Focus on sport as community development initiative

hivstationDespite repeated calls for change the governmental sports authorities in St Vincent and the Grenadines continue to miss the boat in respect of a systematic approach to the development of sport. Many have not yet been able to grasp the concept of sport as a community development strategy despite their seemingly over-zealous interest in politics and their overwhelming support for the ruling political regime.
Indeed, the approach of the current governmental sports authorities reveals the extent to which they do not even have a proper understanding of the very politics in which they are involved.
National Sports Policy
It seems necessary to remind ourselves that the existing national sports policy resulted from an initiative of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) which accessed the requisite funding for the b road-based exercise that involved the entire sports spectrum in the nation. It was an exercise in democracy as all stakeholders came to an understanding and appreciation of the role that sports should play in the broader national development process.
Unfortunately. It remains clear that many, including some of the governmental sports authorities, have not yet read and/or understood the content and intent of the national sports policy. It is this reality that stymies the development of sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Failure to be conversant with the national sports policy means that the authorities and administrators are operating in a vacuum. Their involvement may well be dictated in large measure by their own past involvement as players of a particular sport or their eagerness to support the ruling political regime. Neither of these constitutes a guarantee that they know about sport administration.
All the talk of a so-called ‘wellness revolution’ means nothing given the remarkably poor example of those who thump their chests as its chief proponents. This conduct reflects a failure to understand the concept of ‘wellness’ and leaves us with nothing more than another example of empty phrase-mongering that takes us nowhere.
Obesity could never stand as an example of wellness.
The failure of those in authority in several of our sports organisations to engage in a more deliberate attempt at understand that sport is now the world’s fastest growing enterprise and that it requires a shift towards professionalism on all fronts leaves us behind the rest of the world in the approaches we choose.
It is in the context of the professionalising of sport and of an understanding that sport can and must serve as a critical vehicle in the community development process that the national sports policy must be appreciated and periodically reviewed.
National sports associations
National sports associations have been accorded the status of the official national representative of the respective international federations (IF) governing their sports. It is expected that the role of the national sports association therefore is to facilitate the growth and development of the particular sport in the nation. This is done through the development of a cadre of coaches who actually go out and coach athletes, the provision of opportunities for athletes at the school, club and community levels to engage in regular competition to evaluate their progression in the skill acquisition related to their particular sport, the identification and development of administrators of the particular sport and the forging of a development strategy that can be sold to all stakeholders – parents, teachers, sponsors, communities and governmental authorities – to guarantee sustainable development of the sport in all aspects.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines however, there are a number of problems that seem to hinder the aforementioned approach. As international federations clamour for greater participation in their regional and international competitions national sports associations shift focus from the systematic development of the sport at home to the endless pursuit of scarce financial resources to ensure compliance with the IF re participation in the aforementioned events. In this way the forging of an appropriate development strategy is given low-level priority with the result that the association limps along rather than benefit from robust growth and development.
Few national sports associations therefore can boast of a proper development strategy. This is the reason why they are as yet unable to impress upon the Ministry of Education the importance of physical education and the practice of sport as integral to the development of the whole person in the classroom. It is also the reason that parents are not impressed that there is any necessary link between academics and sport.
Participation in sports at the school level continues to dwindle even as national sports associations offer to assist with the conduct of competitions. The students possess no understanding of physical education and sport as being of any use to their general well being. Add to this the fact that these twin-disciplines are never packaged in a sufficiently attractive and appealing manner to whet the appetites of the students at an early age.
Too few national sports associations target the parents of children when seeking to involve them in sport. Without parental support and involvement there will be no athletes other than those who seek participation as a means of straying away from parental oversight and control. Many then worry about the attitudes of those youngsters who come forward to engage in their sport. Associations lack the resources to redress this situation even as the country itself lacks appropriate qualified sports psychologists and counsellors to do what is professionally required in this regard.
National sports associations often fail to establish appropriate community-based links to facilitate the development of their particular sport. Instead, they are satisfied with the preponderance of hastily drawn together and ill-equipped teams in their competitions, mistakenly believing that this represents growth in interest. Even as they witness first hand the absence of genuine development of skills the administrators of the sport accept mediocrity and insist on fulfilling the IF requirements of participating in regional and international competitions regardless of the poor results obtained. The net result is that the athletes too come to accept their own mediocre performances assured in their own minds that they are the best available for selection. Excellence is not an option.
Administrators add to this quirky approach by pandering to their own desires to travel instead of insisting on growth and development. Scarce resources are lost in the process.
Community development is often never considered a viable option by national sports associations in their work. They see this, rather naively, as the work of officially established community development organisations with paid staff.
An alternative approach
The approach being suggested here is for sport to be seen as integral to the community development process and not some engagement in frivolity.
What does sport do?
Sport allows individuals to be themselves. They do not have to hide from themselves. They do not have to be afraid of who they are. They can be free and open about themselves and learn to appreciate this reality.
Sport allows individuals to develop themselves physically. They have to practice in order to be fit. This also involves doing exercises that allow for the development of their muscles and their cardiovascular system. Physical fitness allows for a healthy lifestyle not just during the period when they are engaged in active, competitive sport, but for all of their lives.
Sport allows for the honing of sport specific skills. Individuals who desire to engage in competitive sport must work diligently to attain the highest levels of proficiency. This means being disciplined. A disciplined approach to sport often means a disciplined approach to life itself in all aspects. Discipline often leads to the development of a better personality.
Sport is socially interactive. Sport brings together people of different races, ethnic groups, religious orientations, classes and political persuasions to engage in common endeavours. In the process they share themselves. The sport experience is like no other in life and this despite the fact that people are engaged in competition. The case of Long and Owens remains the most substantial evidence of how sport can and does break down social barriers amongst participants.
People involved in sport often develop life-long friendships.
In any single community sport has the capacity to facilitate the forging of the strongest of social bonds second perhaps only to religion. Because sport requires teamwork it allows for the development of a very strong community.
More than anything we must recognise the ability of sport to facilitate the inculcation of positive values among its participants. People actually do learn to care for others and to share what they have with them. Sportspeople learn to communicate with their peers on and of the field of play. They bond with each other and they learn to empathise with each other.
Cursory visits to playing fields around the country reveal an endless stream of young persons engaged in the practice of sport. Many persons claim to be out there for a sweat while others seek to be more deliberate in honing their particular skills in the sport they practice. In every case however and despite all of the shortcomings of their conduct from time to time they do generally relate well with each other on their teams.
History has shown the importance of a Layou or North Leeward team to their communities, especially when they are engaged against other teams from outside their community.
Efforts of successive poverty alleviation strategies here have failed to reach their mark because of the false assumptions made by the leadership. They do not understand the power of sport and hence miss the mark every time.