a serious disconnect in the minds and actions of our politicians regarding physical literacy, physical education and sport. It is the reason why physical education as introduced at the secondary school level without any foundation of the discipline in the preparatory and primary schools of the nation. They simply did not know any better and so when the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) made physical education an examinable subject, the country simply followed suit.
We are yet to adopt a policy framework that places physical literacy at the core of human development in the nation’s education system and so too physical education.
The most glaring aspect of sport that has been overly politicised is that of sport infrastructure.
Our politicians readily seek to construct sport facilities in areas that the party to which they are allegiant can garner votes. This is a plain and simple fact that emerges from their own, often skewed perception of the concentration of youths and their simpleminded approach to understanding the value of the vote in general elections.
Similarly, politicians have been eager to construct schools to meet what they again perceive to be the needs of constituents and the latter’s commitment to vote right as a result of the realisation of the building. Little thought is often given to the physical education and sport requirements of the students. If anything, these latter needs come as an afterthought.
If and when sport infrastructure is contemplated for schools already built or under construction, there is little consideration for the requirements in so far as size, flexibility of usage and equipment for the different activities and sporting disciplines that today’s physical educators and students are keen on getting into. It all ends up being an attitude of “if they don’t like it, don’t use it”. Sounds familiar?
If we could blow down part of our mountains to facilitate a playing field at Parkhill, we can do anything once there is the political will so to do. The main question then is why does sport necessarily have to rely on the political will?
Some may ask whether it was sheer coincidence that it was only on the eve of the general elections in 2015 that the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) found it necessary to borrow $6.5m to commit to the development of sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Whilst this was done the Vincentian public have not been afforded the courtesy of concerns relative to the following:
Precisely who identified which facilities needed upgrading
The mechanism(s) used to determine the identified facilities and their needs
The level of involvement of national sports associations in any aspect of the process
The stated budget for each facility destined for upgrade
The actual expenditures on each facility
The mechanism used to determine the allocation of contracts for each facility upgraded
The listing of the individuals and/or organisations contracted
There is also the matter of the facilities themselves. It must be a challenge for the users of the Buccament playing field to understand precisely what was the idea behind the construction of what currently stands there as a pavilion. People from the area, not just sportspeople, are hard-pressed to determine what happened there. The same can be said of the identification of some locations for sport infrastructure.
There seems an unwritten code that leaves the matter of sport equipment to the respective national associations and individual practitioners of sport in this country. This may well explain why it is easier for some coaches to break into the storage facilities of national sports associations and appear to proclaim the equipment removed as their own when they have not bought a single piece of equipment.
In the real world, governments make a contribution of requisite equipment for the different sports in consultation with the national sports associations.
In the real world, coaches and teams purchase their own equipment, not prey on the resources of national sports associations.
Is there something here in St Vincent and the Grenadines that ensures we are not part of the real world?
We can do so much more if as a people we bridge the political divide and allow ourselves the freedom to be. Political divisiveness bodes no good for this nation of ours and politicians must resist the temptation to politicise sport as they appear to be attempting to do with everything else in our society today.